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Art

#China#narrative#oil painting#painting#portraits#Tang Shuo

Tang Shuo’s Vivid Paintings Conjure the Strife and Stories of His Native Boulder Hill

January 2, 2024

Grace Ebert

two men in a jungle with bright orange clouds in the sky. both hold a snake-like cord

“Co-conspirators” (2023), oil on linen, 192 x 200 centimeters. All images © Tang Shuo, shared with permission

Many of Tang Shuo’s paintings begin with a memory. “I recall a story from the past that left a deep impression on me, extracting a moment from the story and arranging the relationships between characters,” he says. Inspired by his childhood pastime of “playing house,” Shuo renders hunters, snake catchers, and shepherds, imagining himself taking on the roles of his forefathers.

The artist, who is now based in London, grew up in Boulder Hill, a small village on the edge of Guilin, China, that his ancestors founded more than a century ago. For many years, the area was home to the descendants of this single family who upheld many traditional, patriarchal values and farmed the land. Given the political upheaval of the country’s reforms and the Great Leap Forward policies of the mid-twentieth century, its inhabitants struggled for resources like water and food, particularly as famine spread rapidly.

The stories from Shuo’s childhood reflect these realities and are full of grief, labor, and strife, from “water disputes for irrigating rice fields in this agricultural society leading to murder (and) logging for cooking and heating during winter” to scouring the mountains for roaming sheep and children dying from uremia. While the artist’s earlier works looked primarily to the professional lives of his kin, his more recent paintings take an introspective approach.

a man wearing a long sleeve white shirt with a hat around his shoulders and a lighter in his hand looks up at the clouds

“Shepherd’s Sorrow” (2023), oil on linen, 200 x 150 centimeters

“While the figures in the paintings still represent my image, I am using my physical form as a medium to depict others,” he says, noting that after identifying the narrative he wants to convey, he photographs himself in various positions to capture bodily movement and gesture. “I have become an observer and storyteller, merely recounting their stories—stories rooted in the realities I heard or experienced during my time in Boulder Hill.”

Following a round of sketching, Shuo moves to the canvas. He shares that finding the right shade of orange for clouds or deep greens for a jungly field is one of the most difficult parts of each painting, which he renders with a characteristic flatness. Replicating men with sleek, shoulder-length hair and long-sleeved shirts, the artist gravitates toward moments of difficulty and melancholy. For example, in “Fleeing Wanderer,” he depicts an exhausted figure slumped over a green sack asleep, while “Sheperd’s Sorrow” is one of many pieces reflecting the pains of agricultural life and features a herdsman searching for lost animals.

Shuo has exhibitions planned for June at Beers London and another later this year at Steve Turner in Los Angeles. He’s currently working on a book co-published with Fabienne Levy, where he’s represented. You can find more of his paintings and glimpses into his studio on Instagram.

a man in a white long sleeve shirt leans against a red tree holding a rope in one hand

“The Man Holding the Rope” (2022), oil on linen, 120 x 160 x 2 centimeters

a painting of a man in a yellow long sleeve shirt resting with his eyes closed on a pale green sack. puffy white clouds are in the background

“Fleeing Wanderer” (2023), oil on linen, 90 x 70 centimeters

three men sit around a wooden stump in a jungle-like scene with a small cat and dog on the top of the stump. one man dangles an object in his hand

“Magician” (2023), oil on linen, 150 x 150 x 3 centimeters

one man in a red long sleeve shirt holding a branch covers his eyes with his fist while another in a blue shirt cowers below and holds up his hand

“Abuser” (2022), oil on linen, 180 x 120 x 4 centimeters

a portrait of a man wearing a beige long sleeve shirt holding a wooden pole standing next to a white ram with brown horns

“Shepherd” (2022), oil on linen, 160 x 120 x 4 centimeters

a painted portrait of a man in a white long sleeve shirt grasping red grapes in both his hands

“Grape Harvester” (2023), oil on linen, 90 x 70 centimeters

#China#narrative#oil painting#painting#portraits#Tang Shuo

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