Jia Aili

Imbuing spirituality into timeless, apocalyptic landscapes - brightened by hope.

Despite maintaining a studio in downtown New York, Jia Aili is based predominantly in Beijing, China, where he was born in 1979.

Movements

He is one of a new generation of Chinese artists, reared in the post-Mao Zedong era, who are known for eschewing the overtly political themes of previous generations in favour of merging classical Eastern modes of art-making with their own contemporary issues.

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Recent years have seen his practice shift from darkly theatrical scenes to more colourful, intensely abstract works which have steadily increased in scale, with some canvases taking several years to complete.

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Practice overview

Jia Aili’s cinematic compositions depict arid landscapes alongside futuristic architectural forms, conveying both hope and anxiety about our increasingly technological world. Best known as an oil painter, his dramatic palette uses Caravaggio-esque chiaroscuro, pairing dark greys, blues and blacks against bright white brushstrokes. Driven by emotion and experimentation, process is fundamental to his work. In Mountain and Wave Line (2020), for example, a tranquil mountain range reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich is encased in a white, free-standing frame. In front of the canvas is a sheet of glass where soft, briskly drawn scribbles whip across the surface. These new materials and modes of display bring art back to one of its fundamental roots: emotional expression via the material exploration of paint.

Born in 1979, the inaugural year of the one-child policy in China, Jia uses his work to reflect on contemporary Chinese society. Motifs like gas masks, industrial waste, the hammer and sickle, and the mushroom cloud point towards the pernicious violence of human development and warfare. However, at the same time, his alluring sci-fi aesthetic expresses admiration towards these same modes of technological advancement for their achievements in design and engineering. This paradox is central to Jia’s practice, highlighting how industrialisation has eroded the spiritual development of the human race. At once in our world and outside of it, Jia’s painting is an ode to the ugliness and beauty, threat and hope of existence.

“Painting is not a reproduction of the objective world, but meticulous care of the spirit.”Jia Aili