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March 17, 2012

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Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Oil painting meets Chinese opera

SHEN Gao, a former Kunqu Opera stage art designer, brings Kunqu and Peking operas to life with his vivid oil painting that shimmer with vitality and feature meticulous attention to detail and authenticity.

Over the past 19 years, Shen has been painting famous scenes from traditional operas with their elaborate costumes, makeup, precise gestures and symbolism.

An exhibition of 58 of Shen's opera paintings are exhibited at the Shanghai Public Art Center on Guyi Road through March 24.

Shen, who is now 65, drew inspiration from Kunqu Opera classics such as "The Palace of Eternal Youth" and "The Peony Pavilion." He created more than 20 paintings based on "The Peony Pavilion," considered a kind of Romeo and Juliet tale about the love between a poor scholar and the daughter of a high-ranking official.

Shen not only captures the intricate and colorful headdress, the exquisite embroidery and the flower pattern on a fan, but also the eye contact between lovers and their facial expressions. There's a sense of motion, as the costumes move gracefully with the characters.

"Kunqu Opera, the ancestor of traditional Chinese operas, is the soil where my art grows and blossoms and I am fascinated by the beautiful tones and costumes," he says.

Shen started working at the Shanghai Kunqu Opera House as a stage art designer in 1979. He was taught by Shanghai oil painting master Yan Wenliang and also learned traditional Chinese ink-wash painting.

He prefers to express his Chinese opera images in Western colors using Eastern xieyi style of freehand brushwork in traditional Chinese painting.

Shen has watched the "The Peony Pavilion" hundreds of times. Performances are usually staged a night and he paints the day afterward.

"Oil paintings feature rich color, and Kunqu Opera is exquisite and graceful. I want to combine Western oil colors with Chinese traditional opera since I love both of them and strive to achieve the best blend."

Paintings in the exhibition portray scenes such as Emperor Li Longji (AD 685-762) and his favorite concubine Yang Guifei in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) in "The Palace of Eternal Youth." He also depicts Peking Opera scenes such as "Guifei Zui Jiu" ("Drunken Concubine") and Peking Opera figures such as General Liang Hongyu of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and Xiao He, a statesman in the early Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).

Shen is not the first to paint traditional Chinese opera in oils, but his work is notably authentic since he is familiar with operas and their exacting standards and techniques.

Shen strictly respects the strict opera rules, such as positioning of parallel swords and the four Peking Opera armor flags on the back of wusheng, a martial arts warrior.

Date: Through March 24, 9:30am-4:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Public Art Center, 125 Guyi Rd

Tel: 5424-4152

Admission: Free

How to get there: Metro Lines 3, 4 and 9 at Yishan Road Station


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