The innovative and talented Chinese artist Deng Jianjin was born and raised in Guangdong, the southern province adjacent to Hong Kong, at the forefront of Chinese economic reforms since 1978 and the wealthiest in China today. After Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Opening-up Policy’ was introduced more than four decades ago, Guangdong’s inhabitants witnessed the breathtaking phenomena of industrialisation, urbanisation, modernisation and capitalist consumerism.

It was in this heady environment that Deng originally studied sculpture in the art department of Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute in Jiangxi, but in the early 1990s he emerged as a significant painter, part of a movement that adopted cynical realism and surrealism. His early works, subtly satirical depictions of groups of friends, appeared in several important national exhibitions, and he has since evolved a distinct neo-expressionist style featuring dense, fluid compositions of human bodies. As a pioneer of contemporary art in south China, Deng uses bold erotic symbolism in surrealist and expressionistic compositions, reflecting the psychological condition and spiritual state of people of various classes of society, and exploring the pressure of survival and the uncertainty of the future of a transitional society. According to Michael Sullivan, the British art historian and collector in the field of Chinese art, Deng’s works ‘reflect many of the problems plaguing Chinese society’.

Deng’s art addresses the unpalatable fusion of psychological pain and physical excess borne of a rapidly urbanised, over-commoditised society. Grotesque figures, often naked and masked, appear in theatrical psychodramas in which the protagonists flail about in various states of lust, violence and power. His palette of bright yellows, reds, greens, purples and blues, and his fluid painterly style, capture a contemporary version of the medieval carnival. The gratification portrayed through his imagery, sometimes superficial, sometimes deeply felt, expresses a flamboyant narrative combining sorrow, fear, compassion and delusion.

Deng Jianjin teaches as senior professor in the painting department of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, and his work has been exhibited widely. His earliest shows include the ‘Art Exhibition of Deng Jianjin’ (Guangzhou Xinghe Exhibition Centre, 1988) and three exhibitions at the National Art Museum of China. His latest major international exhibition was held at the Triangle Space Gallery at London’s Chelsea College of Arts in 2019, where a show titled ‘Underflow: The Agony and the Ecstasy’ offered the opportunity to view his dark imaginary and contemplate an alternative view of cultural transition, and to provide a better understanding of both differences and commonalities between East and West.


Deng Jianjin’s website can be found here, though the material shown ends in 2013 and the events diary in 2019.

Example illustration