I've always been sensitive to violence, I can smell blood in the air when I watch people fight.The games I played as a child were violent. I often fought, and the injuries caused by that kind of violence, in my experience, are all too vivid. Reality is cruel, and people become insecure living amidst all pressures of life; violence is the most injurious act. Yang Shaobin, Living Weekly, November, 1999.
Since 1996, Yang Shaobin has gradually moved away from Cynical Realism. The past experience of working as a policeman made him especially sensitive of violent matters and the colour crimson. No. 21 (Lot 1343) perfectly embodies his exploration of this theme in his Red Violence Series. Applying his wide paintbrushes with speed and agility, and making use of the unbridled fluidity of the diluted oil paint, Yang Shaobin achieves a perfect integration of form, technique and theme. This series has bought him international attention, creating the first peak in his artistic career. No. 21 mainly uses red and white in a highly contrasting effect and displays the tension of confrontational violence. While the shade of crimson red traces the shadow of the face, it also embellishes the background. As a result, the protagonist's head seems to be floating amidst the painted surface. Yang does not reveal the body of the person, or any associative background information. He presents only an ambiguous image of the face in order to emphasize the outcome of violence; because the reasons leading to violent act, or the process of it, do not matter anymore. Yang Shaobin appropriates the dynamic use of brushstrokes in an abstract expressionistic manner to expose the image of violence. Such disclosure is in fact, a self-referential metaphor that points to real life experiences. Not only does it reflect the artist's thorough understanding of humanity, but also illustrates the correlative relationship between compassion and humanitarianism and brutal violence. No. 21, hence, provokes re-examination and reflection on current societies and human relationships.
Yang Shaobin admires greatly the film masters Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. He considers their strong individualistic styles to have changed the narrative approach in movies. Throughout the 10 years of exploring the theme of violence, the artist shifts his concern from personal experiences, to one that places importance on human society and their living environment. Created in the year 2006, Evening (Lot 1412) depicts a scene within a room through a segregation of colour gradation; the strong narrative style casts a cinematic atmosphere as if the scene is taken out from a movie. The shifting international climate and outbreak of wars at the time led the artist to realize that violence does not merely exist as physical attacks; but can also be found in the form of monopolization and exploitation on an ideological and intellectual level. The abrupt scene seems to have been derived from reality, but can also be an imaginative creation of the artist. Similar to No. 21, the painting offers no contextual description; the difference of the two works lies in their visual points. Instead of an encroaching view of the protagonist at eye level, the viewers of Evening seems to be looking from below, secretly observing him. Through this, the viewer can experience the intense visual effect constructed by the composition of the painted scene. In his previous Red Violence Series, the sense of violence is direct and upfront, the person merely acts as the transmitting medium. Evening, however, sets its scene in a real-life situation and with an invented plot, which creates a strange relationship between the viewer and the protagonist that is both intimate and detached. Yang Shaobin had said, "In fact, I want the violence in my works to be increasingly hidden". From No. 21 to Evening, the intense scenes reveal the evolution and transformation of perspectives within the artist's creative process.