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b. 1970, China

Xie Nanxing Biography

Xie Nanxing's approach to painting is one of reversals. Working between the two poles of figuration and abstraction as grounded in Western art history, he reverses their traditional use—figurative elements produce abstract images while abstract gestures are manipulated to portray recognisable forms—as a means of furthering the medium of painting.

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Many of Xie's early paintings from the 1990s depict young men, rendered in a photographic style and often semi-dressed with allusions to bodily harm. Family (No. 3) (1993), for example—created when he was studying at Sichuan Art Academy—shows a young man with a bruised face holding up a bloody chicken. The artist appears against an ambiguous background of blue in Ten-Self Portraits (No. 2) (1997), surrounded by flying objects that resemble severed ears. White gauze is wrapped around his face, evoking Vincent van Gogh's Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889). Xie received critical attention for such artworks at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, in which he exhibited paintings showing nude and pained young men. His creations became associated with the term 'Youth Cruelty Painting', used to refer to works by young Chinese artists of the 1990s—notably Yin Zhaoyang—known for portraying injured human bodies to convey a sense of tragedy and oppression. However, in an interview with the Art Museum of Nanjing University of the Arts in 2015, the artist said that he did not intend to make a connection between youth and cruelty in his paintings, and was only seeking to elicit an emotional reaction from his audience.

In the early 2000s, Xie began exploring the language of abstraction while continuing to portray subjects from real life. This shift developed from the artist's desire to curb his figurative images and their narrative potential; removal of stories from his artwork allowed him to focus more closely on the process of painting itself. He produced a number of paintings that capture moments of daily life, such as a close-up of gas stove flames in untitled (Flame) (2000) or droplets on windows in the triptych untitled (Picture of Voice II) (2001). Often out of focus, these paintings are on the verge of becoming unrecognisable, fluidly oscillating between figuration and abstraction. Others paintings from this period are rendered in a more ambiguous manner. For example, the three untitled paintings that the artist presented in documenta 12 in Kassel in 2007 portray gardens at night through foliage-like forms. Yet the images were not made by painting gardens, but by blackening a canvas and filming its surface under different lighting and from different perspectives to produce impressions of trees and leaves in the dark. The artist then played the video on a television and photographed it to use as the basis for his paintings.

Whether figurative or abstract, many of Xie's works present only parts of their original process or subject. One technique the artist frequently uses involves printing images through a canvas; first painting on the top of two layers of canvas, he then removes the upper fabric after the pigments have seeped through it. Untitled (no. 2) (2009), the second in a series of three untitled paintings that reimagine the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, was his first work made using this method. In the work, an almost-blank rectangle is spotted with dabs of colour where the paint bled through. Opaque paint in mostly green, red, and yellow frames the void space, while shapes such as a raised hand and the tip of a red cap suggest that there might have been figures in the original image the artist painted.

Xie adopts a similar approach to portraits, alluding to someone's character through his opinion of them rather than their physical features. Portrait No. 1 (2012), which was included in his solo exhibition untitled: 3x at Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing, in 2015, is a portrait of his girlfriend seen through her style of driving—a car halts before a frightened dog, presumably having almost hit it.

Xie's conscious concealment of full narratives in his work continues with 'Spices' (2016–2017), a series of seven oil paintings in which the artist skews motifs of well-known Western paintings with limited colour palettes and a combination of amorphous forms and graffiti-like emphases. The series derives its title from an anecdote about Christopher Columbus, who mistook a Caribbean tree bark for a new spice. Xie's mis-readings, however, are deliberate. Spice No. 3 (2016), for example, depicts a group of women coming down a set of stairs, and is reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912). Unlike Duchamp's highly abstracted figuration in a colour scheme of brown and black, Xie's women are in shades of pink and red and hold parrots, with one of the birds painted in the black lines evocative of Chinese ink painting. Through the incongruity between the styles of the parrot and the rest of the oil painting—a medium with origins in Europe—the artist alludes to Chinese art's complex relationship with Western art, including Western art's influence on contemporary Chinese art.

Xie's recent solo exhibitions include A Gift Like Kung Pao Chicken at Thomas Dane Gallery, London (2019)—the artist's first solo presentation in the city—and Spices at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2018). Notable group exhibitions include Chinese Whispers, MAK, Vienna (2019); Permanent Abstraction, Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing (2016); and Nonfigurative, Shanghai 21st Century Minsheng Art Museum (2015).

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2019

Xie Nanxing Featured Artworks

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A Theater of Waiting by Xie Nanxing contemporary artwork
Xie NanxingA Theater of Waiting, 2019Oil on canvas
90 x 120 cm
Galerie Urs Meile Enquire
What to Exhibit No. 1 by Xie Nanxing contemporary artwork
Xie NanxingWhat to Exhibit No. 1, 2017Oil on canvas
190 x 300 cm
Galerie Urs Meile Enquire
Seven Portraits No. 1 by Xie Nanxing contemporary artwork
Xie NanxingSeven Portraits No. 1, 2018Oil on canvas
100 x 100 cm
Galerie Urs Meile Enquire
Down the Stairs Woman by Xie Nanxing contemporary artwork
Xie NanxingDown the Stairs Woman, 2002Oil on canvas
120 x 100 cm
Tang Contemporary Art Contact Gallery
Romania by Xie Nanxing contemporary artwork
Xie NanxingRomania, 2019Oil on canvas
110 x 80 cm
Galerie Urs Meile Enquire
Untitled No. 1 by Xie Nanxing contemporary artwork
Xie NanxingUntitled No. 1, 2017oil on canvas
120 x 80 cm
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Untitled No. 2 by Xie Nanxing contemporary artwork
Xie NanxingUntitled No. 2, 2017Oil on canvas
120 x 100 cm
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Portrait No. 1 by Xie Nanxing contemporary artwork
Xie NanxingPortrait No. 1, 2012Oil on canvas
120 x 160 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries Contact Gallery

Xie Nanxing Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Xie Nanxing, A Roll of the Dice at Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing
7 November 2020–31 January 2021 Xie Nanxing A Roll of the Dice Galerie Urs MeileBeijing
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Shifting at Galerie Urs Meile, Lucerne
8–29 August 2020 Group Exhibition Shifting Galerie Urs MeileLucerne
Contemporary art exhibition, Gao Ludi, Lu Song, Xie Nanxing, Points of Departure at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong
20 July–9 September 2017 Gao Ludi, Lu Song, Xie Nanxing Points of Departure Lehmann MaupinHong Kong

Xie Nanxing Represented By

Galerie Urs Meile contemporary art gallery in Beijing, China Galerie Urs Meile Beijing, Lucerne

Xie Nanxing In Ocula Magazine

Points of Departure at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong Ocula Insight Points of Departure at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong By Diana d'Arenberg

Summer is the time for gallery group shows, a filling up of the white cube with dead stock. They're usually a pretty boring mind-numbing affair of recycled work from previous shows tied together with a spurious curatorial spin printed on a press release that nobody will read. The collectors—along with the gallery director—are still...

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Xie Nanxing In Related Press


It's easy to forget, when considering western painting, that no act of mimesis on a two-dimensional surface will equate reality. Linear perspective represents one of many ways to draw the world and all painting is reducible to pigments on a surface. Photography is no different. When the first cameras were developed, there was a conscious effort to...

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SPICES: XIE NANXING Related Press SPICES: XIE NANXING 4 July 2018, ArtAsiaPacific

On one of his now legendary ocean voyages in search of foreign and uncharted lands, Christopher Columbus once mistook a kind of Caribbean tree bark for a new spice. Centuries later, this anecdote inspired the title of Xie Nanxing's solo show at Beijing's Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. Xie is an explorer of a different sort—his 'Spice'...

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Xie Nanxing: Besieged by material Related Press Xie Nanxing: Besieged by material 31 July 2015, Leap Magazine

More than once I have asked Xie Nanxing to explain the secret magic behind his painting. When we struggle to find some guiding principle behind the variations of his imagery in his work, are the materials he uses important? By way of response, Xie points out that my curiosity points to a false proposition. This is because he is continuously...

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Xie Nanxing In Video & Audio

Racket of Cobwebs: Chinese Contemporary Art Group Exhibition Related Video & Audio Racket of Cobwebs: Chinese Contemporary Art Group Exhibition 31 July 2020, Tang Contemporary Art

This group exhibition curated by Amy Lee features remarkable pieces by 14 Chinese contemporary artists with their classic and innovative art.

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