Xiao Fan Ru’s Blossoming Universe

Artist Xiao Fan Ru was born in a countryside province of Nankin, China during the Cultural Revolution, at a time when the act of growing and caring for flowers was deemed counter-revolutionary and thus prohibited. As a product of this society, flowers have become symbolically charged objects for the artist, and were treated as such in a recent series. 

Xiao Fan began his art career as a student under the Maoist government, though realized his artistic prospects were severely limited under the Chinese communist regime. In 1983 he moved to France, where he has become one of the most successful Chinese-French artists over the last two decades. His flower series is both a nod to artistic and political censorship during the Cultural Revolution, as well as a critique of contemporary consumerism, as the works connect and interrogate the contradictions of past and present China. Many of the floral works reflect on the short-lived Hundred Flowers Campaign, which intended to encourage greater freedom of thought—“let a hundred flowers bloom”—and led to the imprisonment and execution of thousands of intellectuals, activists, and artists.

His paintings imagine flowers as anthropomorphic, depicting them in clusters or extensions of the human body, perhaps paying tribute to those brutalized after the Hundred Flowers Campaign. The single blossoms in pieces such as No. 27 (2012) are misshapen and bleed into one another, becoming one formless entity, a reflection of the disintegration of the individual. To create this suffused effect, Xiao Fan uses a thinning oil that lends acrylic paint the quality of watercolors. No. 6 (2012), which features a nude female with a bundle of flowers in place of a head, is a deceptively pretty painting that evokes themes of dehumanization. The muted hues and mannequin-like stance of the figure convey a meditative yet isolated sensibility.

Flowers, along with other nature motifs, have been a popular subject for Chinese artists for centuries, though Xiao Fan’s work revolutionizes the form by merging kitschy and sophisticated elements. Defying strict categorization, Xiao Fan merges sensibilities of pop and fine art to develop intriguing visions inspired by the natural beauty of flowers. 

Sola Agustsson

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