Deep questions about life in a time of turbulence

Tan Weiyun
Artist Sun Yao's solo exhibition "Neverland" consists of paintings created over the past five years, a period full of turbulence for the artist.
Tan Weiyun

Artist Sun Yao’ solo exhibition “Neverland” consists of paintings created over the past five years, a period full of turbulence for the artist.

His father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, his art studio was relocated several times and the whole world was locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All made the artist think deeper about life, death and eternity.

The almost 40 works on display at the Art Museum of the Shanghai Oil Painting and Sculpture Institute through April 25 come from the abstract series “Neverland” and “Skyline.”

The word “Neverland” comes from James Matthew Barrie’s novel Peter Pan, which depicted a world of dreams where one can keep pursuing a child’s innocence in a land of purity. It stands in the depth of our hearts, stays in the moment of eternity, and never dies.

Sun uses the image of “island” as a response to the German philosopher Nietzsche’s “Eternal Return” with his paintings. Everyone will unconsciously sparkle with a strong will to live — pervading among all individuals, echoing each other — and living never ends. In this sense, everyone is an island of eternity.

Deep questions about life in a time of turbulence
Ti Gong

"Skyline: Camping in The Nebula," 2020

Deep questions about life in a time of turbulence
Ti Gong

"Neverland: The River of Antropy," 2016

With mighty, forceful strokes, Sun’s works often reveal a great tension overflowing with untamed violence. The “Neverland” under his brushes is magnificent, romantic and lyrical, like a stormy night in which huge waves batter the shore; a vast universe in which everything is shrouded in a mist; or a formidable abyss that might lead to hell.

The painting “Neverland No. 1” focuses on crucifixion, a familiar theme with Sun. A special long, dark alley with a corrugated mirror ceiling and floor was designed for it. Standing in the alley just in front of the painting as the light is reflected off the crumpled surface, the viewer might feel like they are wading through the rippling seawater to go into a crushing tidal wave — a scene Sun depicts in the painting.

“I like observing the people around me carefully, their words, smiles and gestures, and I would imagine their friends and what they looked like in their childhood,” he says.

“I’m always wondering why in the process of growing up, people lose the ability to understand each other without words.

“And I would like to use my own codes to look at things and talk to them. This is my own Renaissance, with everything reviving in it.”

Exhibition info

Dates: Through April 25 (closed on Mondays), 10am-5pm
Venue: Art Museum of Shanghai Oil Painting and Sculpture Institute
Address: 111 Jinzhu Road 

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