“I give old things new meanings through my work.”

Born Yingkou City, Liaoning, 1976

Painting “is like an asylum for me”, says Shen Liang. Within that haven he is free to dance, riffing on themes from Chinese history and contemporary life. In This Is a Book (2007), he revisits the propaganda comic books of the Cultural Revolution, reproducing their covers in oils at many times original size, then defacing the images with lewd and jokey scribbles—the kind bored schoolboys might do in class. In presenting propaganda as simultaneously crude graffiti and high art, he mocks Party attempts at thought control, public gullibility, and his own status as an artist. State Banquet and Civilian Food (2010) was inspired by memories of the treats his mother used to sneak home from work concealed in her handkerchief. Drawing it out of her pocket, she would reveal her magical haul of biscuits or sweets. Alluding to the lavish dinners with which Chinese officials fete foreign investors, Shen Liang paints two sets of foods, the VIPs’ gourmet dishes on coloured handkerchiefs; the common folks’ fare on white ones. As in This Is a Book, he veils political comment with humour: handkerchiefs are not only given as gifts in China but, as the artist notes, “used to wipe up messes”.

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