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June 19, 2021

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Creating a refined celebration of a colorful path

Delicate, subtle and refined, artist Pan Jian’s works, on display through July 4 at the Himalayas Museum in the Pudong New Area, is not only a celebration of colors, but also a statement of artist who strives to find a unique way to express himself through the language of painting over the past decade.

A teacher with the oil painting department at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts since 2001, Pan started with the traditional oil on canvas, and switched to mixed media by combing oil, acrylic and metallic powder. In 2005, he moved to Beijing to better mingle with the country’s contemporary art scene, living and working between the two cities.

Whenever he had time, he would go biking in the suburbs, taking a lot of pictures with his camera, and then using the photographic images as material for his paintings. Being sensitive to light and shadow, he found an interesting phenomenon: When the sun has just gone down but the streetlights have not yet turned on, there is a very special moment.

From his paintings since the early 2010s, it is clear he was enamored with the light at dusk, the shadows of the trees and the colors of the sky in that moment. His works went abstract. Rather than painting the woods, he was painting his impressions of woods’ silhouette, or rather his emotions and feelings.

Pan had a fondness for using the Klein Blue for the color of the sky created by Yves Klein (1928-1962), which directly influenced his A series in 2018-19. But to find a color palette that was particularly his own, he deliberately reduced the colors of his works, at first, to nearly indistinguishable black, white and golden strokes.

In some of his paintings, such as the Haze in 2014 or the Y series in 2016-17, viewers have to stop and stare to make out the trees and paths vaguely present in the images.

“That’s what makes you stop, no?” said the 46-year-old, who was in Shanghai for the opening ceremony. “And if you stop, you’ll see there are actually more than two colors, and many more … not just dark or darker, white or whiter, yellowish or less yellowish.”

His works during this period were actually more influenced by Chinese literati paintings, which emphasize the artistic value of calligraphy and poetry, carefully controlled emotions and behaviors — a conscious practice in combining the aesthetics and techniques of Eastern and Western paintings.

In recent years, he began to focus more on the language of painting itself. He uses a method similar to action painting, such as splashing, rubbing or bleaching, to create his works. The process of changing in his technique, which led to the “Lightning Edge” series during the partial lockdown in Beijing due to the COVID-19 outbreak last year, shows how he has freed himself from traditional methods and entered into a freer creative state.

“What amazed me most was Pan’s application of colors over the years,” said Liu Zhen, deputy director of Shanghai Himalayas Museum. “He started with blue as the main color, gradually shifted to blue and purple, then simplified to black and white, added gold, returned to blue, and then moved to the current colorful images.”

The title of the exhibition “evolution,” according to Liu, came from the idea of Pan’s 6-year-old daughter who understood her father’s paintings as a slow changing of colors in her eyes.

Anyone who comes to the exhibition can see clearly a painter’s path, a kind of hard exploration without taking shortcuts. The show is a good illustration of the idea that neither the growth of a person nor the maturity of an artist’s creative face takes place overnight. It comes from slow, deliberate, mindful and focused investment.

Dates: Through July 4 (Closed on Mondays), 10am-6pm

Tickets: 60 yuan

Venue: Hall 3B & 3C & 3D, Shanghai Himalayas Museum

Address: 869 Yinghua Road


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