Shen Fan is one of the leading abstract artists in China. He lives and works in Shanghai, the Chinese city which is home to the country's best abstract painters. While realism dominates the Chinese avant garde, it is perhaps the cosmopolitan, fast moving pulse of Shanghai which encourages abstraction.
Shen Fan's work from the mid to late nineties was ordered in its rhythm while the most recent work is much freer. The marks are looser than the more linear constructions of the majority of the artist's pieces and the movement within the work greater. The work of 2000 takes up an idea the artist was already pursuing in 1994, that is works which can be interpreted as an abstraction of calligraphy. Throughout the 1990s in China there has been a movement to deconstruct calligraphy as a way of examining and criticising tradition. Shen Fan numbers his work to avoid any attempt at associating the paintings with a realistic image.
For the European eye, these paintings clarify the secrets of the East, the search for the sublime, which need not reproduce reality.
- Dieter Ronte Bonn, 1996
Shen Fan's most recent work has made use of neon lights to create large installation works. The first of these was shown at the 2006 Shanghai Biennial and funded by Chinese Contemporary. "Landscape: A Tribute to Huang Binhong" was a five-by-ten meter neon light installation set to the slow plucking of a traditional Chinese musical instrument, the zither. The music was composed by Shen Fan to mirror the calm of a landscape and the distinct brush strokes that comprise it. Over the course of seven hours, individual neon lights, evoking single brush strokes, light up accompanied by individual notes and form a continuous whole. Of this work the artist wrote, "Each light has its own unique dimensions and characteristics and each note reflects the unique qualities of individual lights. Similarly, the individual notes combine to create a contiguous whole, much as the lights combine to create a fluid landscape. The music is also designed to reflect the empty spaces within the landscape." Joe Martin Hill in the December 2006 of Yishu Magazine commented that this work was worthy "to contemplate the weight of history and its contemporary reformulation."