“In this chaotic world, people are becoming sly, untruthful, preposterous … Yet that is what makes this age so moving and surprising.”

Born 1964, Hailong, Jilin. Lives and works in Germany

Put Daumier, Goya, Hogarth, François Boucher and Bosch in a giant blender, set it to maximum speed, throw in a ton of ribald humour and black satire, and you have the flavour of Zhao Bo’s work. Whatever you think of his subject matter (he has a thing for naked female buttocks, turkey-necked vultures and bloated toads), the boldness and technical skill of his paintings make them impossible to ignore. Absurdly grotesque yet vividly lifelike, his outsize tableaus often include a mutant version of the artist, as a dwarf, a vampire bat, or a chimp in lederhosen. Like Goya, Hogarth and Daumier, Zhao Bo targets society’s mores, traditions and institutions—notably, in his case, the Communist Party. (His detestation of socialist art drove him in the early 1990s to Germany, where he still spends most of his time.) But his works contain no trace of anger or scorn, only peals of Hearty Laughter (the title of his book) in the mouths of roaring peasants, guffawing frogs, and slavering dog-men. Far from rebuking ugliness and obscenity, Zhao Bo revels in them. Asked once by a reporter what he was mocking, he had no answer. In the end, he seems to take nothing seriously—his own “satires”, perhaps, least of all.

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