1664 | XIA XIAOWAN Painted in 1991 SHEPHERD


Author: XIA XIAOWAN 夏小万

Size: 50×61cm

Signed and dated: Painted in 1991


Final Price: RMB 500,000

1993 Post 89 New Chinese Art / P124 / Asian Art Document
2006 20th Century Chinese Art History / P968 / Peking University Press
signed in Chinese and dated 1991.11
1993 China’s New Art Post - 1989, Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong Art Centre, Hong Kong Arts Festival Society, Hong Kong

Contemporary artists in China adhere to various painting styles. Among them, Xia Xiaowan has always been an anti-rationalist and mystic as well as a rare example of an artist who pays attention to spiritual factors and psychological states. In his artistic practices spanning more than 30 years, he has sometimes favored realism, though at other times turning to surrealism. He constructs worlds in which reality does not exist, inspired by myths, dreams, and hallucinations. His works are mysterious, melancholic, and thought-provoking, in some ways reminiscent of 19th-century British painter William Blake. The eccentricity and provoking imagery of Blake’s religious paintings made it difficult to classify them to a fixed style or genre; similarly, Xia is also an artist who is not subject to genre restrictions. In the 1980s, he graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Although he was influenced by the 1985 New Wave, he did not like the genre concept, as it was for him like an invisible cage; true artists should transcend all limitations of style and form.
Shepherd was painted in 1991, during Xia’s first golden period. After creating the Wild Mountain Ghosts and Human and God series in the 1980s, he began to re-examine the relationship between ideals and reality and started to adopt a more absurd narrative in painting, of which this work is an example. In addition, this piece is very different from the beautiful and idyllic pastoral style of Et in Arcadia ego: the human and the animals are ugly, and the gloomy tones create an atmosphere of alienation. The painting features two horses having intercourse and a shepherd making an unsuccessful attempt to stop them. This scene is a metaphor for the psychological concepts of desire and restraint. The artist painted the man and the horses in a realistic way, though he exaggerated and deformed their shapes, creating a feeling of awkward irresolution, of violating the common sense, and thereby integrating reality and illusion to the point that the work brings the material and the spiritual into one. That being said, Xia described his artistic language thusly: “I deconstruct and reorganize the concept of ‘realistic painting’ in my own way. I simply recycle [its] traditional principles.”