CULTURE

Fresh portraits by Chinese artist

«We live at a time when people are discovering China, but China is also exploring the world afresh. So I understand why the work of Chinese artists has caused such a sensation in the West. It is a different way of seeing things, although this is not always the case.» Chinese artist Xiang Shi, who just turned 30, lives in Paris and is enjoying an international career. Her work is currently on display at the Thanassis Frissiras Art Gallery through May 23. Our conversation was prompted by the thousands of Chinese artists who have sought artistic and commercial success en masse. «Some of them are truly remarkable. But I think that others have found an easy solution in creating post-pop works and political commentary art. They have created an industry that satisfies the commercial taste of Westerners. It bothers me to see people of my age doing ‘protest art,’ not because they believe in it but only to sell it across the borders. Even if the market, which is full of Chinese artists, is sorted out, the best of them will remain,» she said. A student of Dutch artist Pat Andrea, Xiang studied in China and in Paris. «I was born relatively close to Beijing. I finished the school of fine arts there, but I believed I needed to continue my studies abroad, so I enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. There are huge differences between the education future artists receive at home and in Europe. In China, the school of fine arts is very academic and resembles military service. You have to respect your teacher and acquire the basis of knowledge and techniques that are deemed essential. Teachers in Europe give more freedom to their students, they only guide them up to a certain point. The strict guidance I had in China turned out to be good for me, because it helped me perfect some things that were vital in my line of work. It is good to have the tools, even if you never use them.» The artist believes her country is going through a transition. «Living conditions have definitely improved compared to the past. Everything changes incredibly fast. I often read negative articles about my country and I have to tell you that some of them are exaggerations.» Portraits Xiang Shi paints portraits. The series of works she is presenting in Athens focuses on children and teenagers. Her strokes are clear, her colors are solid and her images lucid. «I use photography in my painting. For this series, I took photographs of my friends’ children and then I processed them digitally on the computer. That is not a restricting technique, an artist’s eye always distorts the real elements. I choose to paint children because I think they are closer to nature than us adults. I also have a motherly instinct and I always wonder what it would be like if I had a child.» Xiang has a close relationship with Greece, a country she visits two to three times a year, at the invitation of her local gallery owner. Her first group exhibition in Athens was in 2006, along with other students of Pat Andrea. «I like Athens. It is chaotic when compared to Paris, but people here are much warmer and hospitable. Even though I come from a country that is far away, I feel at home. My experiences during my frequent trips here certainly help my work. Being cosmopolitan is a distinctive feature for artists of my generation.» Thanassis Frissiras Art Gallery, 7 Kriezotou, Kolonaki, tel 210.364.0288. To May 23.