Yang Shen’s White Rabbit Slide, 2016
Artists’ preparatory sketches offer glimpses into the process of composing an image. In 2018, Beijing-based artist Yang Shen (b.1973) donated preparatory sketches for his work White Rabbit Slide (2016) to the White Rabbit Collective Archive. Illustrating how the artist modified the composition of the artwork over time, these sketches document his creative process.
Although White Rabbit Slide, held in the White Rabbit Collection, was not completed until 2016, Yang Shen produced his first sketch for the work in August 2011. In this initial sketch, the artist used a fountain pen to outline the various elements of the image: a school girl surrounded by giant carrots, a shadowy figure behind her and a rabbit-shaped slide. The artist used washes of blue ink to create volume, adding white acrylic paint on top to both suggest light and to create a radiant glow around the rabbit-shaped slide.
Yang Shen, Sketch for White Rabbit Slide Version 1, 2011
This sketch reflects the artist’s original intention to use a vertical composition for the painting. However, upon completing the first version of the oil painting, Yang Shen was not satisfied with the compositional effect of the image. Yang Shen’s second sketch for White Rabbit Slide, created in April 2012, demonstrates how the artist adjusted the work. Adding a second canvas to the artwork, he transformed the vertical composition into a horizontal one; running down the centre of the second sketch is a dotted line indicating the break between the two canvases. Adding the second canvas increased the amount of space in the image available to the artist; Yang Shen rearranged the various elements of the work in the additional space afforded by the horizontal orientation, moving the rabbit-shaped slide from its original location behind the school girl to the left-hand side of the second canvas. Yang Shen added new details to the image, such as a figure dragging a giant piece of lettuce and a platform above the rabbit-shaped slide. On the right-hand side of the image, the artists included the words “白兔滑梯” (white rabbit slide), represented by squares in the original sketch.
Yang Shen, Sketch for White Rabbit Slide Version 2, 2012
For the final work, the artist made additional adjustments, like reversing the direction of the slide so that it faced towards the school girl, creating a relationship between these two key elements of the composition. Despite all these modifications, the similarities between the final work and the original sketch are immediately apparent. Besides retaining some of the key figurative elements of the image, such as the young girl, the giant carrots and the rabbit-shaped slide, Yang Shen also used the same blue tones to create form and shadow. In the final painting, the white acrylic paint applied around the rabbit-shaped slide in the original sketch has expanded into a cream-coloured haze enveloping the slide.
The Yang Shen Artist File was compiled by the White Rabbit Collection Research Team in 2018. The file includes materials donated by Yang Shen and material produced and collected by the White Rabbit Collection, including sketches, documentary photographs, interviews and correspondence.