Ma's explorations in printmaking, painting, sculpture, and poetry have evolved from the politically-charged woodblock prints of his early years in China, to his widely recognised stacked stone assemblages, which appear at first as monuments of apparent neutrality. Guided by Taoist philosophy, Ma investigates endless visual possibilities for his signature forms, and their embodiment of energy, life, and spirit.Read More
Following the Cultural Revolution, Ma Desheng and the Stars artists embraced the opportunity for individual artistic expression in a new phase of China's history, diverging from the propagandist art which had previously dominated the cultural scene. During this period Ma predominantly produced monochromatic woodblock prints. These ranged from geometric abstract compositions, such as Minions (1979) and Night Bird (1980), which reflect experimentation with line, negative space, and illustration—to politically responsive images with motifs related to freedom or repression. Solidarity (1979) outlines multiple outstretched arms which tower above a cluster of houses, while the energetic strokes depicting a hybridised bird-woman in Flying Goddess (1979) allude to a state of liberation. Ma has stated: 'We wanted to express democracy and freedom. And even beauty. At the time, beauty was not fashionable.'
Upon leaving China, Ma worked increasingly with calligraphy ink and acrylic paint. A car accident rendered him wheelchair-bound, however, he continued painting and used brush extensions to work with acrylics on large canvases. From the early 2000s, Ma composed images of piles of stones in endless variations of stacking and assemblage. Simplified, repetitive, and sparse, Ma's stone paintings explore dichotomies of stability and fragility; imbalance and equilibrium, lightness and weight.
Curator Jean-Paul Desroches has written: '...great stones with polished contours spring up from the rough backgrounds of violent contrasts, structured like the works of Brancusi, volcanic like those of Matisse, but as existential as Morandi's still lifes. He stacks up the stones to form his figures abolishing the boundaries between sculpture and painting.'
In his sculptural works, Ma Desheng translates his stone images into three-dimensional cast bronze forms, with his precariously balanced 'rocks' recalling the minimal biomorphic sculptures of Jean Arp, or the balancing rock totems of Ugo Rondinone. Varying vastly in scale — from the miniature bronze 'Untitled' series (2011), to the large outdoor iteration Scuptures (2019) presented at the Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire—Ma's precarious forms may be seen to embody the Taoist principle of the decentring of humans, or the bridging of the earth and sky.