“My experimental series of glass paintings is an attempt to deconstruct realistic painting and then reconstruct it from its key principles.”

Born Beijing, 1959

Xia Xiaowan has been preoccupied for years with the problem of representing three dimensions on a flat surface. For him, the Western solution—with lines of perspective converging on a vanishing point—is powerful but inadequate. After much experimenting, he decided to approach the question from the opposite direction and build flat images into a 3D one. He divides a picture into layers, draws each section in coloured pencil on a sheet of tinted glass, then stacks the sheets one in front of the other. The translucent composite conveys the depth and solidity of a living figure. Man and Woman (2007) not only extends across multiple dimensions, it contains them. What at first seems a single monstrous figure turns out to be two: a pregnant woman and a man, deformed yet recognisably human. Bent and sorrowful, they might almost be Adam and Eve cast out of Eden. As the viewer moves around the painting-sculpture, it seems to move too, adding to the lifelike effect. “When we view a living person,” the artist says, “their position at the end cannot be exactly the same as at the start.”

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