“Up from the ashes grow the roses of success” – so wrote the Sherman Brothers in 1968 for the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, little knowing that some 25 years later it would be a young Chinese artist that would make the lyrics come true.
When Xue Song’s studio burnt down in the early ‘90s the fire destroyed nearly all his work, including oil paintings and calligraphy. Up until that point the artist, in his late 20s, had been struggling to find a direction or inspiration for his work; but the fire provided him with a new determination and a wealth of material in the charred fragments that were all that remained of his early works.
Song’s collages use ash, charred remnants and soot to evoke themes of remembrance, mourning and rebirth. He combines traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy with contemporary and other elements including collage, folk art and historical photographs, and his work has led him to become one of China’s more important contemporary artists.
Now two of his paintings are being sold at auction by Woolley and Wallis, giving English art lovers a rare chance to view and admire Song’s work. Only a handful of Song’s paintings have been sold at auction in the UK, and the artist has not held a solo exhibition on British soil since 2005, although his works featured in the Chinese Mind-Scape V exhibition that came to London for the first time earlier this year.
Bird and Flower is an early work of Xue Song’s, using his new techniques. Dated 1998, it was acquired by the current owner in 2000 from the ShanghART gallery in Shanghai and features bold calligraphy in ash over a bright yellow ground of paper collage. Monument on Grey Background dates from a similar time and recreates a horse painting by traditional ink artist Xu Beihong, using hundreds of images of Chinese and Western politicians, artists and icons, thus drawing traditional Chinese art together with modern techniques and Western imagery. The horse stands on a plinth of dark ash, rising from the destruction of Song’s own studio.
“Song’s art has become iconic on its own merit,” said head of Chinese Paintings, Freya Yuan-Richards. “His works are instantly recognisable and his following, especially in his native Shanghai but also across the world, is growing day by day. An exhibition of his work at the Long Museum in Shanghai earlier this year shows his standing within the Chinese art market, and we are delighted to be able to showcase his works in England.”
Both works feature in the Fine Chinese Paintings and Works of Art auction on 12th November and each is expected to make between £5,000 and £8,000.