Red Guard Movement: 50th Anniversary – Oil Paintings by Shen Hanwu
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Yan Gallery is proud to announce a new exhibition entitled ‘Red Guard Movement – 50th Anniversary’, a superb collection of oil paintings by celebrated Mainland Chinese artist Shen Han Wu, which looks back to the tumultuous events of 1966 when the Red Guard Movement swept across China.
In this collection of nearly 20 paintings, Shen Han Wu focuses entirely on a period in Chinese history known as the Red Guard Movement. During the summer of 1966 students from schools and Universities started to form into groups in order to attack and expel “The Four Olds” – old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas. This movement quickly turned violent and mobs of Red Guards rampaged across China questioning everyone and asking them “What is your family background?”. Anyone not of the approved “classes” were severely punished and brutally beaten up. Landowners and intellectuals were particularly targeted.
Shen Han Wu was a teenager during the Cultural Revolution and had direct experience with the Red Guards. He recalls the horror and devastation of those years. In his works he artfully captures the fervor and spirit of the youth caught up in this movement. Their zeal is written on their faces, but also their naivety and innocence.
Shen Han Wu is a portrait painter, what fascinates him about painting is capturing the character and spirit of the figure before him. In these oils Shen works with great sensitivity, conveying the sense of hope and idealism in the faces of the young. Shen works with a fine brush and paints meticulously, taking several months for each work to achieve an almost photographic likeness. In an article for the accompanying catalogue Shen says, “I found that the people I had come across could form a spectrum, a spectrum of human nature. The ‘divine nature’ and ‘brutish nature’ coexisting in the human being forming the two ends of the spectrum…Everyone has his individual position on the spectrum of human nature.” He goes onto say that “The Red Guards are a special group of people during a special era. Someone with both a devil’s face and the devil’s soul is, after all, very rare. Most of them have the face of an angel with a big or small devil in their body.” Thus most of the characters on display are fresh-faced and attractive, he therefore alludes to the brutality of the time through other means. Some of the figures hold their leather belts menacingly, others bear arms, a few paintings are splattered with drops of blood referencing the violence and bloodshed that really occurred.
Although this era was a time of turmoil and strife and acts of horrific violence were committed, there is also a strong sense of nostalgia in his works. The painting “Old Mo”, refers to a restaurant in Beijing called the “Moscow Restaurant” the only place in Beijing where Western food was served. This became a favorite hangout for the first Red Guards, where they could brag about their adventures and live the highlife. The restaurant is still going today and has been restored to its former 1950’s glory and is still a favorite of many from that generation. Shen Hau Wu recently had a reunion with his friends at this restaurant, after which he painted this work using the face of a current movie star as the central character in order to alert the youth of today.
Shen Hanwu was born in 1950 in Nantung, Jiangsu Province, China. During the Cultural Revolution he worked in the countryside as a farmer, and later as an art designer and editor. Subsequently, he graduated from the Hubei Fine Art Institute, becoming a full-time artist in 1972. Between 1980 and 1990 he worked primarily as an illustrator of books, after which he concentrated on painting in oils at the Wuhan Painting Academy. Shen Hanwu is a National Grade One Artist. He is a member of the Chinese National Artists Association and is Director of the Wuhan Artists Association. He has received numerous national and provincial awards, and his works are represented in prestigious collections both in China and overseas.
Opening night is on Tuesday 22nd March, 6-9pm.Artist will be present and a catalogue available. For further enquiries, please contact the gallery.