“I think Dongxu belongs with the sea, flowers, and watermelons because he paints them so realistic. It’s like the way these objects wish they could appear,” said Zhuang Qianliang, the friend artist Shi Dongxu.

Shi’s is reminiscent of the creations of Vincent Van Gogh. Part of that is his use of vivid, strong hues. But the deeper reason is his devotion to unearthing hidden life with his paintbrush. His expressive art is something rarely seen in the contemporary world.

Most of Shi’s works are about natural objects, such as fruits or landscapes. He loves sketching from nature to harness its uncertainty.

His family helped convince him to pursue art at a young age. But his path wasn’t as easy as he imagined. Shi said peer pressure was a constant problem.

“I can’t help comparing myself to friends. Their steady, satisfying jobs aren’t something that you can access as an artist,” Shi said.

Pursuing a professional art career is no easy task, Shi said. Since 2008, he has had only 13 exhibitions of his work and a few sales to Chinese and foreign collectors. This year, he opened The Mid-Summer Fruits, his first solo exhibition.

Shi said his passion for painting has helped him through many hard times.

His paintings focus in on grandiose themes with few ornamental flourishes. Each highlights life’s small mercies, encouraging viewers to look for a silver lining. It’s a world view that finds beauty in every corner.

“I think everything can be painted and look good in 2D,” Shi says. “The things I see every day are all my best creative input. I mean, life is just so interesting to me.”

Autumn, a collection of delicate lakeside landscapes, highlights this point. The clear azure sky of Jinan, Shandong province mixes with emerald, soft blues and pearl whites to create a harmonious scene.

Shi said he painted Autumn to escape from society’s material noise in a chill space that leaves room for reflection.

In 2014, Shi turned his eyes away from familiar nature scenes and began to paint his friends. Those images formed the album he titles “Youth.”

“Youth” describes the lives of young people. Shi tries to explain their conflict and why China’s young people seem compelled to yell their thoughts and struggles. One important relationship of the album is the pursuit of dreams. Shi said people sometimes feel lost when life’s pressures force them to consider abandoning their dreams.

“Youth is not as great as older people imagine, but the imperfect parts are worth celebrating, too,” Shi said. He said he hopes his works bring honesty and earnestness to viewers

When are asked why he chooses to paint such ordinary scenes, Shi said the decision comes one part from his personality and one part from a desire to emulate Vincent Van Gogh and Jean-Francois Millet.

Shi said he doesn’t anticipate his topics changing any time soon, though he strives to be a better painter who remains free of the art scene’s pretention.

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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