Tang Shuo is a Chinese artist who grew up in a small area of Southern China known in English as Boulder Hill. Recently, he has moved his practice to the United Kingdom in 2020, where he has begun to fully devote himself to his artistic practice. Tang began experimenting with different materials while still studying art in Beijing, where he was able to continue his exploration of media (and theme) after graduating, before finding painting to be his preferred medium and his subsequent relocation overseas.
With this radical shift in environment and culture, Tang felt compelled to re-examine his work with the relationship between the individual and society as his premier concern. The work features a recurrent single or small group of dark-skinned Chinese persons, their tanned flesh suggesting a labourer or farmer, who seems to be captured in or just after moments of labour, duty, or action. These figures are broad-faced and bodied, (reminiscent of Diego Rivera’s paintings of Mexican peasants and field-workers) and the moments in which Tang chooses to portray his figures is telling. These are normal, everyday country persons exalted into magnified poses. The M.O. is similar to, say, Kehinde Wiley, who presents everyday black people or persons from gangs in scenarios previously reserved for, say, 17th-century French Royals.
Tang’s technique is both realist and stylized, perhaps re-establishing and negating both the varied sets of values new and old he finds himself questioning. Issues of politics, human rights, religion and identity rest just beneath his refined surface, and where memories of Tang’s childhood upbringing in the village of Boulder Hill informs everything he does: “Boulder Hill is not just a physical place name, it is also the starting point of my current thoughts, behaviour, and way of life.” This inescapable sensibility is reminiscent of an Asiatic reinterpretation of Grant Wood’s enigmatic American Gothic and larger ouevre, depicting a carefully contrived version of rural life combined with a strong sense of foreboding and loneliness.
“The canvas has become my paradise. Painting is a mysterious practice for me. It is an inner feeling that cannot be expressed in words.” But through his handling, Tang’s deeply introspective work is bucolic, idyllic, and even slightly mysterious, as he re-tells the stories of local shepherds, lumberjacks, hunters and farmers by painting himself (and reiterations of himself) as the central figure in these roles. Through his paintings, Tang imagines himself living and working like them, the individuals who have formed the fabric of the micro-society of Boulder Hill, and subsequently the artist we see today.