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The Real Thing: Yang Shaobin

September 18, 2017

Born in Tangshan, Hebei Province in 1963, Yang Shaobin is an internationally recognized painter best known for his painful and often tortured subjects. The artist moved to Beijing in the early 1990s and joined an early avant-garde art group that was based near the Old Summer Palace. Influenced by Francis Bacon and Arnulf Rainer, Yang says his works are often created to elicit discomfort or painful feelings from the viewer and to draw awareness of a social consciousness.


The Battling Crowds II,
2009 PRINT Lithograph


An extraordinarily instinctive and innovative painter, Yang Shaobin is one of the few well-known painters from the 1990s to continue to experiment and take risks. Distancing himself from the Cynical Realism with which he is most commonly associated, 800 Metres Below is a deeply personal reflection upon the brutal conditions that coalminers face in China.


800 Meters Under No. 8
Oil on canvas


Coal production in China today accounts for almost 40% of the world’s supply, and it also claims 80% of deaths worldwide from mining accidents; often described as the ‘deadliest job’, it remains a sensitive issue for China.

800 Metres Below are painted in the style of Socialist Realism with which Yang Shaobin grew up, and is more normally associated with an era of epic optimism. However, in these works, the artist uses a distinctively drab palette, different from the seductive colours of his earlier works.

Fighting 98-13, 2009 PRINT Lithograph

Although the workers are painted with compassion and dignity, the artist offers an ironic comment upon the utopian allegorical idealism that underpinned Mao’s pre-eminent brand of Social Realism. 800 Metres Below invokes an accurate, if harsh portrait of a contemporary industrial poverty trap from which there is little escape.

Danger Encountered, 2008 PRINT
Silkscreen print on archival paper





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