Can you tell us a little about how you got into painting and how you found your individual style?
My father was an arts teacher in the countryside, so art was an important part of my upbringing. I went to study fine arts in Suzhou and after graduating, I started painting landscapes and portraits. It had always been my dream to paint and be able to live off it, and I found some ‘persuasive‘ ways of doing it. I earned some money, but in order to actually fulfill my dream, I realised that I had to move to Shanghai to try and sell some canvas. That was in 2007.
I thought that I was mature in my way of thinking ... But I also believe that artists have a social responsibility, if I may say so. Only when you start reflecting on society will your paintings become actually meaningful. So I figured that I had to stop generating commercialised paintings and create something with real substance.
So what do you want to express through your work? What themes are you touching upon?
My work is like a reminder; I have a critical attitude towards a lot of things, because I want to unravel the truths of life. I’m convinced that it’s bad to forget about morality, like a lot of people do nowadays in order to get what they want; it’s all about power, and material desires. At first this pained me, but now I am able to apply a holistic approach to the situation. International happenings, such as the Iraq war in 2009 or the Tsunami in Japan greatly influenced me. After these, I changed my way of thinking. Now I’m convinced that this thirst for power is simply about sickness, and not because the person himself is a bad person.
I created sexual and violent paintings, in order to remind me of this place we all live in, and how frightening death is.
For instance, in one of my paintings I deliberately destroyed Mona Lisa’s beauty, in order to demonstrate that external things will disappear one day and physical beauty is only on the surface. If you compare it to a portrait of Einstein I did, which is called ‘Old Guy’, you can see and feel an expression of patience and love in his big deep eyes.
The painting of the girl with a cigarette shows that nowadays people have no idea about how they want to make their lives complete. This girl is the personification of loneliness and emptiness. My paintings are a result and proof of my will to find the truth; the question of their beauty doesn’t matter to me.
What kind of technique do you use?
I use a technique I learnt at college which enables me to express what I need and long for.
Some paintings are expressing a kind of depression and others are somewhat happier. For both, I use big brushes, and sometimes even knives and others tools in order to bring out the soul of the painting itself. However, the tools are just that: tools; a means of expressing reality.
Your current exhibition is called ‘I Want Happiness!’. What is it about?
‘I Want Happiness!’ is about explaining the rules of happiness, and how to fight and overcome enemies of happiness. One of the exhibited artworks is a painting on 4x50 metres canvas; I’m not used to paint on such big canvas, so I have to say it’s quite an experiment.
Visit Mengyan's Dream Artspace in M50: Room 103B, Building 7, No. 50 Moganshan Rd. The current exhibition 'I Want Happiness!' will be running until the 28th of May.