First exhibition of work by seven Shanghai artists in the UK The Catto Gallery 5th – 24th April 2008

The Catto Gallery, London is proud to announce the debut exhibition of seven Contemporary Chinese artists from the Shanghai School. These artists, although established in China, have never been seen in London. Their works range from traditional, satirical, to political, tender and sexual – all topics which have had a difficult journey in China’s political climate. Their art captures China in a moment of rapid transition in society, where Communism lives in parallel with expanding capitalism.

The seven artists are: five painters, Wang Yuhong, Wang Jiawei, Li Haifeng, Li Yushi, and Guo Qingling, and two sculptors, Shu Yan, and Chen Jiansheng.

While China and its history binds the show together, each artist has a unique voice and relationship to their country. Their work which has been shown in collections throughout China has retained a traditional training and viewpoint without being hampered by the Communist overview.

The most established artist in the group, Li Haifeng, came back to teach art in Shanghai after his training in France. He has been working on a series of ‘Mao Tse-Tung (Mao Zedong)’ in humble surroundings, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, arm-wrestling his twin. He has succeeded in demystifying Mao making him more human and perhaps allowing his actions if not be accepted, understood. Li’s work has regularly been exhibited from 1998 in both China and Japan and can be seen in several public collections in Shanghai.

Wang Jiawei, who is debuting in London, is also inspired by images of Mao Tse-Tung. His ‘Mao Series’ of well known images of the former leader is inspired by Andy Warhol’s particular brand of Pop Art. Jiawei creates the image using an ink diffusion technique, giving his works an air of being viewed through water, with Mao’s face seen as a ‘decomposing’ mutation. This artist’s works are regularly shown at the leading Art Fairs in China and Japan.

The two sculptors Shu Yan and Chen Jiansheng are both openly critical of the consumerist invasion and its effect on China and its population. Shu Yan‘s series of ‘Chinese Peonies’, depict scantily clad young women in high boots, their provocative poses, with wide cold, Manga-like eyes, alluding to sexual liberation from the West.

Chen Jiansheng chooses to tackle different topical themes, such as blatant depiction of public affection was an unacceptable concept a while ago, yet now lovers walk hand in hand freely in the street. He alludes to an old China with his bathing tubs that echo the design of Ming dynasty bowls. This theme of a more liberal view of sexuality is fully explored in other examples of his ‘Blue Bowl Series’.

One of the younger members of the group at 36, Wang Yuhong, grew up with her grandmother and was immersed in her collection of ancient objects. Her atmospheric still-life studies of immense intricacy perfectly blend the 16th century Dutch still-life idiom, with Chinese traditional scroll painting as seen in ‘Blue Pillow’ or ‘Morning in Ningxia’.

Guo Qingling is also intrigued by women, and particularly how their pleasure and pain is expressed through their faces and bodies. The ‘Seafood’ series, seen for the first time is seemingly influenced by the sensuous women of German Expressionism and the brilliant colours of Shanghai-born artist Walasse Ting.

Also featured will be Liu Yushi’s fascination with colour and light, which can be seen in his ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn Winter Series’, with these bold, constantly evolving conceptual canvases. Through his study of beauty, Liu addresses the constant evolution in Society. Through this series he offers a view of femininity that is ever changing in the China of today.

Gillian Catto, owner and curator of The Catto Gallery, said, ‘The Gallery has been promoting Contemporary Chinese Art for 18 years and we are excited to be able to showcase the talent of these Shanghai artists, and highlight how Chinese art has now become a leading player in world art.’

Florence Dinar, organiser of the show, comments, ‘I hope these exhibited artists will help people to grasp a small portion of what Contemporary Chinese Art has to offer.’ Florence has been assisting with the show, and sourcing the work of many artists with the assistance of leading Chinese galleries, art critics and colleges, in Shanghai. The curators who have assisted her include, Ma Lin, Li Jun and Helen Liu.