Digging into the art scene of any city is a worthwhile and time consuming endeavor. It’s something a lot of people want to do, but either never find the time or get locked into their routine of coming home in the evening and watching Felicity DVDs (um…). I run by one of Shanghai’s premier art galleries, the Shanghai Art Museum, every morning, and I’ve sworn to myself I’ll actually go – sooner than later. That said, it’s damned cool (and convenient), when you basically trip over art.
My work neighborhood, Taikang Lu, is a hub of small shops, cafes, and artistic happenings housed in historic Shikumen buildings. It’s a bit touristy, but there are real gems. The small patch where my office is, Tianzifang, is the unofficial creative headquarters of the area. I was delighted to find a great show in the bottom floor of my building.
Charmy Art Space is currently hosting Han Beishi, a Beijing based artist. You can visit the artist’s blog to see a variety of work, including small charcoals and traditional landscapes, but his trademark are these unforgettable characters pictured here. Beishi’s figures are a winning combination of cute and dark (which is like peanut butter and jelly to me…or Nutella and bananas). This look can be found in a lot of products and art around Taikang Lu, but Beishi elevates the commercially successful style with introspective themes. His subjects, usually just one figure to a piece, wear the ubiquitous surgical mask that health-conscious Chinese don’t leave home without. In person, the masks are at first disconcerting. They impart an unknowability, of course, and even look kind of dystopian. Beishi adds religious imagery and thought provoking titles like in the “Self Help Book” series in the Charmy Art Space. To me, his pieces examine this phenomenon of being slightly faceless – how do we use it to fight our demons, to protect ourselves, to hide?
I asked Charmy’s manager, Moony Zhong, if Beishi was well known, since I got a bit of deja vu in the gallery. She said he has only exhibited in Beijing, and never outside of China. Well, that’s a bit disappointing! Beishi is a great example of a new type of Chinese artist – urban, gritty, and with his own style that nods to Chinese tradition while still innovating. There’s a winning aesthetic here that has something in common with Mark Ryden, France’s Miss Van, and even Japanese hit brand Tokidoki. I’d love to see Beishi win some international recognition in publications like Hi-Fructose or Juxtapoz!
All images are from Han Beishi’s personal blog