Echoing China's social revolution and trends in thought, Shang Yang's artistic creativity occupies a unique position in contemporary Chinese art history. China's economic reform, the resultant liberty and liberation of the individual, and the 85 Movement have cultivated a 'humanistic passion' among artists in China and a yearning in society for freedom of artistic expression. The experience of exploring the Yellow River basin enabled Shang Yang to profoundly reexamine realist painting.
Having grown up on the edge of Lake Hong in central China's Hubei Province and watching his father paint since he was little, Shang Yang assimilated the elegance of Chinese painting from a young age and this developed into his unpretentious style. His use of yellow tones has become known as 'Shang Yang yellow'; these hazy light yellows carry with his memories of the local operas of the northwest and the region's loess plateau. On board a ferryboat floating down the icy Yellow River, he finds his unique style which depicts the both the commonplace and unusual in a manner not unlike traditional Chinese painting methods.
From ancient times the Chinese have understood that the true significance of landscape lies not in its superficial appearance but as a carrier of emotion. In Shang Yang's hands, the traditional in five shades of ink has been transformed into large colour blocks of oil paint. He invests his passion for the yellow earth in the singular monochrome ink. The viewer's eyes are led along the edge of the river and into the distance scene. By using oil pigments, the artist imitates western collage's form Chinese painting's simple two-dimensional composition together on a same plane. The abstract boat becomes the focal point through its fastidious positioning in the centre of the painting: it is this artistic choice which brings the work to completion. In ancient times, fishing was considered to represent an ideal modus vivendi. The gloom created by the wet brush in Wu Zhen's Fisherman is identical to the gloom of the hazy visual style of this painting. Although in this work the artist does not seek to convey a dream of escape from society, he does nevertheless present to us in a postmodernist manner the romanticism with which refined scholars of old viewed the recluse. What appear to be scant strokes of the brush in fact embody Shang Yang's exploration afresh of the tripartite relationship between the painting, text and man which is found in traditional literati painting.