Entering the Third Dimension with a Chinese Artist’s Algorithmic Paintings and “Computer Fauvism”

Like many contemporary artists, Miao Xiaochun finds inspiration in Old Masters and masterpieces. After all, many of those universal themes transcend time and place, regardless of artistic language. But Xiaochun modernizes that language as few artists do.

For “Metamorphosis,” his solo exhibition currently on view at Klein Sun Gallery in New York, the Chinese artist presents an intriguing look at his dazzlingly cutting-edge practice. Through a range of 3D and 2D methods, he creates animations, “algorithmic paintings,” and what he calls “Computer Fauvism.” His vibrant work is often based on Renaissance masterpieces like Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Triumph of Death (circa 1562) or on more contemporary works, like Matisse’s cutouts, or even on ancient art forms such as the traditional Chinese hand scroll.

  • Image courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery.

    Image courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery.

In most cases, Xiaochun starts with a classic, then digitally cuts away at the image, inserting the present and, in some cases, his own likeness. It’s a transformation he achieves through a combination of 3D modeling, plotting, and hand-drawing. Typically, the Beijing-based artist starts on the computer, working with 3D graphics and models to manipulate the image; from there, he hand-draws the scene onto canvas.

In the case of The Triumph of Death (2015), for instance, Xiaochun reimagines Bruegel’s war scene as a film set, then populates it with virtual versions of himself. In another work, Zero Degree Doubt (2013), he starts with a classic painting, Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1601–02). In Xiaochun’s version, the original characters—a resurrected Christ and Thomas, a skeptic, who inspects his wounds—are replaced with transparent, digitally rendered human forms.

The suggestion, it seems, is that the relationship between science and faith, between reality and belief, is just as tenuous today as it was then. Besides, as Xiaochun sees it, that past isn’t as far away as we might think it is. “I think that there is not such a big contrast between the ancient and modern times,” he has said. “If we look at the history of the world, a hundred years or thousand years is not that much. The modern times and the classic times are not so far away. It is almost the same time.”


—Bridget Gleeson


Miao Xiaochun: Metamorphosis” is on view at Klein Sun Gallery, New York, Sept. 8–Oct. 8, 2016.

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