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Approaching from a distance

Paintings by emerging artist Ai Shanshan

“During the past four years of study in Hobart, each day is unusual, as if it is a concentrated half-life experience full of emotion.

As an international student, I am particularly sensitive to sense of distance. A change from far and near melts in every corner around me. In last four years, I have lived in three places: Sandy Bay, then Hobart City, and now Moonah. With each move my the environment evolves: from unfamiliar to familiar, to attachment, and then I prepare to leave. And then slowly I let go of my memories. The new environments effect me emotionally: from fear, anxiety, temptation, comfort, normality, a reluctance to leave. I love Australia, especially Hobart. Choosing to come here to study and live is the fate of the arrangement.

In China, I worked as an art editor and reporter for 11 years. I had a lot of stories. But now they stay in memory, the good, the painful, the inspiring, all become sweet. In Hobart, I have experienced a lot of things which I would not have experienced in China. And I’ve become a person with stories again, at least I think so. Now, I want to use my brush to tell my stories, like pages of a diary, and express my feelings;  an emotional portrayal of distance from far to near, approaching from a distance.

Life is the accumulation of many small things. Hobart’s scenery has captivated me, and I hope my paintings will move you.”
– Ai Shanshan

Ai Shanshan has travelled across the world from Beijing to Hobart seeking new dimensions to her life and in doing so she probably couldn’t have chosen a bigger contrast. Beijing is a city of about 22 million people and Hobart sits somewhere in the area of 220 thousand inhabitants. She is a stranger in a strange land and no doubt if we travelled to China we would experience a similar sense of dislocation and distance.

In her work at the School of Creative Arts she has focused on distance, her sense of being so far from home and the emotional anxieties and concerns of understanding a new culture, finding a place to fit in. The excitement of being in this new environment is mitigated by the distress that she experienced when she arrived. This delight at a new place can be seen in the picture of Regent Street Cherry Tree on a Slope (2018), where the spray of a tree in blossom softens the pedestrian and rather mundane flats in the midground. However, there are always shadows, unknown darknesses and barriers which can be seen through the bruised colouration of a street in the suburbs Back and Forth (2017). There are blockages preventing entry to this place, a police tape stops the viewer from crossing into the house, overwhelming cloudy forms hint at danger. These themes reflect the artist’s malaise and emotional helplessness at that time.

There are three paintings that bring these ideas together and reveal the gradual assimilation and growth Ai Shanshan has found within her life. The initial painting featuring the police tape works together with this picture, Wait at the Intersection (2018), of a fairly quiet looking street, a still figure waits across the road. He is perhaps hoping for someone to come across and meet him on that side of the street. In contrast to the first painting the blue ribbons fluttering on a street sign are happy, loose and playful, no longer blocking entry to the house. The final work, You are my Neighbor (2018), changes the artist viewpoint to the same side of the street as the house, she has moved from being an observer too frightened to move on, to being part of that neighborhood. A tree is about to burst into spring buds, its pink/red branches full of life and richness.

Ai Shanshan is using colour to connect and transform emotions and make sense of a particular quality of the Tasmanian light. So, where we might see a shabby suburban street with a few parked cars on an empty Sunday morning Ai Shanshan would see a soft new day expressed through the placement of a single branch of flowers or the use of lyrical and muted light. It is possible to see something of Jeffrey Smart’s interest in alienation in some of these pictures, however, Ai Shanshan has transformed the loneliness and fear that she felt into an understanding of the richness and joy of finding new spaces and relationships in this beautiful place.
– Annie Geard

Monday 1 – Wednesday 31 October 2018
9:00am – 5:00pm Weekdays
Weekend Opening Hours TBC

Monday 1 October 2018 @ 6:30pm

Image Credits: Ai Shanshan

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