Scenes from the Shanghai Painters’ Market

Posted on February 27, 2012


Last week I visited the Shanghai Painters’ Market, a location I used to frequent every few months during my first few years in China, but I had to scale back after every inch of our walls had been covered with paintings. We should have moved to a larger home with more wall space for more paintings, but we couldn’t afford it after I’d spent so much money on paintings.

Many industries and retailers in Shanghai have a specific street or streets focused solely on their product: a street with thirty chicken wire retailers or a street with fifty light bulb retailers. I once took a wrong turn and ended up on a street with thirty vendors all selling front doors. Not back doors. Not interior doors. Just front doors. If you also needed a back door you’d have to ask for directions to the back door side of town.

The artists’ street, sometimes called the Painters’ Market, has always been one of my favorite places to go and watch the artists work. One thing that always catches my attention is how often they’re painting giant portraits of celebritites, like the one below of British footballer David Beckham:

Or if you’re looking for a sexier David Beckham painting to possibly add a little spice to the bedroom:

You would think these portraits would signify Beckham’s immense popularity in China, but I’ve seen even more portraits for sale of the actor Michael Douglas, and after visiting a hundred Chinese homes I’ve never once seen a portrait of either of these gentlemen hanging over the mantel.

I assume the celebrity portraits are intended to demonstrate skill in recreating a face all customers would recognize instead of displaying a portrait of the artist’s friend Todd. It does no good for the artist to explain how he was able to capture Todd’s easily-manipulated character if I’ve never met Todd and can only take his word for it.

My favorite part of the Painters’ Market is watching the artists do commissioned work to create portraits from the photographs of other Shanghai expats. I’m always hoping to recognize someone I know so I can request a copy and have it hanging in my house the next time they visit.

Sometimes people aren’t happy with their portraits and  refuse to pay the balance and the portrait remains leaning against a wall every time I visit for years and years. I assume that’s what happened with this guy’s portrait:

If that were my portrait, even if I didn’t like it I’d buy it just so nobody else would see it.

I did have a purpose for my visit. I occasionally buy art from an artist named Mr. Yin and every time I visit I bring him photos to get quotes on turning them into larger paintings. First, I wanted to know how much it would cost to paint a giant portrait of the Golden Girls so we could hang it in out home and tell the kids these were their great-grandmothers:

He quoted a price of 2000RMB–approximately $300–and that seemed a little too much for a joke, but I’m still thinking about it.

Next I wanted him to paint my favorite James Bond movie poster but replace ‘Sean Connery’ with ‘Paul Johnson’ and put my face over his:

Again, the quote was 2000RMB.

And last of all, I asked for a quote on the toxoplasma graphic from the CDC that Laura of Unlikely Explanations used in her Toxoplasmosis or Super Pac? post:
He was pretty enthused about this one and assured me it would be easy for him to do:

The price was just right at 500RMB–only about $80. I told him I’d call him to confirm the order but I wanted to check the size with my wife. We haven’t ordered it yet because Mrs. Greatsby has stated her objection to hanging it over the dinner table. I refuse to put it any place else because all our guests will want to see it and because our house is so giant they’ll constantly get lost as they wander around looking for it in the library or study or meditation room or the cat sanctuary or the servants’ quarters or the cat sanctuary servants’ quarters.

Some more photos:

Working from a print:

A painting I liked and may purchase as soon as my wife is convinced I’ve overcome my art addiction:

I hope to add this to my collection of thirty Chinese paintings my children won’t want when I die:

Posted in: China