An artist's tangled web of women

Bai Ying said that Shanghai is akin to a feminine city, so he made women his muse and the central subject of his works.
An artist's tangled web of women
Ti Gong

Shanghai artist Bai Ying

For artist Bai Ying, Shanghai is akin to a feminine city, so he made women his muse and the central subject of his works.

Bai’s solo exhibition featuring women on rice paper is currently underway at a refurbished warehouse along the Suzhou Creek. But don’t expect sexy ladies dressed in qipao; Bai’s women are large, chubby and even fat.

Bai’s images, painted in light rouge and black, are captured in relaxed, unguarded moments. Some women are shown reclining or engaged in private chats, while others look lost in thought.

There is nothing polished, air-brushed or what would be seen as traditionally beautiful in his works. The images reflect ordinary, mediocre and real everyday women. 

The son of an architect, Bai became interested in art as a child and began sketching at the age of 5.

In 1990, he was admitted to the College of Art at Shanghai University and, like most art students in China at the time, he was deeply influenced by the 85 Art Movement, a drive that popularized Western art and techniques in China. However, he was handpicked by one of the university deans to study Chinese painting.

Four years of study ultimately taught Bai the essence and also the limits of Chinese painting, which prompted him to blend Chinese brush techniques with Western figurative and coloring approaches. In the eyes of Bai, Chinese painting is much freer, leaving more space to explore figurative painting.

Six years of teaching art classes on anatomy and perspective at Shanghai University after graduation helped Bai hone his own skills, but he chose a more difficult path for himself by depicting contemporary content through traditional media. His traditional technique could well distinguish himself from his peers if he chose something easier and more pleasing to the eyes.

“But I don’t care. I never care about others’ judgment on me,” he says. “I only paint what interests and inspires me.”

Bai compares himself to a director, designing “dramas” in his mind and then transferring to rice paper. Each painting requires lengthy preparation to work out the “plot” and details of each scene.

“True, Shanghai is akin to a feminine city, but it is also filled with desire,” Bai says. “The voluptuous women under my brushstrokes are the symbols of this. Why women must be polished and beautiful? That’s only a dream, not the reality.”

To leave more space for imagination, Bai purposefully depicts women from the back in many of his paintings. 

“Without faces, the visitors will focus more on body language and imagine the emotions hidden behind,” explains the artist.

Bai admits that the women on his rice paper also reflect a part of his inner self.

“Whether they are reclined, lying or tangled, sometimes the postures just mirror my own mental state.”

Exhibition details

Date: Through December 31 (closed on Mondays), 9am-5pm

Venue: Bridge 8 Art Space 1908 Granary

Address: 1247 Nansuzhou Rd

An artist's tangled web of women
Ti Gong
An artist's tangled web of women
Ti Gong
An artist's tangled web of women
Ti Gong
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