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Lao Fu Qi 老夫妻



100cms (W) x 80cms (H)

Oil on Canvas

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This painting is primarily about paying attention. Lao fu qi means 'Old couple'. The street Xuexi Street is actually in an area called Lao Xi Men, which is an old area in Shanghai full of tiny little dwellings, people preparing food in the streets, and huddled games of Mah Jong. Many a time i've wandered around Lao Xi Men looking for inspiration for paintings as it's a window into a different time. The trouble is, the living conditions in Lao Xi Men aren't great, and the land is extraordinarily valuable, as Lao Xi Men is right in the middle of some of the most expensive places to live in Shanghai. While there are other areas in Shanghai that are being refurbished for posterity, Lao Xi Men isn't particularly picturesque. There are therefore lots of reasons for the area to be cleared out for more valuable uses.

The setting is typical of the scene you would see in LaoXiMen, but cannot see anymore. At time of painting, most of it is boarded up, waiting to be flattened. 

The couple in the middle represent my experiences and feelings about the loss of such areas; it's easy to be distracted by something new, urgent and exciting; but while distracted it's easy to lose things we value to decay, disappearance or some other loss. They're together physically but focussed on something transient while their world (and their relationship with it) moves on regardless.

I've debated often showing technology in paintings, because actually I think it potentially dates a picture very quickly; and a lot of people have made artwork about the impact of technology, but in this picture that isn't really the point. The distraction (the phone) will be gone/replaced/obselete within a much shorter time frame than other aspects of our lives.

In this painting I've also tried to embed a number of different examples of 'contrast' which i've realised is a key theme of most of my paintings. I won't identify them, other than to say some are visual/structural, others are more abstract. I wanted to try and make a painting that could be decoded a bit.

There are a couple of things I want to draw attention to;

1. The yellow bike on the left hand side. I put this in because during the first 2-3 years of me being in Shanghai, the shared bikes exploded onto the scene, then became unsustainable (and the yellow bike company went bankrupt), and now it's going through a similar cycle again.

2. I decided to keep the background clean. I had to choose between capturing the grime and age of the area, or keeping the picture more clean/simple. I chose clean because I wanted to paint something that wasn't so visually dense as my other stuff.

3. I spent quite a lot of time deciding what to put in the doorway on the right. Options were; to have a closed door; to put some kind of scene (maybe someone cooking) or to keep it very vague/blank. I chose the latter, because it represents the experience of walking around and seeing people with their doors open (and lives on show) but at the same time not really knowing what is going on inside. I thought that was more interesting.

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