On her first trip to Rome, Mona Shen was awed by the frescos and tempera paintings of the city’s churches. She had seen photos in books before, but the vibrancy of the colors and sense of history were things that couldn’t be replicated in print. These had to be experienced in person and with reverence. “Being there physically, I felt an intimacy with the materials used in creating the pieces,” she recalls. “As someone who grew up in the East but studied and has spent time in the West, I found these traditions and mediums familiar, even as they piqued my curiosity and left me with more questions.”
This trip is what ultimately inspired Shen to start painting and develop a visual language of her own.
Shen grew up in Wuxi, China, and has called the U.S. home ever since she moved to New York for her MFA. She’s captivated by the city’s art and culture scene, which has pushed her to devote herself fully to her love of painting and develop a style defined by vivid colors and abstract forms. Through her brushstrokes, she stitches together patches of color to capture specific emotions, creating works that beckon viewers to step closer and lose themselves in the layers of paint.
Shen often relies on titles to give context to her abstract art. Names like Pink Rain, Humming Wind, and Sun at Night give viewers a framework to understand these color-based narratives. “I’m inspired by Cubism, photography, and geometry,” she explains of her approach. “For example, in Weather for All Kinds, I’m not looking to show anything specific. It’s conceptual, an exploration of how brushstrokes, color, and material can come together on a flat surface.”
Still, she adds, many of the elements that appear in her art are sourced from everyday life. “I often incorporate my observations, such as city streets, lights, and colors, into my art.”
粉色的雨，嗡鸣的风，暗中寻光的人……作品名给了观看的人以一种途径，去试图在颜色构建出的画布上找寻故事。“我的作品形式上受立体主义、摄影和几何学影响很大。比如《Weather for All Kinds》, 它并不是描述一件具体的事物，而是专注用不同笔触、色块、材料，直觉性地在平面上探索一个思维空间。”沈梦丹说。在她笔下，作品的灵感都来源于对现实的感知，“比如看到的街道、光线、色彩，在创作的时候我会从中抽取一个元素作为我的观点。”
Composition and form are still the primary focus of her work, but Shen has begun moving away from purely abstract pieces in the past two years. “My paintings have a central theme that’s grounded to specific time periods and settings,” she says. “They’re not meant to be only conceptual. I want viewers to discover a specific meaning. From where a brushstroke ends to how each patch of colors is sized, different emotions are presented through these decisions, and that’s what my art is about. It’s not about the specific characters and things being shown.”
At the midpoint between concrete emotion and narrative abstraction—that’s where Shen seeks to position her work.
Shen says Pete Doig and Tal R are two artists she looks up to the most. Though their art styles are different, they both create works that are as thoughtful as they are personal. In both of their works, color is used as a narrative device to explore humanity, history, and more. “Their works may be intimate and full of emotion, but it never feels over the top,” she says.
These are qualities she hopes to incorporate into her own work. As she grows as an artist, she’d also like to be more consistent, create works that feel more cohesive, and learn how to develop deeper narratives. “History, cinema, and photography are things I’d like learn from,” she says. “Learning about these different subjects can help me become a more versatile artist. I’d also like to learn how to slow down when I’m working, maybe invest a few years into a single work.”
聊起她欣赏的艺术家时，沈梦丹提名 Peter Doig 和 Tal R，两者的画虽属不同流派，但都从很敏感和私人的角度切入，以色彩呈现和讨论更大的人类和历史问题。“他们的画有强烈的个人性，有情绪，但又不是张扬的”。