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Friday, January 11, 2019, 18:08
Art of the soul
By Lin Qi
Friday, January 11, 2019, 18:08 By Lin Qi

Shao Fan's solo exhibition, You, features such furniture designs at Suzhou Museum. (SATARUPA BHATTACHARJYA / CHINA DAILY)

French painter Georges Rouault (1871-1958) was once asked by a student if he would continue to paint just for himself in a scenario of being banished to a deserted island where his paintings did not find a second viewer. Rouault said, of course, he would because he painted to communicate with his soul.

His solo exhibition, You, at Suzhou Museum in Jiangsu province, through Sunday shows Shao's distinctive approach to oil painting, ink-brush painting, installations and furniture design

Chinese artist Shao Fan shares this sentiment. Over the past three decades, the 54-year-old Beijing native has kept a low profile, focusing on painting and designing, while many of his peers have actively engaged with the market to gain public exposure even at the expense of creativity.

Shao's paintings are often about a single subject against a spacious background that transmits an otherworldliness or perhaps a solitary feeling.

But Shao says he has never been lonely despite keeping a certain distance from the country's bustling art community.

His solo exhibition, You, at Suzhou Museum in Jiangsu province, through Sunday shows Shao's distinctive approach to oil painting, ink-brush painting, installations and furniture design. Visitors can understand the richness and vibrancy of his art. And the venue matches the scholarly temperament Shao imbues his works with.

I M Pei, a well-known Chinese-American architect, drew inspiration from the old city's classical gardens while designing the museum completed in Suzhou in 2006.

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Shao's productions dwell on philosophical thought and a simple but qualitative way of living, reflecting his admiration of ancient Chinese philosophers. He also collects antiquities with which he decorates his home, transforming it into a modern version of an ancient scholar's living space.

Chinese artist Shao Fan. ( SATARUPA BHATTACHARJYA / CHINA DAILY)

Feng Boyi, a Beijing-based curator, says Shao has long sourced different forms, elements and motifs of traditional Chinese art, such as shuimo (ink-and-wash) paintings, the style of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) furniture and the classical gardens of Jiangnan in southern China.

"He experiments to connect such cultural heritage of centuries to the contemporary context to show his audience the links between the past and the present," Feng says.

In his repertoire of ink paintings, Shao revisits animal motifs-often placing a rabbit or an ape at the center of a painting-and depicts them in magnified sizes. They stand as firmly as mountains and sometimes look straight at the audience.

"My approach to painting rabbits and apes is not complicated. I simply focus on detailing their fur to present a life-like texture," Shao says. "This repetition has generated meaning and a sense of relief for me over time."

Shao renders the rabbit-he raises and observes dozens of them at home-a spiritual totem that allows people to re-examine their relationships with their surroundings. He personifies the ape to look like an old man deep in meditation, reflecting on people's mentality as they age.

Liu Dan, a well-known ink artist, says although Shao was not trained as an ink painter at an art school, his explorations have contributed to strengthening and reviving the classical Chinese art form. Shao's endeavor shows in his other forms of works, too, exhibiting his rich, independent mind as nurtured by art, Liu believes.

Shao Fan's solo exhibition, You, features such artworks as Rabbit Mountain at Suzhou Museum. (SATARUPA BHATTACHARJYA / CHINA DAILY)

Shao says he works with various mediums to produce different art forms.

"Art for me is like a pearl," he says.

READ MORE: Young artists' works at exhibition reflect reform and opening-up

"I see the pearl as a result of self-healing after suffering harm from the outside world. Art has that same function-serving as a kind of enduring self-relief or self-comfort to cope with our feelings of helplessness."

Contact the writer at linqi@chinadaily.com.cn

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