January 2, 2024
Many of Tang Shuo’s paintings begin with a memory. “I recall a story from the past that left a deep impression on me, extracting a moment from the story and arranging the relationships between characters,” he says. Inspired by his childhood pastime of “playing house,” Shuo renders hunters, snake catchers, and shepherds, imagining himself taking on the roles of his forefathers.
The artist, who is now based in London, grew up in Boulder Hill, a small village on the edge of Guilin, China, that his ancestors founded more than a century ago. For many years, the area was home to the descendants of this single family who upheld many traditional, patriarchal values and farmed the land. Given the political upheaval of the country’s reforms and the Great Leap Forward policies of the mid-twentieth century, its inhabitants struggled for resources like water and food, particularly as famine spread rapidly.
The stories from Shuo’s childhood reflect these realities and are full of grief, labor, and strife, from “water disputes for irrigating rice fields in this agricultural society leading to murder (and) logging for cooking and heating during winter” to scouring the mountains for roaming sheep and children dying from uremia. While the artist’s earlier works looked primarily to the professional lives of his kin, his more recent paintings take an introspective approach.
“While the figures in the paintings still represent my image, I am using my physical form as a medium to depict others,” he says, noting that after identifying the narrative he wants to convey, he photographs himself in various positions to capture bodily movement and gesture. “I have become an observer and storyteller, merely recounting their stories—stories rooted in the realities I heard or experienced during my time in Boulder Hill.”
Following a round of sketching, Shuo moves to the canvas. He shares that finding the right shade of orange for clouds or deep greens for a jungly field is one of the most difficult parts of each painting, which he renders with a characteristic flatness. Replicating men with sleek, shoulder-length hair and long-sleeved shirts, the artist gravitates toward moments of difficulty and melancholy. For example, in “Fleeing Wanderer,” he depicts an exhausted figure slumped over a green sack asleep, while “Sheperd’s Sorrow” is one of many pieces reflecting the pains of agricultural life and features a herdsman searching for lost animals.
Shuo has exhibitions planned for June at Beers London and another later this year at Steve Turner in Los Angeles. He’s currently working on a book co-published with Fabienne Levy, where he’s represented. You can find more of his paintings and glimpses into his studio on Instagram.
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