Born 1950, Shanghai

As a precocious art student, Hu Xiangcheng obeyed the dictates of the time, painting in the social-realist style his teachers required. In his 30s and 40s he was able to travel, spending 15 years in Japan and making several trips to southern Africa. In its rock art and in the rough, unfinished aesthetic (wabi-sabi and shibui) of Japanese folk art, he found a spontaneity, spirituality and openness to chance that realist art had little place for. Today, Hu Xiangcheng represents an unusual hybrid: a Chinese artist whose works are not identifiably Chinese, whose main influences are both non-Chinese and non-Western, yet who is so attached to Chinese tradition that he has dedicated years to reviving Ming Dynasty canal villages. The five drawings in the Untitled series (2011) exemplify his attitude to representation: rather than reproducing visible forms, he wants to reveal “hidden forms” (the title of a 2007 work) and playing with them so that in themselves and relation to each other h

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