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Mythical beasts come alive

Time:2018-02-07   Source:China Daily


A horse-like animal with a horn, similar to unicorn in Western mythology . [Photo provided to China Daily]

Shi Lin, a Chinese artist born in 1989, uses an ancient classic, his knowledge of animal anatomy and his imagination to feed the imagination. Guo Ying reports.

What did China's mythical beasts look like? A recently published book offers a glimpse.

Mythic Beasts, illustrated by Shi Lin, a Chinese artist born in 1989, contains more than 30 pictures of mythical beasts, such as the nine-tail fox as well as a horse-like animal with a horn on its head and a dog-like nine-headed animal.

Shi's inspiration comes from the ancient Chinese classic Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas), which dates back 2,200 years.

Shan Hai Jing has both a cultural and geographical account of China before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). And it contains geography, folklore, legends and fairy tales.

It is a major source of Chinese mythology, including the tales of Kuafu Chasing After the Sun and Nyu Wa Patches up the Sky, which have been passed down the generations in China.

Shi was interested in reading ancient Chinese literature and drawing animals since a young age.

When Shi was studying at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, he received a collection of different versions of the Shan Hai Jing from his mentor and was fascinated by it, especially the descriptions of mythical beasts.

"I appreciated the wisdom and romanticism of our ancestors through the book. And although the description of the mythical beasts is limited, I got a vivid picture in my mind making me eager to offer my take on these unique creatures," says Shi.

Shi, who painted 16 pictures of mythical beasts in 2012 as part of his graduation project, used the classic, his knowledge of animal anatomy and his imagination to get the job done.

He then shared the pictures online, and they attracted wide attention.


Cover of the book Mythic Beasts. [Photo provided to China Daily]


An ancient beast with an eagle-shaped head in the book Mythic Beasts. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Now, with the increasing popularity of fantasy-themed literature and games in China, some companies want to cash in on his pictures, but he wants to maintain the integrity of his work.

Earlier, he visited zoos to observe animals, including their joints, facial expressions and movements.

However, he gradually realized the limitations of a strictly realistic painting style.

"The caged animals lack movement and an animal spirit. So, how can they be compared with unfettered and powerful mythical beasts," says Shi.

A trip to Dunhuang in Gansu province also inspired Shi. When he visited the Mogao Grottoes, a shrine containing Buddhist art treasures in Dunhuang, he was deeply moved by the supernatural and spiritual scenes depicted in the frescoes and the statues.

When Shi was painting his mythical beasts he retreated from city life and the internet to create his art.

Then, he went to live in Yunnan province to see animals and plants in the wild, including the animal totems of ethnic groups.

Ma Changyi, an expert on Chinese mythology and the Shan Hai Jing, says that mythology is the spiritual force of national vitality.

Meanwhile, Shi hopes his book offers a way to decode the classic that is suited to a modern audience, especially children, who tend to absorb information through pictures.


A nine-tail fox [Photo provided to China Daily]


Shi Lin, Chinese artist [Photo provided to China Daily]

Speaking about how his art can help, Shi says: "The Shan Hai Jing has more than 31,000 words and the myths are scattered through it. So, modern readers may feel at a loss if they read it for the first time."

Referring to his book, Shi is happy that children appreciate the details in the pictures, such as swirling clouds.

Separately, Shi is also surprised that his book has found fans abroad. But he adds that: "Shan Hai Jing not only records the geography of China, but also penguins in the Antarctic as well as many species from South America.

"The images of mermaids and unicorns in Western literature are described in Shan Hai Jing. And images of human-faced birds and human-headed snakes are also found in Western mythology."

Besides Shan Hai Jing, Shi is also fascinated by other ancient Chinese literary works and art forms.

And he hopes that he can find creative ways to depict this traditional culture.

"China's traditional culture is a tremendous treasure, and I hope more people can enjoy it," he says.