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Shanghai Body: Death and Resurrection - Fang Fang, Chinese Artist

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Fang Fang turns his attention to Shanghai, and in particular to landscape painting in this further step of his artistic evolution. He had experienced abstract painting and making a study on horses, which was specifically entitled “Horses Tongue”. Although these early stages have been overtaken, somehow they still influence Fang’s work.

In this series, which is made up of medium-size paintings (50cm x 60cm, if not smaller), Fang depicts different aspects of Shanghai city life: streets and lanes, passer-bys, monuments and buildings. With respect to Fang’s early abstract paintings, there is a progressive return to shape and representation.

The series could be easily divided into two main groups.
The first group counts with paintings whose paintbrush is thick, shapes are blurred, and the overall impression is of dramatic suspense (partly because of the close-ups and color tones that are characterized by a prevalence of gray, green-blue and ochre). This group is still close to the aesthetic brought about in “The Horses Tongue” series with its tight framings and strong brushwork, and has resemblances with impressionism.

In the second group, image becomes clearer as the paintbrush turns thinner and colors lighter. The main focus of this group is architectural Shanghai: houses and blocks, temples and old fashion buildings. Here the framing is generally wide and there is an ample use of perspective, often aerial.

Again, perspective is not always regular and seems to have streets as vanishing points. That turns streets into the main focal point and makes streets look like lively rivers along which buildings find their place.

All this makes cityscape gain its own flow, movement and liveliness, despite the fact that no people are depicted in the scenes. City blocks turn into still islands in the middle of an ever-changing stream: blocks and buildings are thus entrusted with a double level of significance. They are refuge and still point of reference, but at the same time detached.

A sense of loneliness and alienation comes along together with that of homeliness. It seems like Fang Fang wants to reinterpret the typical Shanghainese architecture made up of wrapped blocks that enclose parallel universes with their own timing, story and mood. Basically, abstracted from the city that surrounds them, and yet part of it.

Fang Fang’s work becomes a mirror of Shanghai’s history: its glorious past of the thirties as well as the bloodshed that dyed the city in red, consequent to the Japanese occupation at that time. Echoes of the Cultural Revolution and the dramas of daily changes in the body of the metropolis cannot pass without leaving scars.

One has to come to grips with this very turbulent past and foresee the resurrection through Fang’s brush.

Paolo Sabbatini
Director, Italian Culture Institute
Shanghai 25th March 2009
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