“I wanted to paint all the places I stayed in so I could remember them well.”
Born Shenyang, Liaoning, 1984
“I like the traditional way of painting,” she says. She means oil painting—and she does it on a far from traditional scale. For Daily Scenes (2009), she painted 42 separate views from the stairwells of her outer-Beijing apartment building. These window-framed pictures are the only “artworks” her neighbours are likely to see—if they see them at all. Their contents are far from beautiful: dusty yards, scrawny trees. But her meticulous rendering gives them a kind of beauty. For Home of Paintings (2008), Dong Yuan completed 59 canvases; and Sketch of Family Belongings (2008) required 186. Both works capture, one or two items at a time, the entire contents of two small apartments the artist lived in as a student, transforming cheap, even shoddy objects into things of exquisite beauty. Her Repeated Illusion series (2013) also has a homey touch. Copying her favourite still lifes by painters such as Jean-BaptisteOudry, Jean-Baptist Weenix, Adolph von Menzel, and Jan Brueghel the Elder, Dong Yuan altered them to suit her personal taste, much as one might change the curtains. In Repeated Illusions No. 1, she paints a vase minus its bouquet of flowers, and adds a string line beside the canvas on which she pegs painted cut-outs: “I like clean things,” she explains.