Regarded as one of the important figures in Shanghai's political pop movement, Li Shan's oil paintings have undergone many stylistic changes throughout his unique artistic career, but have never lost their ability to express internal sensibilities as well as external reluctances.
Li Shan's seemingly infinite variety of work reveals a sort of consistency upon closer inspection. All the works evoke a tension within the idea of the yet unknown. He manages to juxtapose opposites in a way that leaves them un-reconciled, allowing viewers to reach their own conclusions. This tension can be found in Mao (Double) (Lot 904) (1994). Notoriously recognized for his feminized Mao portraits, Li displays a witty, socio-political criticism in an inventive artistic manner that recalls the traits of Political Pop and Cynical Realism. Mao Zedong, favored as a propagandistic icon and an allegory in various artistic productions of social context, becomes in Li's work a mere space for exploration. The unusual duplication of Mao's image comments on the omnipresent commercialized reproduction of the icon, but shows at the same time how easily replaceable his image is. Li's powerfully candid expressionism in decorating Mao with unexpected, elaborate ornamentations such as a luscious pink lotus flowers and dark pink stars, suggests the hidden erotic life of humanity and how sexual imageries were forbidden under Mao's rule Li applies an bold hues of orange and pink - a clamorous splurge of color juxtaposed to the monochrome skin of greenish grey. The artist audaciously sexualizes Mao with a detailed refinement of his soft features, pouched lips, tender gaze and polished eyebrows that are painted with his inaudible brush strokes and undeniably educe feminine sensuality.
An element of mockery and humor, but also a cynical undercurrent of criticism are introduced, as Li maintains the stylistic characteristics of the Mao painting in Goose Series No.8 (Lot 900) (1995), but replaces Mao's image with a goose. On a sky-blue background, proud and erect, an elaborately painted grey goose holds a pink flower in its beak. Li's persistence in coloring the forms with bold hues of blue, grey and pink delivers an inert crispness to his subject's form and creates a visually pleasing symmetry and neatness.
Li's stylistic evolvement and diversity can be observed in Rouge Empire 12 (Lot 898) (1990) and Untitled (Lot 899) (1998). Both paintings, though seemingly incomparable, possess a sense of motion and activity that stands in contrast to the motionless portrait-style paintings of Mao and the grey goose. In Rouge Empire and Untitled the sense of motion is achieved by compositional structure of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines (Untitled) and vertical, parallel wave lines (Rouge Empire 12), a bold color combination and vivid brushstrokes. In both paintings, abstracted fantastic figures are placed in the center of a highly atmospheric background setting in which the reoccurring symbol of the oversized and elaborately painted lotus flower seems to be the only link to the Mao portraits. While sophisticated in terms of composition, detail and color, both paintings seek to evoke a sense of childlike naivety, using folk characters such as the friendly-looking horse and grimacing flower ghost.