Wang Guangyi is a contemporary Chinese artist known for his affiliation with Political Pop, a movement that emerged in the late '80s in China. His 'Great Criticism' series, juxtaposing Chinese propaganda with Western commercial icons in a bold and graphical style, is amongst his most famous cycle of works. Distinct from the philosophical approach of his early practices, this series underpins the conflict between China’s political history and its commercialised recent past. As the forbearer of Political Pop, Wang is often compared with Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, both of whom visited China in the '80s.
Wang was born in 1957 in Harbin to a working-class family. He trained as a painter at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art and was deeply influenced by Western Classicism and its philosophy. Wang founded the Northern Art Group with artists including Shu Qun and Ren Jian after he graduated in 1984. Together, they promoted an analytical approach to art-making, and established a unique genre called Rational Painting. It is known for its emotionless and geometric visual language in conveying ‘lofty and detached’ aesthetic ideals.
With the aim of stripping away human emotion in his paintings, Wang created his 'Frozen North Pole' Series and 'Post-Classical' series. The latter appropriated Western Classical masterpieces in a highly abstract yet geometrical visual language. Such an austere approach was in stark contrast to the feverish expressive styles that many art collectives pursued during the 85 New Wave.
In 1989, Wang debuted the five landmark paintings of his 'Mao Zedong: Red Grid' series. It marked a turning point in his career and earned him critical acclaim abroad. In this series, Wang appropriated the iconic image of Mao and superimposed it with a red grid and English letters. This series is considered Wang's first work in the Political Pop style, and began his reimagination of socialist iconography in the context of consumer culture over the next few decades.