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Shi Zhiying
The City of Illusion  2022.03.12 - 2022.05.08

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Press Release

Wonderful, just wonderful- in Shi Zhiying’s City of Illusions

Written by Dr. Shen Qilan

Welcome to Shi Zhiying’s city of illusions.

“The city of illusions” originated from a Fahua aphorism. On the road to enlightenment, a group of travelers stopped on their way, tortured by hunger and thirst. The leader of the group created a city to let them rest in. In this city of dreams, birds sing, the scenery is beautiful, and the air is fresh. The travelers were tempted to linger, and their exhaustion melted away, but they didn’t realize that everything in this place was an mirage. With their bodies and minds regenerated, their leader told them that the city was just an illusion, and they continued on their way.

The metaphor of this city of illusions struck Shi Zhiying as analogous to her exploration of painting. She has pursued her artistic dream for more than 20 years, and in this exhibition, wishes to share her new understanding of painting with the audience. In the works on display, Shi Zhiying takes inspiration from the bas-relief sculptures in Dunhuang. Her work is a tribute, not a copy; she isn’t seeking to capture an exact resemblance, but rather to seek inspiration for a new artistic conception. She chose these statues to translate into her own visual language, using painting to examine the relationship between shapes and lines.


Transforming the existing bas-reliefs into images on a two-dimensional plan is the method that Shi Zhiying has arrived at to transmute the dream city into her own work. The joy of painting is indescribable, and difficult to share with others, but through the pictures, the audience can enter into her world.

Does the ‘city of illusions’ exist or not- is it a hallucination, or something real? An image of a bas-relief painted on a two-dimensional plane, has a reality of itself, even as it captures a reality that exists elsewhere. In the hearts of the viewers, will these images arouse curiosity about the Dunhuang statues, or joy for the works in and of themselves? These are the topic explored in this exhibition.

Shi Zhiying explores the world as we perceive it, suspended between being and absence. The works in this exhibition are reliefs, but not reliefs- images, but not images. In the process of transformation, at the critical point at which we perceive the works, our consciousness is transformed by them, bringing us into the fluid mental state of the artist amidst her creations.

What has always fascinated Shi Zhiying is the tension between painting and storytelling. At one point, she believed that figurative expression and narrative were in opposition to exploration of artistic form, but in the course of her work, she has transcended this cognitive self-limitation. What is important in her city of illusions is not the scenery or birdsong, but the mental state of the travelers entering into it. In the illusory city, the travelers got real rest and comfort, settling their body and mind. In this way, they were refreshed, and ready to continue on their search for the truth. 

The same is true for the viewers of paintings. Whether a figurative presentation, or a narrative that sparks the imagination, paintings create an entrance between the viewer’s mental world and that of the artist, the gravitational field of an aesthetic consciousness. The relationship between painting and the city of illusions is the way that both can refresh the soul, even though they seemingly lack substance. By stimulating the flow of consciousness, this city of illusions- the artworks of Shi Zhiying- form the entrance to painting, and the entrance to a deeper reverie of the soul. Those who look for images get images; those who look for lines, get lines. The boundaries between the figurative and the abstract has been dissolved. For Shi Zhiying, the process of transforming Dunhuang’s bas-reliefs into painting is meditative; the study of modeling lines brings deep satisfaction. When consciousness slides through the lines and forms, it is impossible to distinguish where the lines begin and the artist ends. The important thing is that this process creates a wonderful sense of stimulation; the brushstrokes and images in the painting are as transformed cities, and one’s consciousness is like a traveler resting in the transformed city, lingering on and on.

What Shi Zhiying's pictures bring is not the ordinary pleasure of the image, but a macaron-style sugary pleasure. What she brings is a deeper sense of happiness, like the sweetness of spring water or the sweetness of tea. Her work brings to mind the work of Wang Zengqi, simple and unpretentious, "If you visit me and I am not here, please sit with the flowers outside my door for a while, they are very warm, and I have watched over them for many, many days. already."

The same is true of Shi Zhiying's city of illusions. If you visit and she is not here, please sit with her work for a while. The lines and images are very light and pleasant. She has been painting them for many days.