Mao Yan

China 1968


Mao Yan
Mao Yan
May 17, 2013
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

Described as the portraitist of “a generation whose emotions are gradually disappearing.”[1] Mao Yan is one the most exciting contemporary painters in China. Mao Yan is known for his psychologically reviling black and white portraits. His pieces depict peace and spirituality of portrayed subjects but also the ability of paint to interact with both textures and the energy of the sitter. Chinese artist is also known for depicting various object through years in a calming manner without sorrow or nostalgia one would expect to see in this type of images.

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Mao Yan – Thomas (left) / El Greco (right)

Mao Yan Biography

Mao Yan started to paint at the very young age. His talent was quickly recognized and the artist has enrolled to Central academy of fine arts in Being where he graduated from Oil painting Department. The artist first took interest in portraiture after graduation when he began to teach at Nanjing University of the arts. Though painting portrait is not very common in Chinese art Mao Yan takes cues from both Easter and Western art pieces to create his works. Chinese cultural clime is visible in the artist’s expressive style and restricted color palette. However, his pieces also show influences of American conceptual art and the pieces by romantic painters especially Francisco de Goya. His skillful use of broad gestures and visible drips create complex dimmed oil on canvas artworks that seem as if they are dissolving into abstraction.

Mao Yan takes cues from both Easter and Western art to create his monochromatic imagery

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Mao Yan – Small Portrait of Thomas No 4 (left) / Richard 2011 (right)

A Different View to the Art of Portraiture

Though his paintings are filled with realism Mao Yan works are not marked with figurative characteristics of his subjects’ features but rather by the serene depiction of the spirit of the sitter. An individual represents a standpoint for the Chinese artist personal opinion as he gets rid of emotional judgment to avoid adding a metaphoric meaning to his works. His work removes the steadiness of photographs but also expresses his personal pursuit to the sitter trough the vividness of material. Rather than portraying the inner life and background of his subjects, Mao Yan’s art explores the relationship between the technical dimension of the paint, the material, and the spiritual dimension. Large-scale imagery stands above the viewers reminding them that art is bigger than life while his smaller works allow the more personal and intimate relationship with the viewers. [2].

The Chinese artist is interested in exploring the relationship between the technical dimension of the paint, the material, and the spiritual dimension

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Mao Yan – Xiao Dai 2013-2014 (left) / Thomas (right)

Painting Thomas Throughout the Ages

Mao Yan’s Thomas series is the artist’s longest project that begun in 1999. Art series is composed of dozens of portraits of Thomas Rohdewald, a émigré to China a man who is the most frequent sitter for the Chinese artist. When Mao Yan began to paint Thomas it was a way to get out of his comfort zone and paint people outside of his friends and family circle. In time his numerous representations of the same figure through age began to turn into unique explanations of subtle differences occurring in the human body trough time. Works by Mao Yan were featured in numerous museum and gallery exhibitions in Beijing, New York, London and other places around the globe.

Mao Yan lives and works in Nanjing, China.


  1. Anonymous., (2013) Mao Yan, , Pace Beijing, [March 24, 2017]
  2. Anonymous., (2010) Mao Yan, Shangh Art Gallery, [March 24, 2017]

Featured image : Mao Yan – Posie Musgrau II (detail), 2010
Images for illustrative purposes only

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016 Talking on Paper Pace Beijing, BeijingGroup
2015 Mao Yan Pace Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2015 Group Show Hadrien De Montferrand Gallery, BeijingGroup
20141960 Springs Center of Art, BeijingGroup
2013 The Garden of Diversion Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing, JiangsuGroup
2013 Mao Yan Pace Beijing, BeijingSolo
2013 Martell Artists of the Year Today Art Museum, BeijingGroup
2012 3 x China - Arbeiten von Caucasso Lee Jun, Mao Yan, Fan Liu Galerie Roemerapotheke, ZurichGroup
2012Villa Rafaela Esquisses de la future Collection : Selection I Art & Public, GenevaGroup
2012 ulture Shanghai: A Return Oriented Towards the Future Yibo Gallery, ShanghaiGroup
2012Maoyan Ethos Art & Public, GenevaGroup
2011 Shanghai Now Ausin Tung Gallery, Melbourne, VICGroup
2011Mao Yan Hadrien De Montferrand Gallery, BeijingSolo
2011 Scenery, Silhouette Triumph Art Space, BeijingGroup
2011 Expression of Chinese Contemporary Art Today Art Museum, BeijingGroup
2011 Collecting History: China New Art Chengdu Museum of Contemporary Art MoCA, Chengdu, SichuanGroup
2011 Six + six: energy, left Gallery Yang, BeijingGroup
2011 Shanghart Gallery Autumn Group Show ShanghART Gallery, ShanghaiGroup
2011 Portraits Eastation Gallery , BeijingGroup
2010 Mao Yan in Dufftown ShanghART Gallery, ShanghaiSolo
2010Passing Territory : Chinese And Foreign Masters Fine Print Exhibition 3+3 art Space, BeijingGroup
2010 Thirty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art Minsheng Art Museum, ShanghaiGroup
2010Erotic Hadrien De Montferrand Gallery, BeijingGroup
2009Mao Yan Longing For More Chinablue Gallery, BeijingSolo
2009 Inaugural exhibition Hadrien De Montferrand Gallery, BeijingGroup
2009 Expressions Chinese Contemporary (Beijing), BeijingGroup
2009 Longing for More: Mao Yan Yibo Gallery, ShanghaiSolo
2008 Summer Exhibition ChinaToday Gallery, BrusselsGroup
2008 China: Construção ; Desconstrução ; Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand MASP, São PauloGroup
2008 China: Construction / Deconstruction Chinablue Gallery, BeijingGroup
2008 Brush/Clay/Wood: The Nancy & Ed Rosenthal Collection of Chinese Art Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, OHGroup
2008 Mao Yan ChinaToday Gallery, BrusselsSolo
2008 Acdemic and Unacdemic Ⅱ Yibo Gallery, ShanghaiGroup
2008 New Covenant Exhibition Of Early Works By Contemporary Chinese Artists Triumph Art Space, BeijingGroup
2008 Semiosis ChinaSquare , New YorkGroup
2007 The Portrait of Zero Degree Aye Gallery, BeijingGroup
2006Initial Image 2006 Yibo Gallery, ShanghaiGroup
2005Image is power Tang Contemporary Art, Bangkok, BangkokGroup
2005 Mahjong Chinesische Gegenwartskunst Kunstmuseum Bern, BernGroup
2004 Sharping Yibo Gallery, ShanghaiGroup
2003New Painting 2003 Yibo Gallery, ShanghaiGroup
2001Initial Image Yibo Gallery, ShanghaiGroup
1996 1996 Shanghai Biennial Shanghai Biennale, ShanghaiGroup