To Infinity: The Art of Master Shen-Long

By Jacqueline Chao
Curator of Asian Art, Crow Collection of Asian Art

Master Shen-Long. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This exhibition, presented by the Crow Collection of Asian Art and NorthPark Center, features a new artwork by international multidisciplinary artist Master Shen-Long (神龍) that celebrates the power of all beings to create their universe. Installed between Burberry and Louis Vuitton on Level One at NorthPark Center, the work towers 12 feet high and 66 feet long. Golden dragons are shown roaming freely and joyfully in the universe; they reflect ourselves and the inherent creative power that can be found in each of us. 

Master Shen-Long (神龍). Photo courtesy of the artist.

For over 50 years, Master Shen-Long, a contemporary master of the classical Chinese literati perfections of painting, poetry, and calligraphy, has pioneered new approaches to painting that has made him one of the most innovative ink artists of this generation. At an early age, he was an artist disciple of the Han Yu Tang 寒玉堂 (the studio, study room, and alternative name of Pu Ru, Aisin Gioro Pu Ru 愛新覺羅•溥儒, or Pu Xinyu 溥心畬), cousin of Aisin Gioro Pu Yi 愛新覺羅•溥儀, the last Emperor of China. In the early 1990s, he developed a new abstract ink method for paper and canvas, resulting in richly detailed reversible works that blur the line between painting and sculpture. 

Master Shen-Long (神龍), Celebrating the birthday of all beings in the universe 壽吾壽, 2017. Ink and mixed media on canvas. 12 x 66 feet. Images courtesy of the artist. (Front)
Master Shen-Long (神龍), Celebrating the birthday of all beings in the universe 壽吾壽, 2017. Ink and mixed media on canvas. 12 x 66 feet. Images courtesy of the artist. (Reverse)

Influenced by his deep understanding of Buddhist, Daoist and Confucian philosophies, Master Shen-Long’s bold and experimental work challenges traditional assumptions about Chinese painting, and raises important concepts regarding mankind’s relationship with the universe. His artistic philosophy is grounded in three philosophical concepts found in Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism: In Confucianism, the concept of “integration between Nature and Mankind”; in Daoism, the concept of “one is wholly in harmony with the way of nature”; and in Buddhism, the concept of “everyone can become Buddha, and through cultivation we can recover our wisdom ability and enlightenment power.”

Master Shen-Long’s boundary-crossing artwork showcases the best features of the Chinese literati three perfections, while innovating upon and reimagining the history of Chinese painting for today and into the future. In this interview, I talk with Master Shen-Long about his philosophy, his artwork, and his much anticipated upcoming performance for SOLUNA.

Jacqueline Chao: Tell us more about your incredible new work installed at NorthPark Center. 

Master Shen-Long: It’s a celebration of all beings. The background is that all beings have “enlightenment power (Prajna wisdom)” which represents a pure life power. Every being, including myself, can use this power to create our own world, and to enjoy our own created environment. This is this artwork’s major idea. Jacqueline Chao:  You include in your painting a poetic inscription on the painting, “Celebrating the birthday of all beings in the universe, (and myself)”–can you tell us more about the poem’s meaning? 

Master Shen-Long: My poem relates to all beings in the universe, every living creature. Part of the purpose of this painting is to inspire all beings to contemplate how everyone possesses this creative ability and can create their own universe and the environment around them. I hope everyone can take time to reflect on the spirituality of one’s own mind, and upgrade oneself to have a better and happy life.

Jacqueline Chao: Can you tell us a bit more about the Chinese literati tradition, and how you integrate both traditional literati techniques with modern artistic techniques? What do you see as the differences between these two styles and techniques, if any?

Master Shen-Long:  The literati way of training and modern technical training is different. But my philosophy is from traditional, the present, and into the future. I use different technologies and different training ways to show people my philosophy. The philosophy doesn’t change from the past until now. The only change is the different terminology, the techniques people are using, the technology people are using, the wording they are using. There is no separation in my work–this is an integration and harmonization of all mediums, all philosophies of East and West, of past, present, and future. It’s the wisdom way of reinterpreting the past and using the past to interpret the future. The human tendency to divide is the number one source of conflict and leads to inflexibility. My philosophy is to never divide and understand thoroughly that everything in the world is completely related and all life has the same pure source. Everything is one integral whole.

Master Shen-Long (神龍) with his painting Celebrating the birthday of all beings in the universe 壽吾壽, 2017. Ink and mixed media on canvas. 12 x 66 feet. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jacqueline Chao: You’ve mentioned before in your many public lectures and in your writing that, “Nothing is everything and illusion is everything.” Can you explain how you apply that notion in your work? 

Master Shen-Long: Let’s start with the idea that everything is an illusion. You look at me, you look at my face, my hands, and you think it’s real? But actually, modern science has already proven that this is all composed by ions, and that all we see is just an illusion. Actually, my real self is very different from what you see. Everything in the universe is like this, everything is illusion,  that everything we see and what we think is manifested from our own minds. People need to understand that originally there is nothing, quoting from the Sixth Chan/Zen Buddhism Patriarch Huineng [638-718 CE], after he became enlightened and saw the truth about the universe, he has said, “originally there is not a single thing”.

So that’s why my paintings express how creative power is originally from all beings. That’s why this painting is a celebration of both my birthday and all beings’ birthdays. I create my painting the same way I create my life. It’s an expression of my art but also an expression of my entire life. Every being comes to this world to upgrade and to learn. This is my message–everyone has the ability to create one’s own life, just like I create my own world. 

And the biggest illusion of all is that we never die, that this universe never dies. The idea of life and death is from our minds. The truth is we never die and we exist infinitely, and we have infinite ability to create our own wonderful lives.

Jacqueline Chao: When you begin a work of art, do you have a vision of the final product?

Master Shen-Long: Definitely. Before the painting starts, automatically the result is already in my mind.

Master Shen-Long (神龍) with his painting Celebrating the birthday of all beings in the universe 壽吾壽, 2017. Ink and mixed media on canvas. 12 x 66 feet. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jacqueline Chao: Many of your works are displayable and viewable from both sides. How does this added dimension influence the planning of a painting? 

Master Shen-Long: Originally, my idea is that I wanted to create a painting that could be seen all 360 degrees, like a sculpture, and I know that nobody has done this before in art history–I’m the first. My idea is that everything should be 360 degrees vision, meaning that your mind is clear, clean, pure, and peaceful. Positive and negative are one. There is no conflict, no relative opposition, everything is from the same self-nature. Everyone is myself and myself is everyone. If you can see things up to 360 degrees, you would not be lost again. You are not just enjoying life on your own and you can also benefit others. This is ultimate self-enjoyment, also the happiest and the most satisfy living condition in the universe.

Jacqueline Chao: Tell us about your upcoming performance for SOLUNA on May 22. Can you tell us what the performance will be about? How will it relate to this year’s program theme of “shadow and light”? And what do you hope for people to take away from your performance?

Master Shen-Long: I chose to include calligraphy as part of the performance because it relates to the literati idea. Being able to do proper calligraphy is the most important fundamental aspect of traditional Chinese literati culture. Chinese art starts from Chinese characters. Chinese characters, when writing, is like drawing a work of art. It’s like painting. This is why calligraphy is such an important part of my painting repertoire. The performance I am planning will showcase not just my calligraphy, but the performative aspect of art creation, integrating not only the medium but also the sound.  

What is most important is the artist’s level and background and talent, all mixed together. When an artist demonstrates this successfully, one can bring out one’s inside energy to be as bright as the sun. It’s not dead writing, it’s alive. The movement is so positive, so in harmony with nature—the sun and the shadow.  

Ultimately I hope for viewers to have an immersive experience. Everyone in the audience, their mind movements, their feedback, their energy, are all very important to the making of the piece. We will make the work together. Of course, the demonstration will take place indoors inside my studio, but everyone will feel as though they are integrated with the universe!

Jacqueline Chao: Do you know yet what you are going to paint or write?

Master Shen-Long: Well, you guys should just come and experience it! Then you will know. 

To Infinity: The Art of Master Shen-Long is presented by the Crow Collection of Asian Art and NorthPark Center. This exhibition is currently on display in the gallery space on Level One between Burberry and Louis Vuitton and is on view through March 21, 2018.

Artist’s Studio, Design District
TUE | MAY 22

Join artist Master Shen-Long for an exclusive studio experience where he will create a bold new calligraphic ink work in front of a live audience. Using video technology, the audience is invited to watch the artist in action in real-time from all angles.


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