“If I had to pick one work that represents me, I guess it would be Cute Bear and the Secret Garden. I feel like I’m still a child deep inside my heart,” says Shi Mohan, a 33-year-old female artist from Shenyang, Liaoning province.

For viewers who first encounter Shi’s work online.The soft colors and dreamlike tones are extremely distinctive. However, beneath that fairytale brushwork is a world of philosophy and introspection. On her website, Shi summarizes her work in six words: innocence, self-reflection, desire, ignorance, obsession and curiosity.

“I always have a strong feeling of wanting to possess weird, strange things in life. If I find a green pear with brown spots in the market, I’ll end up adding it my unfinished works instead of eating it,” Shi says.

“Parasitism shows a girl with a deadly plant growing inside her body. Seduced by the plant, the girl and the fly on her body are enchanted by desire. The mantis located far off in the picture represents introspection,” Shi says. “I purposefully avoid any attempts to control my desires, but sometime people need to think about what they are doing or else they will go too deep into temptation.”

For images of peace, Shi conjures up the night sky. Its shining stars and galaxies are the backdrop of many of per paintings, such as The Chaos and the Cosmos and Wild. The night sky also represents her ideas about mankind and environment.

“The night sky itself is inspiring. Sometimes I simply feel an urge to jump out of my familiar surroundings and imagine life beyond Earth,” she says.

A similar philosophical motif is seen in the human figures in her works. Inspired by everyday encounters, Shi’s figures appear with abnormally pale skin, round faces and lively, limpid eyes. They are a tool with which she projects her inner world.

In The Shapes of Memory, Shi uses a little girl with sunglasses as the stage for a show conjured out of memory. In contrast to the drowsy look on the girl’s face, a series of cubes, pyramids and other polyhedrons float on a thin, purple background. Those varying shapes stand in for different phases of human memory.

“In the beginning of life, memories are simple, like a couple of straight lines. When we enter adolescence, sharp, complicated and rebellious memories take over our lives. And by adulthood, memory shatters and becomes hard to view in one cohesive shape,” Shi says.

Although unsure about the future of her work, Shi continues to paint to keep a record of her life. “My paintings are the proof I was here. Unfortunately, I have yet to make one that I find really satisfying.”

Shi says inspiration comes when her mind is active, so she keeps herself busy by watching films and reading books. It often takes longer to find an idea than to bring it to creation.

She is currently focused on watercolor sketches, and her early experiments in the medium are available on her website. Watercolors have been a non-toxic creative outlet for her work during pregnancy.

“Art is too interesting for me to even imagine what other occupation I could ever have. It’s a career that leads you into a lot of hardships from time to time, and sometimes I hesitate about whether I chose the right path. But as time passes I think I’m becoming more determined,” she says.

Karena Hu

About Karena Hu

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Karena was born with the English name Karen but decided to add an “a.” She dreamed of a career in astronomy, but bad scores in physics kept her out of the science department. She seeks other worlds in reading and writing and is a super fan of the Hunger Games trilogy.

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