Li Shan

Li Shan
b. 1942, Lanxi, Heilongjiang
A prominent representative of the art current known as Political Pop, Li Shan graduated in 1968 from the Shanghai Drama Institute and was subsequently hired as a member of the faculty. Li Shan rose to fame in the early 1990s for his remakes of Mao portraits in which contrasting photorealist headshots of Mao’s face are juxtaposed against a monochrome background, most often painted in a garish hue of blue, pink or green. The lack of depth and the surface quality of his paintings directly mimic the graphic effect of posters. The series, which was begun in the late 1980s, is entitled Rouge and applies the colour pink or fuchsia to some detail in every image—a colour normally associated with folk art such as New Year’s prints or with the make-up of actors in Chinese opera, signifying a low cultural status or a frivolous character. The artist’s declared intent is to ‘vulgarize’ an image normally considered to be the epitome of high political status by smearing it with a colour immediately recognizable as ‘low’ and suggesting ‘queer’ undertones in the image of China’s strong man.
Li Shan has declared that his use of Mao’s image is an attempt to provide ‘a comment on his own personal history, not on the history of China’. His interventions are in fact a comment on his own personal memories of the time when Mao’s portrait was a ubiquitous reality.
Among many exhibitions, Li Shan participated in the China Avant-Garde in Beijing (1989); the 45th Venice Biennale (1993); the 22nd Sao Paulo International Biennial (1994) and ‘Inside/Out, New Chinese Art’ at the Asia Society in New York and MoMA in San Francisco (1998–9). He lives and works in Shanghai.
Dal Lago, Francesca (1999). ‘Personal Mao: Reshaping an Icon in Contemporary Chinese Art’. Art Journal 2 (Summer): 46–59.
Doran, Valerie C. (ed.) (1993). China’s New Art, Post-1989. Hong Kong: Hanart T Z Gallery.
Gao, Minglu (ed.) (1998). Inside Out—New Chinese Art. Berkley: University of California Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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