This is What Chinese Art Looks Like

    The realities of modern Chinese culture remain unknown to much of the world. Even in an age of unlimited access to knowledge, many still get their information about China from articles on Tiger Moms or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Contrary to the very popular belief about Chinese people, they are not all tigers. And some of them don’t even know how to hold a kung fu battle in the sky.

    Today’s China is rapidly shedding the traditions, beliefs, and–in consequence–aesthetics it has perennially been associated with. Soon enough, the dated concepts of China’s art as merely minimalist watercolor landscapes or calligraphy on foldable fans will evaporate. Works like the following, from artists who are challenging, complex, and eclectically influenced, will obliterate the classical definition of a “Chinese Artist.”

1. Xiang Gao

“Flower funeral”




    When growing up in China, Xiang Gao was simultaneously obsessing over rock n’roll & western art and training in Chinese traditional painting. Now he’s invaded the San Francisco art world, and creates work that can be labeled neither eastern nor western, but can be labeled wry and eye-opening. Gao’s eccentric paintings on rice paper are arguably the most successful collision of eastern and western tastes since sriracha was mixed with mayonnaise.

2. Wei Linyuan



No, that’s not your your webpage still loading. The above are Wei Linyuan‘s completed oil paintings.

    Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel Fight Club, once wrote that “art never comes from happiness.” But that statement is untrue, and also pretentious. In fact, the Milan-educated Wei Linyuan, whose work has been widely shared on Tumblr, derives inspiration for her fun oil paintings from “the happiness that everyone experiences in life.” And Wei’s work might just have a better legacy than the novel Fight Club, as a movie about a digital banana will definitely not be better than its source material.

3. Yang Yongliang


        Shan shui is the Chinese art of painting land and mountainscapes with both a brush and a rich philosophical guideline based around nature’s elements. Yang Yongliang, a masterful practitioner of Shan Shui painting, has spent a lifetime closely observing Chinese vistas, before seeing them heartlessly razed during China’s modernization. Yang’s belief is that “The development of our cities is at the expense of nature,” and his shan-shui style renderings of cityscapes could not make that view any clearer.

4. Yue Minjin 

Hats Series


    Yue Minjin has created an army of laughing figures, whose faces he based on his own. The dark satire of Yue’s paintings often comes from the juxtaposition of revelry and tragedy, as seen in Execution, above. The laughter of his subjects may not be guffaws of joy, but instead cackles of derangement toward a society’s senselessness. Less Pillsbury Dough Boy, more the Joker. Execution was sold at £2.9 million pounds (US $5.9 million), making it the most expensive contemporary Chinese painting ever. When asked whether the painting being set in China was a critique of Chinese history, Yue astutely replied that whatever his political impetus, “I want the audience not to think of one thing or one place or one event. The whole world’s the background.”

5. Wang Guanyi 


    Wang Guanyi is another artist who’s made millions from his singular pop aesthetic. Wang’s works are often auctioned at such Old Money bastions as Sotheby’s and Christie’s—yeah, he knows, he’s hypocritical. Mixing major brand logos with political posters, Wang Guanyi asserts that whether they’re used to propagandize or advertise, the techniques for controlling a population are everlasting and universal: repeatedly flood the people with your symbols, slogans, and self-praise, until they cannot help but admire you. This blog post was sponsored by Pepsi.

Pepsi - Go buy a Pepsi.

Pepsi – Go buy a Pepsi.

9 Brilliant Lyrics From Nas’s Illmatic

 On November 18, P.I.G. China and The Grumpy Pig (65 Maoming Bei Road near Ya’an Road) held is monthly PigPen Cinema film screening. We presented the celebrated and engrossing Nas: Time is Illmatic to a completely packed house at The Grumpy Pig restaurant. Attendees–ranging from long-time Nas fans to lovers of documentaries to the simply curious–had their eyes glued to the screen as they gobbled down delicious treats from The Grumpy Pig.

 Time is Illmatic centers around the creation of Illmatic, rapper Nas’s iconic 1994 debut album. Even if you know nothing about rap, or hate it entirely, the film still comes recommended as an engaging documentary that touches on a lauded artist’s process, no less insightful about the creative facility of a master craftsperson than Bill Cunningham New York or Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present.

With just 9 songs and one intro, Illmatic took listeners on a journey through the crime-ridden streets of Queens, NY NY so grimly vivid that it transcended the auditory. At just 20 years old, Nas took lyric-writing in hip-hop to a never-before known intricacy. In the 20 years since its release, the album’s musical innovations have imbued themselves within the DNA of all hip-hop.

Below we take a look at the greatest lines from each of Illmatic’s 9 songs, and in the process unravel just why the album is considered such an essential work.

1. “NY State of Mind”

Rappers I monkey-flip ‘em with the funky rhythm
I be kickin’, musician, inflicting composition of
Pain I’m like Scarface sniffin’ cocaine, holding an
M16, see with a pen I’m extreme

Off the bat, the very first lines rapped by Nas on Illmatic introduce a poetic device rarely employed in his time, enjambment. Enjambment is when one line of a poem runs into the next, allowing longer statements to be made within the limitations of a poem’s meter (inflicting composition of/pain, I’m like Scarface, sniffing cocaine, holding a/M16, see…). Enjambment allowed Nas to tell a continuous story within the confines of a 4/4 count beat, engaging rap listeners with not just the song’s rhythm, but also its content.

2. “Life’s a B****”

I woke up early on my born day, I’m 20 it’s a blessin’
The essence of adolescence leaves my body now I’m fresh, and
my physical frame is celebrated ‘cause I made it
one quarter through life some Godly-like thing created.

As shown in the documentary Time is Illmatic, when Nas grew up in his impoverished Queensbridge housing projects, his life was constantly imperiled by drug addicts and violent criminals. Here Nas expresses gratitude for his survival into adulthood, despite still being unsure of which higher entity granted it to him. Further instances of enjambment appear in this song (see bolded letters), to help express hefty thoughts over a light drum pattern.

3. The World is Yours 

Dwelling in the rotten apple, you get tackled
Or caught by the devil’s lasso, s*** is a hassle!
…I need a new n***a, for this black cloud to follow,
‘cause while it’s over me, it’s too dark to see tomorrow

In Jay-Z’s New York Times bestselling book Decoded, he says something very insightful about those that misread rap music:

The art of rap is deceptive. It seems so straightforward and personal and real that people read it completely literally… It’s all white noise to them till they hear a “b****” or a “n****” and then they run off yelling “See!” and feel vindicated in their narrow conception of what the music is about.”

Here Nas is morosely discussing his depression (black clouds) and hopelessness (too dark to see tomorrow), and how living where he lives makes him highly susceptible to criminal temptations (the devil’s lasso). However, some listeners would find the painful honesty in his words unsympathetic, simply because they are heard in the context of an explicit rap song.  It should be noted that at the time of Illmatic’s release, the concept of criminals being a natural product of poverty was not widely accepted, and many political platforms and policies, including Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, were based around the idea that those who committed crime were simply born immoral.

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Pigpen Cinema Presents: NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC

Tuesday, November 18
Doors at 9 | Movie starts at 9:30
65-4 Maoming Bei Lu (Weihai Lu/Yan’an Lu)

Drink specials on beer, wine, and cocktails
Free “Grumpy” movie popcorn snacks
Space is limited to 35 seats
First come first serve

More on the film:
NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC (2014, 74 min, USA, Dir: One9)
Featuring: Nas (Nasir Jones), Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Pharrell Williams, Q-Tip
Twenty years after the release of Nas’s groundbreaking debut album ‘Illmatic,’ NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC takes us into the heart of his creative process. Returning to his childhood home in Queensbridge, Nas shares stories of his upbringing, his influences — from the music of his jazz musician father Olu Dara to the burgeoning hip-hop scene in New York City — and the obstacles he faced before his major label signing at age 19. Featuring interviews with his ‘Illmatic’ producers (Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S., and DJ Premier) and musical peers (including Pharrell Williams and Alicia Keys), NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC is a thrilling account of Nas’s evolution from a young street poet to a visionary MC.