“[The creative process] is a journey whose goal is a distilled or purified essence of the universe.”

b. 1961, Shanghai

Mindscape is the title of one series of Yuan Shun’s paintings, but it would apply just as well to almost any of his works. Though his landscapes appear to depict parched, Mars-like planets, they are in essence mandalas, he says. And the process of making them is “a daily ritual of meditation, spiritual enlightenment and mental invention”. Surreal yet eerily convincing, his quasi-scientific pictures and mist-shrouded dioramas depict “the kind of world I dream about”. Those visions are influenced by Hindu thought, by contemporary city planning, and by the ancient Chinese classic on strategy, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (Yuan Shun is a former Army officer). While these empty spacescapes are intended to evoke sci-fi movie sets and futuristic military bases, they also hark back to Chinese landscape paintings, which reflect the Taoist view of the natural world and man’s humble place in it. Like the artists of that tradition, Yuan Shun takes care to mark or imply paths so viewers can “symbolically speaking, walk along in the landscape”. Though his fantasy worlds start out as dialogues with himself, none of them is quite complete, he says, until others populate it with “their personal thoughts and imaginings”.

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