Yang Shaobin's works, whatever the media, have maintained an almost obsessive focus on one theme: violence. He has pursued this theme in its multiple human manifestations and in various media forms. It can be found in is his earliest expressionistic paintings, his sculptures, installations, and in his recent, more conceptual paintings based on historical and contemporary scenes of political violence.
Living in the artist village Yuan Ming Yuan in the outskirts of Beijing, Yang, along with Yue Minjun and Fang Lijun, was one of three artists from the community selected by Harald Szeeman to participate in the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999. It was there that Yang first exhibited his breakthrough, monumental blood red paintings of figures contorted in scenes of hyper-violence, from which this work stems.
The focus on violence in his work likely emerged from a heightened sensitization to blood and aggression gained from his early experiences as a police officer. In these works, Yang eliminates any signifying context; the anonymous figures exist in a pure, almost otherworldly space, emphasising the violent impulse as a core human characteristic. The figures themselves are based loosely on the artist himself, and in so doing Yang implicates himself as a kind of anonymous universal figure, prone to violence against himself and others. In these works, the combination of Yang's grotesque treatment of the body, his palette, and provocatively expressionist paint handling serves to challenge the limits of canvas painting itself and its ability to engage the viewer viscerally. As a student, Yang greatly admired Francis Bacon, and the reliance on painterly, figurative abstraction, used to engage the viewer psychologically, is clearly drawn from that influence.
In China, the significance of the colour red is multi-valenced. It is the colour of success, luck, bridal dresses and the national flag. It is also synonymous with communism. It evokes mixed feelings of love, passion, danger and power. Yang's use of such a densely symbolic colour, along with his virtuosic handling of the figures and the paint, results in an extraordinary powerful statement on historical and cultural violence and basic human nature.