A star of China’s contemporary art world, painter Mao Yan says his work doesn’t reflect his favorite old masters but his own state of mind. Zhang Zixuan reports.
With center-parted short hair and baggy old jeans, 45-year-old Mao Yan looks more like a rebellious youth with the bearing of a sharp and sensitive artist.
The vanguard painter is said to be the most difficult to define among today’s Chinese art icons. His brushworks are extremely contemporary, though the artist claims to have a serious classicism complex.
He has stayed in Nanjing for years, while other artists proceeded northward, flocking to the capital.
Despite the multifaceted symbols and concepts emerging in the endless stream of contemporary Chinese art, he sticks to portraits, the most traditional subject of easel painting that has gradually been pushed aside by newer art forms.
“Painting to me is an instinct,” Mao says. “I don’t like doing things ‘on purpose’, and I have no need to prove myself just for a trend or an idea.”
At Pace Gallery in Beijing, Mao is presenting his first solo exhibition after signing with the gallery.
Featured works include several pieces from his best-known Thomas Series from the late 1990s and a few unconventional portraits of animals. Two large-scale portraits of naked women painted this year are the artist’s first-ever showing of this kind.
Mao was named the most influential oil painter of 2012 at the 7th Award of Art China in May. He along with three other artists will also be announced as the 2013 Martell Artists of the Year in mid-June.