Sun Yitian Biography

Beijing-based artist Sun Yitian portrays cartoon-like animals, barbie doll heads, and human bodies that resemble mannequins in a hyper-realistic manner. Working primarily in acrylic on canvas and panel, she uses vibrant colours and invisible brushstrokes to capture the flattened experience in the age of the superficial.

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Sun Yitian was born and raised in Wenzhou, a city known for wholesale trade and consumer goods manufacturing. Her childhood memories are entangled with the experience of being surrounded by a huge amount of locally-produced toys, which would later become her most revisited motif. Sun received her BFA in 2015 and MFA in 2018 in Oil Painting from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing.

Sun also actively collaborates with fashion and luxury brands. She was selected in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia Class of 2019.



Drawing her imagery from living experiences and dreams, Sun Yitian paints inflated plastic toys in a photorealist style. Toys cast a heavy shadow on often monochromatic backgrounds, contrasting with the glistening shine on their sleek surface. Their vacant eyes avoid meeting the gaze of the viewer. The rough edges and poor print quality of the plastic toys are deliberately and accurately preserved in Sun's work. By revealing the standardised mass-producing process, the artist calls for a reconsideration of the issues of cheap labour and consumerism.

The natural

'The natural', as opposed to 'the manmade', is another thread running through Sun's practice. She infuses an artificiality in her depiction of animals, plants and the human body, eliminating any contextual details or biological features that might compromise their perfection.

The cartoonish, chubby owl frequently appears in Sun's paintings. Alluding to Hegel's quote, 'the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the coming of the dusk', the imagery of the owl represents the artist's philosophical reflection of the phenomenal world.

In Let Me Hold You (2015), Sun removes the aggressive spikes of a cactus and turns it into a harmless, plastic pot plant. In Artificial bloom (2021), a monumental flower with a tapering stem is plucked out of the earth, foregrounding a hallucinatory scene that evokes the uncanny.


Sun Yitian has created a series of works featuring the fictional character Ken, the boyfriend of Barbie. The single head of Ken is isolated in a domestic or outdoor scene. Sun addresses masculinity by endowing the severed head with various textures, from plastic to crystal. The surreal diptych Double Brightness (2021) depicts two monumental silhouettes of Ken sitting face to face against a blue dawn background. In-keeping with her painting motif, Yitian creates the supersized Ken (2021), which marks her first foray into the field of sculpture. Ken takes the form of Ring Pop, a wearable lollipop candy popular among children in 1990s China. Installed on an acrylic base, the translucent doll's head tilts against the ground.


Sun Yitian has exhibited with BANK Gallery, Mine Projects Shanghai, Almine Rech, as well as Frieze London and FIAC, Paris as well as major organizations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Lion Palace, Berlin; and Macao Museum of Art.

Her works are also included in the collections of Longlati Foundation, Shanghai; X Museum, Beijing; MWOODS, Beijing, YUZ Museum, Shanghai, Sifang Museum, Nanjing, Xiao Museum, Rizhao, By Art Matters, Hangzhou and White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney, among others.

Website and Instagram

Sun Yitian's Instagram can be found here.

Shanyu Zhong | Ocula | 2023

Sun Yitian
featured artworks

Ken by Sun Yitian contemporary artwork painting
Sun Yitian Ken, 2023 Acrylic on canvas
150 x 150 cm
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Sun Yitian
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