In the studio with Shafei Xia.

Words by

Julia Michiewicz

In the studio with Shafei Xia.

Your latest exhibition at P420² recently featured in our magazine online, is titled ‘Welcome to my show’. What is the role of performing & performance in your art and exhibition - the show you are inviting us to?

I am an actor and a director, I will arrange me in the painting, sometimes as a tiger, sometimes as a woman who doesn’t like to wear clothes.

Together, Shafei Xia, 2020, watercolor on sandal paper mounted on canvas, 120x105cm

A few months ago you graduated form the University of Bologna with a thesis ‘The Would is the Circus’ paraphrasing Federico Fellini. Can you elaborate on your thoughts? 

Charlie Chaplin said “The world is like a big circus. It makes you thrilled. Makes me panic. Afterwards, I know it will always be Limited tenderness, infinite bitterness."
I first watched Fellini’s ‘Big Road’, and then I watched Chaplin’s circus. At the end of the play, Chaplin slowly walked out of the wheel ring left by the carriage. I looked at his back. I felt infinitely lonely and brave. At the same time there is sadness. Going to the circus in my childhood was a very happy thing. After I grew up, I discovered the cruelty of reality and the unpredictability of life, and even my memories turned into empty imaginations and gorgeous bubbles. Chaplin and Fellini use their way to recall their circus, either sad or happy. And I also try my best to make life interesting in my own way. 

Were you inspired not only by Fellini’s words and films, but perhaps also his sketches? 

I watched several of his movies and his picture album. Women with big breasts and fat butts are his favourite, of course I also like them very much. 

The scenes captured in your paintings are set within very characteristic environments like the philharmonic and a tea party. These posh and classically serious settings are accompanied by contrasting elements of the circus, eroticism, and humour. What are the relationships between these seemingly clashing elements, and how do you achieve such consistent imagery without cacophony? 

Because of my personality, I think I am a free and open person. In my life, I often fart in front of my friends. In jokes, “farting” is an impolite behavior in a civilized society, but I have to fart and I want to enjoy The joy of release, the ease of circulation. Therefore, when I always create with such a free and happy mood, my paintings are naturally harmonious and real. 

Your exhibition was hosted at P420’s new space which is visually distinctive from a usual white cube gallery. The ornamental style of the walls complements the themes explored in your paintings. Is the exhibition space and its relationship to your pieces important to you? 

Very important. First of all, the entire team of P420 is very professional. The entire exhibition is very complete and the effect is good. 

What do you think about spaces created specifically for emerging artists, should more galleries be doing what P420 is?

I think this is an act ahead of the times. The combination of online and offline will become a popular trend. First of all, there is no doubt that my cooperation with p420 is based on trust. In August last year, they approached me and told me about their thoughts on the online exhibition. I am very happy to agree to this cooperation. And start working. I selected 8 works with Fabrizio and Alessandro, 5 of them are new works that i painted for this exhibition. p420 has found a good way to mount paintings, which makes my paintings look more perfect. Next, p420 invited Professor Pozzati to write a text for me. Ask a professional photographer to take photos of my work.The exhibition is not a single person's business. For this exhibition, at least ten people have helped me. For me, I am very fortunate to be able to cooperate with p420.

In an essay on your practice Maura Pozzati mentioned that you often represent yourself as a tiger. What are your thoughts on painting animals and human, as well as interchanging these characters?

This is very interesting, because I like animals very much. When I was in Africa, I saw a male lion and a female lion hiding under a bush to enjoy the sun, but there were four to five cars around. Humans, including me, keep taking picture. Maybe the two lions are used to it, but I still feel guilty. So in my paintings, I hope people and animals have a harmonious relationship. In short, the world is peaceful.

You use very delicate materials including sandalwood paper and watercolour paints, can you tell us more about your process and the materials you use?  

Regarding the materials, it is purely occasional, and I did not look for a spacial kind of paper. This has just happened. I used to paint oil and acrylic. Whenever I showed my works to my professor, he always said, She Fei, this doesn’t look like yours.” Until one day, when I was in a very bad mood, when I was tidying up the bookcase, I just saw some drawing paper I brought from China, so I drew on it and I was very happy. Then I showed it to my professor. After he saw it, he liked it very much. Since then, I have been drawing on this kind of paper. 

Your studio is in Bologna where you also attended the Academy of Fine Arts, yet you first attended university in China. How has living and studying in these countries influenced you and your art? 

I studied landscape design at a Chinese university only because my parents felt it was easy to find a job after graduation. I have no interest in this. Those four years of university life only strengthened my confidence in becoming me instead of others. In Italy, I do what I want to do. At the beginning, I didn’t how to paint. But I did not give up, I love life, I study, travel, fall in love. Slowly, everything began to become clear.

And finally, since we are only a few weeks into the New Year, what are your plans for 2021?

In 2021 I hope for world peace, for you to be happy, and for me to be happy.

After my first solo show at p420,i am going to continue to collaborate with p420, we are already working on other upcoming projects together, among them another solo show in Milan. 

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Courtesy the artist and P420, Bologna, Photo Credits: Carlo Favero