The new Chinoiserie


Global Times | September 22, 2011 08:22

By Li Yuting



Shanghai Art Museum li Chevalier solo exhibition 



Poetically Dwell on Earth


Two of the exhibition halls at the Shanghai Art Museum are playing host to an exhibition of some 50 experimental ink-and-wash-on-canvas works from the Chinese-French artist Shi Lan (Li Chevalier).


Poetry in motion, The Poetic Orient is visiting Shanghai as Shi Lan's second stop on her latest China tour, after Beijing.


Last year, her first major retrospective exhibition was held at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. It showcases the artist's avant-garde interpretation of traditional Chinese ink painting arts with a strong philosophical slant.


Born in Beijing, Shi Lan later studied and lived in Europe for more than two decades from the mid-1980s. She received two postgraduate degrees - in philosophy from the Sorbonne University in Paris, and in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London.


Well-known in the West, the artist has hundreds of works in private collections and has shown at more than 40 solo and group exhibitions such as the annual Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in London, and at the new gallery of the Louvre Museum in Paris.


"After my Western adventures started, I made a radical return to my 'mother tongue' by choosing ink as my medium," said Shi Lan, who today divides her time between Beijing and Paris.


"Through the use of mixed media, including Chinese ink on canvas, I try to transcend the classical ink-on-paper model and hope to convey my understanding of Zen aesthetics, which exercises an even stronger fascination on me as it appears far off and unreachable.


" Among the works at The Poetic Orient, some smaller works are hung on wooden frames. The artist uses low-key colors in her work, usually grey, black, white and beige. "Regardless of the colors, subject form or mounting style, my works always try to deliver an 'oriental' feel at first glance," Shi Lan told the Global Times.


She admits she has also been deeply influenced by her two-year experiences in Japan, and is especially indebted to the country's well-preserved Zen culture. "For me, the most visually powerful thing is not the bright colors or shocking images. There exists a strong energy and power in what is tranquil, as well as in simplicity and originality," she said. "I hope visitors at my exhibition are able to pause to think about the true meaning of their life, and ask themselves, 'why I am always rushing every day?'"


The artist employs some signature shapes such as a simple bench shape, a question mark, or a cross, in order to arouse curiosity in the viewer. As she said, "Life is a question mark."


Multiple experiences "In her paintings, Shi Lan's artistic language wavers on the fringes of the real and abstract," Peng Feng, director of the Chinese Pavilion 54th Venice Biennale notes in an introduction to the exhibition.


"Her hybrid expertise in philosophy and in art, as well as her multiple experiences drawn from the East and the West offer her great versatility and the capacity to propel the essence of the Chinese spirit in her modern art language in a very fluid and intuitive way."




The highlight of Shi Lan's incisive understanding of traditional Chinese Zen culture is embodied in her installation Poetically Dwell on Earth. Located in the center of the exhibition hall, scores of lighting boxes - half with a white surface with contemporary Chinese poetry in black calligraphy, and half with a black surface with ancient Chinese poetry in white calligraphy - are arranged on a layer of gravel.


On one side surrounding the boxes, stand several traditional Chinese screens also displaying characters. Trained in traditional Western oil painting, Shi Lan also paints abstract works and now she describes her signature style as "Ink Impressionism." "But it's not the same as 'ink painting.' It is contemporary, and represents traditional Chinese culture in a new way," she said. "For Chinese contemporary arts, it's a time for artists in China to use an independent and confident artistic language, and to get rid of imitating skills from the West or overusing political pop styles," she said.


"Li Chevalier's works represent more than modern style painting," commented Denis Lavalle, chef curator of the French National Heritage, French Ministry of Culture of the exhibition. "She has been steadily exploring on her canvas the shapes born from light and shadows. Her paintings go beyond sheer aesthetics, delving deeply into poetic intensity through a mixture of beautiful, floating whites on staunch sand and dark, somber inks."


Date: Until September 27, 9 am to 4 pm Venue: Shanghai Art Museum 上海美术馆 Address: 325 Nanjing Road West 南京西路325号 Admission: Free Call 6327-2829 for details E-mail Print Posted in: Arts

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