“There is no way I can learn from the ancient artists in terms of technique and style, but I try to experience and imitate their mindset.”

Born 1970, Juancheng, Shandong

Sun Hongbin started out painting traditional Chinese landscapes, then, seeking a new challenge, switched to European-style oil paintings. His approach draws on his previous experience as a photographer, intensive study of Western art from the Renaissance to the post-Impressionists, and his love of mo lei tau (nonsense) humour. He describes his technique as spontaneous and carefree, traits he finds in the brushwork of both European and Chinese classical masters (who called the style xie yi). His subjects often emerge as he paints; what he loves about painting is the process, he says. In portraits, he is fascinated by the “the mystery behind the eyes” and the tension between people’s outer and inner selves. Some, like the parents in Family With One Child (2012), put on a proper face to hide their unhappiness; others, like the girls in Sisters (2012) and Fat Lady (2012), can’t resist tweaking propriety by letting their personal quirks show through. “I like things that are both mysterious and funny,” Sun Hongbin says, adding that the only reason his paintings are small is that his home is.

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