Lhasa-based painter Gade is well known for his artistic practice that melds traditional symbolism and the contemporary capitalist iconography that has come to permeate Chinese and Tibetan society. His astute perceptions of his environment ask us to consider the implications of rapid and radical social change.
Gade draws ordinary objects of daily life in Lhasa—cartoons, beer bottles, Chinese dumplings—into the spotlight, where they can be celebrated, condemned or dispassionately noted. Social life as told through these objects witnesses a comingling of Chinese imports, Communist memorabilia, Western fashions and traditional secular and religious indigenous items.
Despite the prominence of Western and Chinese cultural symbols in his work, the artist’s compositions are influenced by narrative structures found in Tibetan art, and he considers his work a product of his own native tradition.
In Bodhi Leaves and the Little Red Book, Gade delivers two new series of paintings. While one takes the spiritually symbolic leaves of the Bodhi tree as a backdrop, the other uses the pages of Mao Zedong’s ubiquitous, glossy red book of quotations, commonly known as the ‘Little Red Book’.
As referenced in the exhibition title, the Bodhi tree, under which the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, plays an important role for Buddhists of all traditions.
A group of forty-nine small paintings on paper collaged to canvas compose the Little Red Book series (2015). Influenced by Tibet’s mural painting, Gade’s style possesses a narrative quality, with its flatness of imagery, emphasis on detail and incorporation of the patterns and formal structures of religious art. He also depicts themes of death, warfare and daily life interchangeably with Tibetan, Chinese and Western motifs, alongside Mao’s quotes, some famous, others mundane.
One characteristic Tibetan influence in Gade’s artwork is the use of worn textures and a warm, aged colour palate that exudes the feel of eroded, decaying antique murals.
Presaged death and destruction, prominent in Gade’s recent work, indicate a tonal shift in his oeuvre—from a pessimistically witty take on consumerism and objective observation of cultural degradation, towards bleak futurism under misaligned spiritual and political identities. Through observation of the artist’s morphing imagery, we gain insight into the changing experience of Tibet, which is resolutely embodied in Gade’s art.