“I never choose art. It has been with me since childhood,” says Xu Fan, a Beijing artist born in the 1980s.

Xu first came to attention in 2015 with his painted sculpture Yangguifei, a Chinese adaption inspired by Shaun the Sheep that became the nation’s gift to Britain’s Prince William.

As a graduate of the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University, Xu was one of the first artists in an art society called “Tsinghua School,” a platform to protect and promote the artistic development of Tsinghua’s top graduates.

Xu takes the uncommon approach of painting complete story scenes. While the style of expression dates back to Italian Renaissance, it is rarely used in contemporary art. Xu’s first attempts were inspired by Aesop’s Fables, reshaping each into a fable for modern people.

His paintings explain natural rules that he arrives at after a period of introspection. Recently, Xu has been breaking away from Aesop’s framework to create his own stories.

“My current works are drawn from life experiences. I paint to offer advice based on my daily observations of what surrounds us,” Xu says.

In Xu’s latest series, the artist chase uses his favorite Japanese cartoon character Doraemon as the main model. When Doraemon’s creator passed away in 1996, Xu painted The Journey Among Space in memory of his great work.

“Doraemon represents the innocent part of me. I chose him instead of other ‘80s cartoon characters because he is unique. He is the coexistence of kindness and evil, and of obedience and freedom. The cute, conflict-filled character caught my eye at first sight,” Xu says.

If Doraemon corresponds to Xu’s best childhood memories, then the other three figures repeated in his latest collection are rooted in other layers of Xu’s life. He explains their presence in The Running Under Sunset:

“The wood man is our bound self, tied up in the world of competition. The lady in the white dress and the boy represent classicalism,” Xu says. “That idea is something meant to stay in our heart. It appears when we insist on dignity and truth and when we long for life.”

Xu says he plants to continue his story-based creations. In July, he will open another exhibition in 798 to explore the relationship between art and science.

“I remembered clearly there was a visitor weeping for a long time in front of my work, When We Are Away from Classicalism. It moved me a lot. The work is a miniature of my yearning for the past, insistence on the present and expectation for the future,” Xu 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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