Shen Jiawei was born in Shanghai in 1948. He taught himself to be an artist during the Cultural Revolution, when he was in a student corps in the cold North-east. An early painting depicts a young man eating snow whilst working in the forests. He has commented that this was a self-portrait – although he changed his face as the only portraits tolerated at the time were of Mao and other national leaders, or model workers and revolutionaries. The oil painting Standing Guard for Our Great Motherland (1974) (pictured below and a poster of which was included in the show) was especially well-known in China.
A full ‘biography of a poster’ which discusses this work and its historical importance is forthcoming from the investigators (Donald and Evans). The extract below is a brief introduction to looking at the work:
‘The men are on a lookout high above a river. Two are imposing and virile. But with all paintings, looking closely yields reward. There are actually three men, we now see. One is inside the lookout, scanning the northern horizon, his face just visible underneath a large fur-skin hat. This figure is based on Company Director Wang Dezhong, the professional soldier who allowed the young largely self-taught artist, to use himself and his men as models. The second officer is climbing the iron stairs towards the top platform. He is carrying a telescope, and also looking north. The third (based on Private Wang Shu-ja) is on the platform, legs astride in a long khaki padded coat. He is wearing a hat with earflaps and has a bayonet over one shoulder, and is holding a pair of binoculars. He too looks north. North refers both to the danger of Russian invasion, but conversely also refers to the place of the Emperor looking south. In 1973 the only emperor was Chairman Mao, “the red sun in our hearts”.’
Shen has been living and working in Sydney since 1989. Some of his well known portraits include former Melbourne Lord Mayor John So in a possum skin cloak, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, and John Howard, the former Prime Minister of Australia. His works are in public and private collections worldwide.