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November 26, 2011

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Church setting for 'frog' works

AN art exhibition of mysterious amphibian-like creatures, some incorporating real frog skins, is underway in a former Russian Orthodox cathedral.

The startling exhibition "Back and Forth" by painter Shi Shaoping features new works in his "Metamorphosis" series displayed dramatically in his 500-square-meter church studio in the cathedral on Xinle Road.

In his large paintings there are frogs, frog-like creatures and all manner of strange animals that seem to be moving, writhing, emerging, mutating, evolving, coalescing and transforming in water.

Some have spotted skins (some frog skins are real), tentacles, gills, claws, fins, fangs and other appendages rendered in splashes of greens, browns, yellows, reds, purples and pink. The fluidly moving creatures are filled with energy.

In the shafts of light that pour down from the windows they appear to move in translucent space against white walls in the tranquil former church.

Some of the works, mostly in water-color, have the feel of traditional Chinese ink-wash paintings.

Speaking of his strange amphibian subject matter, Shi observes, "Only those artists who are not catering to current art tastes will be remembered in the long run. The mission of an artist should not be the simple recreation or repetition of a tradition.

"What really matters is not what to paint, but what not to paint," he adds.

Everything has a reason, says the 44-year-old painter, referring to his amphibians and childhood memories of metamorphosis, of tadpoles turning into frogs.

"My father was a distinguished biologist and I often saw various animal specimens in his laboratory," he recalls. Today his father helps process and preserve the frog skins fused into the artwork.

Last month Shi held a solo show of his amphibians in Paris; it was a satellite exhibition during the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) and BeauxArts magazine featured his work.

"Maybe my art cannot be easily accepted here in China," Shi says, "but that doesn't matter. I only share my art and passion with those who can be spiritually linked with me."

He says he was surprised in Paris when a little boy immediately recognized the frog skin on my canvas. "The boy also said the colors on the frog skin perfectly matched the other colors in the painting and he described a work of harmony," Shi recalls.

"It was quite amazing to hear those words from such a small boy, and I was so moved that I wanted to give him a hug," he says. "That's the mission of my art, exceeding any boundaries in language, art background and nationality."

Born in 1968, Shi is a graduate of the Shanghai Theater Academy that has nurtured big names in contemporary art, including Chen Zhen, Li Shan and Cai Guoqiang.

In addition to his amphibian works, Shi says he is also experimenting with ceramics fron Jingdezhen, considered the cradle of Chinese porcelain in Jiangxi Province.

"It will be a gigantic installation. But the craftsmen in Jingdezhen said that I was crazy when they heard what I was going to do," Shi says. "Maybe that's the real me. I always dare to think of something that has never been tried.

Date: Through December 31 (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays), 11am-5pm

Address: 55 Xinle Rd


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