“Art is my way of meditation.”
Born Lianyungang City, Jiangsu, 1961. Lives and works in Beijing
Cao Xiaodong combines, seemingly without effort, the most modern method of image creation and the most traditional. His painted pictures resemble old news photos, but like China’s ancient philosopher-artists, he controls his brushstrokes with care, shuns dramatic colours and contrasts, and deletes all traces of ego.
After scanning an old snapshot into his computer, Cao Xiaodong uses Photoshop to convert it into an array of dots like those once used to print newspaper photos. Then, one dot at a time, he copies the image in oils (in more recent works, he prints a “ghost” version of the photo onto the canvas and paints over each dot). In traditional style, he lays his canvases flat and holds his brush vertically. Old-time painters used mists to create a mysterious haze; in Cao Xiaodong’s works, the blank spaces between the dots make the images dissolve if the viewer comes too close. His sole embellishments are computer commands. In the Proof of Youth series (2009), terms like Save As, Exit and Ctrl-V—“words” in the universal language of the keyboard—adorn paired snapshots of Chinese people and Westerners of the same age and sex. What did a Playboy Bunny and a Chinese Communist cadre have in common? Are we all really the same under the skin?