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Jiawei Shen William Yang

oil on canvas

183 x 213.5 cm

Image courtesy the artist

William Yang is a third-generation Australian-born Chinese artist. He has photographed the life and times of Sydney over the past 25 years and his photographs are represented in collections around Australia. They have also been collected into solo exhibitions, books and theatrical slideshows which Yang has performed with great success here and overseas.

Jiawei Shen was inspired to paint Yang’s portrait by something that Yang wrote: ‘The Chinese believe that the true self, the real “I” is a spirit which never dies, which is eternal. At death the spirit sheds the physical body and begins a journey into the next world.’

Shen took this as his starting point together with a text from the sage Lao Tze: ‘There is no difference between the living and the dead, they are the same channel of vitality. Loved ones are never lost. They are always here, in the heart.’ Yang is pictured surrounded by his family, the home where he grew up in Queensland, and artist Brett Whiteley and author Patrick White whom he famously photographed.

Born in Shanghai, Shen was largely self-taught, becoming recognised as an artist in China in the mid 1970s. His works were hung in the major public collections and he won five national art prizes in China. Since moving to Australia in 1989, Shen has worked as a full-time painter. He won the Mary MacKillop Art Award in 1995 and has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize every year since 1993. In 1997 he was named the runner-up.