‘If the landscape is sick, then society is sick, and the people are sick.’
Born 1942 Hubei Province. Lives and works in Beijing.
Shang Yang’s great theme over many decades has been landscape, as a metaphor for the tension between human society and the natural world. When asked why he had spent so many years focused on this one subject he answered, ‘Is there anything more important than this?’ His work since the 1990s has explored the environmental effects in China resulting from the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s: opening China to world markets brought wealth, but industrialisation and urbanisation led to catastrophic air and water pollution.
In 2002 Shang commenced working on the Dong Qichang Project. Dong Qichang (1555–1636) was a Ming Dynasty scholar painter whose works depict soaring mountain peaks towering over pristine landscapes. Shang’s mountains, in contrast, are scarred, mottled, wrinkled and fractured. Giant, monolithic forms, they loom menacingly on large, dark canvases. Dong Qichang Project 38 is a triptych painted with oil, acrylic and bitumen measuring eight metres across. Shang’s sparing, minimalist approach is evident in the simplicity of the composition and the monochrome palette. These are not actual landscapes observed or remembered, nor Chinese literary landscapes. Shang says his work is a warning to humanity: ‘…the artificial lakes under the already mutated and weathered landscapes, geometric shapes conflicting with natural mountains and rivers… and the volcano like a symbol venting nature’s anger.’