It is instantly apparent that Hao Shiming is an exceptionally skilled Chinese ink painter. His paintings of Chinese women are graceful and melancholic. Hao’s works demonstrate the artist’s love of nature. The juxtaposition of female figures with plants, flowers and straw-thatch birds represents the changing social position of women in a country which is undergoing an extreme and rapid social transformation.
Hao Shiming uses a traditional “gong bi” Chinese ink painting medium. Historically, artists have used this method to paint flower blossoms, birds and beautiful women wearing traditional clothing. Chinese painters have adhered to certain guidelines when painting such figures, giving the work a traditional impression. Hao Shiming has broken away from these traditional rules, painting modern women with casual clothing, contemporary hairstyles and sometimes Klimt-like jewelry. Hao is an extremely diligent, patient and skilled artist; his fine ink lines are meticulous, painting every strand of delicately-flowing hair, every wrinkle on the clothing and every twist of straw-thatch. Even the skin shading and the finely painted eyes of his figures are truly remarkable, especially given the difficulty of painting in Chinese ink, which does not allow an artist to paint over any mistakes. Adding to the elegance of his work is the soft earth-tones colour-palette that Hao uses, which is mainly composed of green, brown, orange and beige, giving the work a natural quality. This is in contrast to other contemporary Chinese artists, who often use bright colours for more attention. Hao’s work is understated and soothing to the eyes. And the calm figures he paints seem silent within their surroundings. Almost invariably, Hao Shiming includes plants or flowers within his works, juxtaposed with the main subject of his paintings.
The female figures within Hao Shiming’s paintings are elegant and beautiful, yet simple and natural. The flowers and plants are set beside the young women in a complimentary way, as floral and fauna symbolize natural feminine beauty. Both the figures and the plants appear as “still” life within Hao’s paintings, as the women are calm and motionless. Yet, despite the parallels between the women and the plants, the expressions on the faces of the young women seem melancholic or disinterested, which leaves much to interpret by the viewer. One wonders what sorts of thoughts occur during these moments. Certainly, such women are experiencing a time of rapid change and transformation in China today. Women are increasingly free and given many more responsibilities, yet they are also forced to adhere to many of the traditional customs of their parents. This presents a dichotomy that many young women are faced with in modern Chinese society. Interestingly, many of the artist’s works include ornate traditional Chinese decoration: Chinese vases, furniture and porcelain tea cups. Perhaps Hao juxtaposes the modern clothes of the woman and these traditional motifs to comment on two opposing worlds.
In some of Hao Shiming’s newer paintings, the artist renders semi-abstract straw-thatch birds. In one piece, Hao shows the origin of the birds, as a wicker chair has partly decomposed and from the missing fragments of the chair has emerged a bird, floating upwards, with pieces of thatch still falling from it. Earth-bound female figures are contrasted with free-floating birds flying beside them: the women are soft, still and composed of smooth lines, whereas the thatch-birds are animated, with hard and rigid parts. The birds paired with the women could represent their dreams and imagination, and the bird’s emergence may symbolize the re-birth of women’s roles in Chinese society. Just as the thatch making up the birds has escaped from its traditional role of being bound and tied down, the women are also escaping from their traditional, more subservient role in society. Likewise, Hao Shiming himself has broken away from the rules of Chinese “gong bi” ink painting, which have traditionally bound Chinese artists.
The work of Hao Shiming is beautiful both from an aesthetic perspective and within its cultural or philosophical context. Art Scene China exclusively represents the artist who continues to delight visitors locally and abroad. There is a certain intrigue that many people feel when viewing his work, yet it is difficult to put all of it into words. This shows the artistic mastery of Hao Shiming.
By Ellen Manning