Chinese Artist : Gao Lei

November 14, 2018, 3:52 pm

Gao Lei

We met Gao Lei in one Irish bar, in the center of Nanjing. We directly felt in him a character that was following an alternative way.

Gao Lei was born in Nanjing in 1979. He was quickly attracted by nature and poesy thanks to his parents who passed a Literature Major. He carried on his studies in Nanjing, Fine Art Oil Painting Major. After his graduation, he directly became teacher at Nanjing University of Arts, first in Design Department, then in Communication Media Department.

According to him, the roles of artist and the one of teacher are really close to one doctor’s obligation. He has to open the eyes and highlight the pain of the society. As a teacher, he wants to wake up his pupils, whereas other teachers keep following the lines of a watered-down program. As an artist, he paints shocking facts or behaviors to make people think differently.

 In his “Back series” from 2012, he paints young people, from their back, walking. Harms hang down, they move forward half-hearted in the dark. Gao Lei wants to illustrate the loss of hope he feels in young people and in himself. Characters are detached one from another. It does not seem possible to make link or have confidence in anybody.


Adolescence 16 (150*135)


Adolescence 04 (190*250)

In another series called “Where”, he captures moment of life to bring the detachment of people out. In the painting below, he observes, from behind, students who has to stand, lined up, every day, during the flag rising. In this work, Gao Lei destroys the perspectives. It remains only 4 passive young people in front of one background, as in front of one screen.

Where 07 (100*120)

A frequent thematic of Gao Lei is also young people abandoned in the middle of a flourishing nature. In these sceneries, the teenagers look lost and exhausted. Sometimes, they even seem to have lost their human behaviors and act as wild animals, as in Them 12, where they are fighting at each other. The contrast is all the more striking since the nature represents a source of power and stability. It highlights the weakness of these young people hard-pressed to become adult and find their place in our society.

Adolescence 06 (250*180)

A lot of pictures are drawn from events in the news or photos from public events, extracted from reality. They witness violence, provocation of daily life. Sometimes, a crowd facing some policemen is presented in a Manichean vision. In this painting construction, the spectator is placed, hold back, behind the policemen. This is a way to maintain him outside of the event, and he looks at “Them”, title of the series.


Them 13 (180*220)

Back away from the scene, we can wonder : would I interfere if I was present ? or would I let the violence continue and pass my way ? The willing of Gao Lei is exactly this point, to wake up the spectator from its indifference.

From a technical point of view, year after year, his painting style is assured. His intense colors are filling the eyes. The lines of each figure are emphasized, enlighten, and they become energy lines that strengthen the released emotions.

Where 08 (80*100)


Where 09 (80*60)


Gao Lei enjoys also alternative projects to make art out of its boundaries. In 2013, he started his first « breathing project », which consists in growing beans directly on the floor one Museum (the Museum of Nanjing University of Arts, for this occasion). After one month, the beans were cooked and distributed to students and teachers of the University for free. A nice way to show that art should be free for everybody and help people to evolve in their mind !

Breathing Project in ANMUA in 2013

Later, in 2015, he associated to the British Concert to launch a musical bus. During 3 months, the bus was circulating through Nanjing and offering to its passengers all kind of musical installations. Common people who usually do not have access to the narrow art system were suddenly vacuumed into it.

He also created with artists from Nanjing and abroad a team called “1rst Floor”. Their association exchanges ideas about art and organizes several collective exhibitions. Their most famous remains the Dreaming Hôtel, in which they booked during one year an ugly tiny hotel which has a dreamy name and invited anyone to sleep inside and confide his feelings.

Finally, Gao Lei is an artist and a true jack of all trades. He succeeds in his paintings to seize an emotion which petrifies our senses. He chooses beauty and enlightenment to highlight the bad sides of human beings. On the contrary, in his associations and live events, he remains a true optimist, and his only wish is to offer simple art to everyone.


1979   Born in Nanjing

Teacher from School of Media and Communications, Nanjing University of Arts. He completed his postgraduate degree on oil painting at School of Fine Arts, Nanjing University of Arts.


Solo Exhibitions

2018   Breathing Project ; Hermit Art, Nanjing China

2013   How The Silence In The Darkness ; Zhuzi Art Center, Nanjing China

            Introduction To Art –In the beginning it is already over ; HMFF, Nanjing

            Dividing Structures ; Golden Eagle Contemporary Art Center, Nanjing

2011   Today Is The Tomorrow You Expected Yesterday ; The White Canvas Museum, Nanjing

Group Exhibitions

2017   Second Nature ; HMFF ; Chi art space, Hongkong

2016   Volunteering Project People’s Kindergarten(HMFF) ; Zao Space, Tianshui China

            Threshold Frequency AMNUA Academies Project ; Art Museum of Nanjing University of The Arts

            New Power ; Xuanhe Art Museum, Nanjing China

2015   Sneak Into (HMFF) ; Kulturpalst Wedding Space, Berlin Germany

            Wasteland(HMFF) ; OVADA, Oxford England

            Not on site Absolute Threshold and Type of Site—Specific Drift ; AMNUA, Nanjing China

2014   Shangdong Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art ; Shangdong Art Center, Nanjing China

            On Paper ; Luohu Art Museum, Shenzhen China

            Unlived By What Is Seen(HMFF) ; Pace Beijing, Beijing China

2013   Contemporary Art Exhibition in Nanjing ; Shangdong Art Center, Nanjing China

2012   G-Art Summer Exhibition ; Golden Eagle Contemporary Art Center, Nanjing China

2011   Contemporary Art Exhibition in Nanjing ; Shangdong Art Center, Nanjing China

            Dazzle 2011 Shanghai Youth Biennial ; Mingyuan Art center, Shanghai

2010   Get It Louder ; Show 800, Shanghai China

            Made In Nanjing ; New B Gallery, Shanghai China

2009   Art Of The Future ; Qinghe Art Museum, Nanjing China

            Community! Community! ; Songzhuang Art Museum, Beijing China