oil, acrylic, bitumen on canvas
triptych 212 x 759 cm
Shang Yang’s great theme over several decades has been landscape, as a metaphor for the tension between human society and the natural world. He was once asked why he has spent decades focused on the subject; he answered, ‘Is there anything more important than this?’ In 2002 Shang began to incorporate collaged, printed and digital images into his works, and he commenced working on the Dong Qichang Project. Dong Qichang (1555–1636) was a celebrated Ming Dynasty scholar painter, whose work Shang had stumbled upon quite randomly one day, when he turned the pages of a book in his studio. In Chinese art history, mountains meant many things; in Daoist belief they were the home of the immortals, and a mountain range represented a sacred dragon. Shang’s mountains, unlike the misty peaks with sinuous folds and curves found in literati painting, are scarred, mottled, wrinkled and fractured. Giant, monolithic forms, they loom menacingly on large canvases, dark paint and bitumen juxtaposed against lighter backgrounds. Dong Qichang Project 38 (2011), for example, is a triptych painted with oil, acrylic and bitumen measuring eight metres across. Like other works in the series, it features simplified dark mountain peaks juxtaposed with irregular cuboid shapes that allude to human structures. Shang’s sparing, minimalist approach is evident in the simplicity of the composition and the monochrome palette. Unlike the undulating mountain ranges of the literati painters, Shang’s mountains are often triangular, pointed, volcanic peaks, with an implied threat of sudden catastrophic explosions of flaming lava.