Maleonn was born in Shanghai in1972. He graduated from the Fine Art College of Shanghai University with a major in graphic design. He currently lives in Shanghai.

Maleonn creates spectacular staged works that delve into the surreal. His work encompasses many themes but in all his work there is the feeling that Maleonn is a magician conjuring up visions of his imagination. Some works reference childhood memory, lost hopes and dreams and the symbolism of traditional Chinese arts.

Maleonn has been influenced by his family’s background in traditional performing arts.  His father is the director of Beijing Opera and his mother an actress. All areas of the arts were considered important in Maleonn’s education and he was interested in painting at an early age. After completing his training in design at university, Maleonn worked as a director of video clips. During this time he perfected his stagecraft and dreamed of becoming a film director. Even though his dream has never been realised, Maleonn’s photographic work has cinematographic qualities. His works are narrative and require some form of staged setting with props, actors and costumes. Unlike film, the audience is invited to view each frame at their own pace in order to fathom the complexity of the scene. Maleonn uses detail and layering of imagery to construct meaning.

Maleonn states:

“Art is mirrors and windows: you see yourself in it, and you see yourself in relation to the outside world.”

“Portrait of Mephisto, No.1”, 2006, 30 x 36 cm, Inkjet print and hand painted by the artist

“Portrait of Mephisto, No.6”, 2006, 30 x 36cm, Inkjet print and hand painted by the artist

In the series, “Portrait of Mephisto”, Maleonn stages his personal interpretation of ‘Mephisto’ in a contemporary context. Mephisto is a demon in German folklore usually portrayed as a negotiator for the devil. The story is about Faust, a scholar, who makes a deal with the devil in order to gain magical powers in exchange for his soul when he dies. These theatrical works are photographed in black and white and printed on watercolour paper before being meticulously hand-painted. The colours are beautifully rendered and demonstrate Maleonn’s skill as a painter. The works are slightly comic and sinister at the same time.

“Second-hand Tang Poems, No.5”, 2007, 108 x 90 cm, Inkjet Print

“Second-hand Tang Poems, No.4”, 2007, 108 x 90 cm, Inkjet Print

“Second-hand Tang Poems, No.8”, 2007, 108 x 90 cm, Inkjet Print

“Second-hand Tang Poems, No.1”, 2007, 108 x 90 cm, Inkjet Print

The series, “Second-hand Tang Poems”, comes from the artist’s discovery of Tang Dynasty poems. He feels very pessimistic about the loss of cultural knowledge from the education systems of contemporary China. The reciting of poems from memory was an integral part of a scholar’s training and this form of cultural appreciation is now not considered important. The poems contain many symbolic references to traditional values and beliefs. Maleonn laments this loss.

“My use of classical Chinese motifs, especially those from literature, is very deliberate because they were an essential part of my growing up. In today’s China, our younger generation have a very shallow understanding of traditions. The society is growing increasingly absurd; young people have little exposure to the classics and the spirit – the purity – is very hard for them to grasp.”

“Second-hand Tang Poem, No 5.” comprises common motifs in classical Chinese painting and poetry. The lotus flower on the lake, the mountain with pagoda, the clouds and the calligraphy all come from traditional Chinese painting. The subject of the photograph is a chained plucked chicken with a lotus flower. The title of the work comes from the calligraphy in the background. Maleonn copied the text of the Tang poems from memory and he includes his mistakes.

The lotus flower is a symbol of mental purity as it rises out of muddy waters but remains unsoiled. The Chinese words for lotus have the same meanings as to bind or connect, such as in marriage. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism (meaning prosperity and success). Maleonn brings together the lotus flower and the dead chicken, which is a substitute for the crane and ironically is a symbol of longevity. The work is perhaps about the transience of life and Maleonn’s sadness over what is irretrievably lost. It illuminates the distance between traditional Chinese culture and contemporary lifestyles in China.

For notes on symbols used in Chinese traditional paintings (

Below are images from other bodies of work by Maleonn.

“Postman, No.3”, 2008, 90 x 135 cm, Inkjet Print

“Book of Taboo, No.9”, 2006, 90 x 135 cm, Inkjet Print

“What Love Is, No. 2”, 2009, 135 x 90 cm, Inkjet Print on Photo Paper
My Circus, No.12”, 2005, 80 x 120 cm, Inkjet Print

Images courtesy Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong