An extraordinarily instinctive and innovative painter, Yang Shaobin is one of the few well-known painters from the 1990s to continue to experiment and take risks. Distancing himself from the Cynical Realism with which he is most commonly associated, 800 Metres Below is a deeply personal reflection upon the brutal conditions that coalminers face in China. Coal production in China today accounts for almost 40% of the world’s supply, and it also claims 80% of deaths worldwide from mining accidents; often described as the ‘deadliest job’, it remains a sensitive issue for China.
800 Metres Below are painted in the style of Socialist Realism with which Yang Shaobin grew up, and is more normally associated with an era of epic optimism. However, in these works, the artist uses a distinctively drab palette, different from the seductive colours of his earlier works. Although the workers are painted with compassion and dignity, the artist offers an ironic comment upon the utopian allegorical idealism that underpinned Mao’s pre-eminent brand of Social Realism. 800 Metres Below invokes an accurate, if harsh portrait of a contemporary industrial poverty trap from which there is little escape.