Born 1969, Yunxiao, Fujian

Growing up in a fishing village, Tang Nannan would poke at the strange creatures washed up by the tide and listen to grown-ups talk of sea monsters and mermaids. As an artist, he remains in thrall to the “primal world” of the sea. Though he uses brush and ink in unconventional ways, he follows the old masters’ advice to seek not the appearance of things but their essence. He never tires of painting the ocean, he says: for him it is “mystery itself”. In The Sea in the Sea 60 and 61 (2015), he portrays it as a dreamy protoplasmic garden. In Billennium Waves (2014), he shifts to video, imagining the ocean at the dawn of time, its blue-lit waves slowed to barely moving hillsides. It’s a kind of animated landscape painting, with water in place of earth. “Waves are the mountains of the sea, and mountains are the waves of the land,” the artist says—they just rise and fall at different rates.

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