Shi Yi Online Exhibition – Series Exhibition of Museum’s Collection of Ningbo Artists


About the artist

Shi Yi, born in Shanghai in 1939 in Yin county of Zhejiang province, studied at the Attached Middle School of East China Branch of Central Academy of Fine Arts since 1956. In 1965, he graduated from Department of Printmaking of Zhejiang Academy of Art. He was once the Deputy Director of Art School of Yunnan Arts University, Director and professor of Teaching and Research Office. He enjoys special allowance from the government. His artworks were exhibited and awarded for numerous times home and abroad, as well as being collected by museums and galleries.

The first thing comes to our minds when we think of printmaking is woodblock printmaking. Similarly, black-and-white woodcut is always the favorite of Shi Yi from his school years to retirement. In fact, in contemporary printmaking history in China, reduction woodblock print is always the proud of Yunnan printmakers. Normally the living environment influences an artist. However, this “Yunnan style” printmaking is not the major art direction of Shi Yi, who worked in Yunnan. The reasonable way to understand Shi’s printmaking art is to delve into the development of his own personalities. The 75 artworks, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art, clearly and comprehensively reflect the art achievements of Shi Yi.

Yunnan Arts University, Kunming, 26 June 2008

Among the collected artworks (1972 – 2009) of Shi Yi at NMA, Workshop Theory Group, together with thousands of prints at the same period, constitute a cultural symbol of time.

Shi Yi, Workshop Theory Group, 54×57cm, 1972

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

According to Shang Hui’s staging of printmaking aesthetics since the founding of PRC, the creation style of prints between 1979 to 1989 focuses on “homeland”, “style” and “form”. If “form” comes from “style” and “style” originates from “homeland”, how could Yunnan, the second homeland of Shi Yi, be put into paintings?

Shi Yi, Autumn of Sani Village, 58×58.5cm, 1983

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

Shi Yi, Hani Village in Clouds, 49×50cm, 1983

Woodblock watermark, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

All of the color woodblock watermark prints of Shi Yi are about the exotic style of ethnic minorities in Yunnan. Though they were created in a 25-year period, the printmaking style is similar to Hani Village in Clouds. If these prints reflect the serenity and void, the black and white woodblock is undoubtedly a representation of broadness and vigor.

Continuing the style of Workshop Theory Group, Shi Yi created Jinsha Helmsmen. In 1991, he won the bronze award of “The 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the Communist Party of China – National Exhibition of Fine Arts” with Strong Tides in Jinsha River·1935, which also started his award-winning life in the next decade.

Shi Yi, Jinsha Helmsmen, 61×50cm, 1987

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

Shi Yi, Strong Tides in Jinsha River·1935, 99.5×75cm, 1991

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

Since 1992, Shi Yi visited Tibet for several times, which is also the turning point of his printmaking art. What he saw and heard in Tibet entirely changed his artistic creation mindset. After his trips, he focuses on black and white woodblock. Color watermark prints are thus rarely found in his artworks afterwards.

Shi Yi, Sacrifice of Spirits III Shell, 64×57cm, 1994

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

Bronze Award of 12th National Exhibition of Printworks

Excellent Work of 8th National Exhibition of Fine Arts

Sacrifice of Spirits includes a series artworks, which were the first batch created after my Tibet trip. They portray sea snail fossils under Mount Everest. The shells are left in the vicissitudes of time, while the life is long gone. Their life is short, but they indeed once lived.”

By Shi Yi

Shi Yi, River and Time, 90×73cm, 1996

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

Gold Award of 13th National Exhibition of Printworks

“With the contrast of ancient sheepskin rafts and rushing river and the soaring momentum in the image, the painting presents us the history and reality that men and nature fight against each other and coexist together, as well as people’s struggle in savage environment and the indomitable spirit of living. The artwork draws the materials from Tibet and there is a Tibetan in the image. However, the spirit it conveys and admires far exceeds the limits of a specific region. Sheepskin rafts are evidence of people harnessing and conquering nature. Their primitive and rough appearance and structure are like thick history books and monuments (when they stand on beach in a dignified way, this feeling appears to be more clear and strong).”

By Zhang Yuanfan

Shi Yi, Soul of Snow Land, 89.5×72cm, 1998

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

Bronze Award of 14th National Exhibition of Printworks

“The mani stones are graved with om mani padme hum in Tibet, meaning to make wishes. In Tibet, everyone believes in Buddhism. Untraversed deserts, like grasslands and snow mountains, scatter around. In places where it is not suitable to build temples, they use prayer flags and mani stones to express their belief and replace chanting, tributes and paper. The wishes graved on stones are om mani padme hum. Each time they visit the place, they would bring a stone. Over time, a mani stone pile is thus built.”

By Shi Yi

Shi Yi, Dream of Snow Land, 79.5×70cm, 2002

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

Silver Award of 16th National Exhibition of Printworks

Shi Yi, Qiangtang, 14×10cm, 1993

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

Shi Yi, Winter of Qiangtang·Morning Herd, 53×61cm, 1996

Black and white woodblock print

In terms of form, the portraits of Qiangtang are the origin of the style of Soul of Snow Land and Dream of Snow Land. As for techniques, the reasons Shi Yi chose black and white woodblock are probably three folded: a) China Academy of Art where Shi studied is an important source of “new woodcut movement” in China; b) Shi reflects on the tradition and fashion, appearance and meaning, trends and ego; c) Shi believes that “black and white are the most mysterious and pure beauty in the colorful world. They are eternal. Black and white woodblock is simple, noble and pure.”

Shi Yi, who loves improvising, never drafts. He uses graver as the brush and keeps the “taste of graving” and “taste of wood”. The so-called “taste of graving” refers to the graving traces left on the plate. “Taste of wood” is a technique of “leaving inked spaces”, which is similar to the brushstroke techniques and the idea of “reckoning blank as inked” in traditional Chinese paintings. In fact, “Seal Lovers Society”, decades before “left-wing woodblock”, contains such gene as the pioneer and practitioner of modern woodblock prints. Shi’s focus on black and white woodblock allows us to peek into the glory of early modern woodblock prints. As Bi Keguan said that the whole image of Standing in the Shadow of Phoenix Trees, created by a crucial member of “Seal Lovers Society” Feng Zikai, seems to be full of graving traces, especially the trunks of phoenix trees; the slippers, hair, lamp and character “liang” in Night Coldness also show traces of gravers. The Morning Rain in Ancient City of Shi Yi is a typical example of such trial to leave a majority of spaces as inked. The city gate in the picture has sharp eaves. The inclined lines of rain present obvious traces of graving.

Feng Zikai, Standing in the Shadow of Phoenix Feng Zikai, Night Coldness

Shi Yi, Morning Rain in Ancient City, 8×11.5cm, 1995

Black and white woodblock print, collected by Ningbo Museum of Art

In Shi’s prints, the purest and most direct techniques are the most touching. Like the Tibet he portrayed, his artworks are direct, black and white, true, eternal and breathtaking. He “created the prints as self-portraits”, reflecting the history and reality. In the seemingly broad and vigorous appearance lies the serene and calm core. In the end, let’s come back to the common question: what is “pioneer”? The diversity in forms and styles is the natural pursuit of an artist. However, isn’t the transcendence of inner spirit of artworks more avant-garde?


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Translated by: Fan Xinyi