People often assume the role of masters of all earthly beasts, with their tools and abilities to reshape the world.

But artist Mao Kai elevates supposedly lesser animals such as cows, horses, monkeys and rabbits to the level of man in his Higher Animal series. Each are depicted with long necks and human clothes.

This surrealist approach to expression is found in most of Mao’s creations.

To Mao, art must be exaggerated. “It is mostly for the purpose of satisfying our need to express emotion,” Mao said. “Therefore, artistic creations should be based on life and also surpass it.”

Children are his primary creative models.

Because children have little experience with society’s dark side, most remain pure and simple. The person they are born as will disappear gradually as they grow up.

“Obviously, children are better representatives of truth, beauty and kindness,” Mao said.

His favorite works – Trip of Pursuing Dream, Sea of Heart and Catch Childhood – feature children in dominant roles. The three are tagged with implied meanings by Mao.

His Trip of Pursuing Dream series contains two paintings: one depicts a naked boy playing with a white tiger, and the other depicts a boy playing with a toy bow and arrow. Beside him is a peacock.

Based on the use of color and the layout, Trip of Pursuing Dream seems to describe a fairytale. Through this series, Mao emphasizes that “life is a trip”: every person starts on his own journey at birth, and that journey will include many choices that may change its course.

In fact, the little naked boy in Trip of Pursuing Dream series is Mao’s nephew, who was 4 years old in 2013 when the series was created.

“In order to persuade my nephew to strip naked, I had to lure him with a carrot and a stick,” Mao said. “He didn’t like the paintings because he thought his naked body was the focus.”

Sea of Heart shows a foreign girl with blonde hair staring at a model ship in a bottle. Mao said the ship is a metaphor for pursuing dreams, and the girl is looking attentively as if she is speaking with herself.

Another painting, Catch Childhood, it themed as a recollection of the past and a human desire to return to happy moments.

Now, Mao is creating a new series – Small Journey to the West. So far, he has finished two paintings in this series.

The name of the series is borrowed from one of China’s four classical novels, but the content is not about Xuan Zang or his disciples. Instead, the two completed paintings in Small Journey to the West depict a little monk who is less than 10 years old. Mao said the character in Small Journey to the West will change according to his inspiration.

Mao’s road to painting and pursuing his dream has not been smooth.

After the National College Entrance Exam, Mao was rejected by his desired art college and had to study decorative art at Central South University. After graduating in 1996, Mao found a job in advertising. But his desire to become a painter grew stronger with age. He began painting every night after work to build himself a ramp to the art world.

But his years in advertising are not years of regret: Mao said they helped inspire him and develop a style of painting quite different from realist traditions.

“People’s pursuits vary with age,” Mao said. “When I was young, I had to struggle for life. But I am 41 this year, and it’s time for me to consider how to demonstrate the value of my life.”

Shu Pengqian

About Shu Pengqian

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Shu Pengqian is a TV drama and novel addict. Although most people think she looks like an introvert, she's actually really outgoing.

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