Fan Jing squarely places herself in a line of prestigious female artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Chiharu Shiota who have put womanhood and the female experience at the centre of their artistic practice. Unlike those two artists however, Fan Jing does not present her audience with attributes of womanhood or oneiric versions thereof, but with women enclosed in their role, reduced to the condition of toys or of robotic figurines. In doing so, she offers a singular view of the female condition, discusses its various aspects and morphs it into archetypes, challenging the viewer to revise preconceived notions of gender relations and stereotypes.
Fan Jing’s visual vocabulary is easy to decipher. In her paintings, female figures are depicted as crosses between humans or marionettes, with uniformly smooth hair and rosy and perfectly rounded cheeks. Their clothes are similarly made of geometrical blocks seemingly produced by factories. The overall effect suggests the influence of cubism tinted with pop art. This can be potentially interpreted as an indication that Fan Jing sees women as corseted into stereotypes, marionettes controlled by society and imprisoned into pre-defined roles that exacerbate their femineity.
Yet behind this façade is a more sinister undertone that is almost immediately perceptible by the viewer. While the characters in Fan Jing’s are in some ways idealized versions of women into domestic and innocent roles such as dancers and schoolgirls, their facial features indicate a cruelty and a viciousness that is all too masculine. Some of their posture, simultaneously affectionate and combative, also imply that a more mysterious and darker situation is unfolding before our eyes. Fan Jing thereby tells her audience that behind a veil of sensuality, innocence and chastity, womanhood shares many of the conflicts traditionally associated with manhood.
Fan Jing’s technique is reminiscent of theater and ballet. In front of an almost entirely dark background, figures emerge in muted colors that are in stark contrast with the bright shades of the clothes, as if the appanage of a person was more conspicuous than their personality. The paintings are thickly covered with varnish, to give an impression of manufacturing and ancientness. In all of Fan Jing’s works, the palette of colors is reduced to the bare minimum to draw attention to the drama being performed on the painting.