Little Sister, Big Sister, Stand up! Zhao Bo

In the Leland Hirsch Private Collection
Zhao Bo
Little Sister, Big Sister, Stand Up!
Oil on canvas
59 x 59 inches

Zhao Bo is one of a group of young artists called New Realists. “New” because it differs from realism in the classical sense but also because it differs considerably in approach from the artists ten to twenty years older. The latter group was made up of the first generation of free artists after the death of Mao and their approach to art was a humanistic, intellectual and in many cases a conceptual one. They were born into a politicized society and have applied the ideological approach of that society to their art. Younger artists have grown up in what is being called China’s post-political society, where moral standards are seen to have slipped by many of the country’s intelligentsia and the materialists have the upper hand over the idealists. The artists of this generation and of the new realism trend look to their immediate surroundings, most often life in the streets, as their inspiration and produce works inspired by these scenes. Zhao Bo himself remarks:

“In this chaotic world, people are becoming sly, untruthful, preposterous, full of malicious symbols that are morphing and becoming conceptualized in the course of society’s progress. They grow without order, and flourish. Yet this is also what makes this age and this type of environment most moving and surprising. It is full of energy and possibility, and forms these contemporary scenes that are so attractive, real and vivid.”

The choice of subject matter in itself is significant. This is the social formative process in its raw state. So much is carried out on the streets of any Chinese city, the invitation to delve in and partake is an enticing and fruitful one. Zhao Bo lives in Chongqing, Sichuan province in south-central China. Chongqing is the world’s most populous city with 30 million inhabitants. It is the ‘wild west’ of China – dirty, noisy, teeming with characters of all sorts and bursting with energy and potential. As in many Chinese cities, life is played out on the street but in Chongqing this is so amplified that the mind reels when confronted with such non-stop activity and energy. Zhao Bo has captured this life on the streets – the clash of communist and capitalist, east and west, the ridiculous, the sly, the ludicrous and the overwhelming feeling that everyone is on the make. In Zhao Bo’s words:

“This incredible age with its huge appetite consumes all even apparently unrelated objects from memorial arches erected for chaste widows to Pentium computers, from the red of revolution to the multi-coloured lights and drinks in a nightclub.”

In addition to painting large works capturing dizzying street scenes, Zhao Bo has made a number of small works which concentrate on one image, honing in one idea. These he calls fragments – little segments from the big scene, each one portraying a juxtaposition, an attitude, political slogans, commercial propaganda, etc. They are flashes of life, caught as if illuminated by a strobe light for one frozen instant that leaves an indelible impression.