It was 2003 and Xia Xiao Wan, acclaimed Chinese painter and one of the staples of the 1985 Chinese New Wave, was wandering through the vast space of Beijing’s Today Art Museum. He had just finished installing his solo show at the museum, and was basking in the ensuing sense of calm that followed the requisite mayhem of installation, enjoying the cavernous, grandiose space of the galleries, typical of exhibition spaces in the Chinese capital.
Then it occurred to him that everything was all wrong. The flatness of painting simply didn’t fill the space, leaving it feeling empty and naked. Xia Xiao Wan started to consider how this flatness could be transposed, how the space of a painting could be expanded from its usual two axes by adding a third, converting the two-dimensional visual object into a three-dimensional one.
1985 was indeed an important landmark for Chinese contemporary art, a generation of avant-garde artists emerged in the aftermath of the cultural revolution. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean every artist of this generation would sacrifice the exploration of aesthetic possibilities in favor of socio-political artistic statements. In Xia Xao Wan’s case, experimentation with new techniques and a re-appropriation of old ones would lead the artist into a multi-year period of hedonistic research of new painting materials and supports.
Xia Xao Wan’s experimental nature would allow him to arrive at a three-dimensional painting technique where an image is dispersed through several layers of glass, which are then aligned and stacked on top of one another to create a painting with unparalleled depth. Check out some more examples of his gorgeous work below: