Chinese Immigrant Painter Shiqing Deng Finds Inspiration and Commercial Success in Brooklyn and Beyond

After a sold-out show at Stephan Simchowitz’s show in LA and being listed as a finalist for the Bennett Prize, Shiqing Deng is once again being featured – this time at the Park Avenue Pianos Gallery pop-up show in December.

Painter Shiqing Deng, known in the art world and by friends as “Demo,” has found international success. Her work has been shown in galleries from China to the U.S. and even France. Most recently she has had her pieces at Stefan Simchowitz’s gallery in Los Angeles, Parasol Projects in New York, and at Art Basel in Miami.

The pop-up show at Park Avenue Pianos show will feature a few of her pieces and run throughout December, with an opening on the 15th.

We, at Park Avenue Pianos, sat down with Demo to get to know her practice better. Initially, we discussed her influences and training in China. She said that both her parents have always been supportive of her career, but that it was her father who initially discovered her artistic talent, getting her a private art teacher.

Eastern Meets Western

Demo told us Chinese culture has not been a huge influence on her art, because she grew up with a lot of Western influence. 

“I watched Disney cartoons when I was young,” she said. “So I love a lot of American TV shows and movies. I feel like, especially in my generation in China, we’re all very Western. Our thinking is very Western.”

She balked at the notion of being considered a “Chinese Artist,” explaining that it was much too broad a term to be associated with her personhood and artistic practice.

“I don’t like when people say, ‘oh you are this place artist or that place artist’ because that’s just where you’re born,” Demo said. “But it doesn’t define who you are. I cannot represent China, not at all. A lot of Chinese people are so different from me.”

She did, however, attribute her art education, specifically the skill training that Chinese art schools practice as her one major artistic influence from China. Demo described Chinese education as a lot more strict, where going to art college entails sitting for three-hour drawing and painting exams. There’s also a strong emphasis on practicing technique in China – Demo recounts that the focus was on learning from old-school art masters and copying their masterpieces. She only really began branching out after she graduated from college. 

“I created a series of work about the apocalypse, because at that moment, in China, the air pollution was so bad, I felt like it was the end of the world,” she said. “That’s why I started to create a bunch of work that was very dark and moody. And, that’s part of the reason why I decided to go abroad to America because I didn’t really like it [in China] at that moment. So I went to the New York Academy of Art, and that’s where I found what I was more interested in.” 

Deng taking a break from working on one of her pieces

In New York, Demo was exposed to students who made art in many different styles, which was a stark contrast to her experience in China.

“In schools in China, everyone is doing exactly the same thing,” Demo said. “[In New York] I see all the possibilities. There is nothing I cannot do. That’s where I started to find my own styles.”

Paintings Clothed by Fashion's Influence

It was while studying in New York, that Demo discovered her love for fashion, although she herself admits that she tends to dress in a more simple manner – focused on comfort. However in her art pieces, clothing plays a large role.

“I don’t like to dress like that, but I have the vision and the creativity,” Demo said. “Also, I feel like designing clothes gave me a lot of space to experiment with texture and color — it gave me a lot of freedom. Fashion is often a starting point for me. It allows me to combine many elements, like cartoons, lines, and different textures.”

Demo also explained that clothing is a way for her to help further express the characters in her paintings. She often dresses her subjects in clothing composed of body parts. 

“Clothing is covering our bodies, so if I put a body on top, what’s the point?” she said. “You know what I mean? It’s kind of an ironic way to do it.”

If Chaplin were a Painter

Irony, and dark humor play a large role in Demo’s artistic practice:

“I like to express a sad story in a funny way, like the comedian Charlie Chaplin,” she said. “I really love his work. It’s funny, but it’s sad. I don’t want to express sad work in a sad way; that’s too much. I want a balance.”

Demo’s interest in the ASMR obsession that has recently consumed society is tied into this. Demo keenly observes these fads, and often incorporates them into her works. Although she has not partaken in the consumption of ASMR videos herself, she has made it the subject of one of her paintings. 

Deng's painting where the subject is ASMR

“I saw that people love to watch it,” Demo said. “I think that’s a very specific thing around this particular time. It hasn’t happened before. It represents the now. I want to portray that. No one cares about the serious stuff; they just want to have fun, and I want to portray that, in an ironic way.”

When asked more about her thoughts on this societal desire for distraction, Demo chalked it up to people feeling under too much pressure and stress. Enter escapism. 

“They don’t want to think about other stuff anymore,” she said. “They just want to see fun stuff; they don’t want to see sad stuff. It’s like people are deciding what movie to watch, they will not choose a very serious movie, they will choose a more commercial and fun movie. The more commercial movie will make more money than other serious subject matter movies, even if they are very well made, no one cares.”

"The Most Mysterious Creature" of All

This interest ties into Demo’s larger artistic goals – creating works that are personable, relatable, and universal. Most often she does this through the lens of observing other humans. Most of her subjects are her friends; when asked she said she currently has little interest in self-portraits. 

“I’ve painted a few before, but not many because I’m so tired of seeing myself,” she said. “I don’t even have a mirror in my room… I [actually] love painting portraits because people are so interesting. [They are] the most mysterious creatures in this world.”

Demo is young and at the beginning of her career, and we are excited to see how her work will develop. There is certainly still more to come, in her ever-evolving practice. 

“For me, I feel like art is more like finding myself and knowing myself,” Demo said. “My art is changing all the time. A few years ago my art was completely different from now. I keep exploring and finding who I am.”

Deng amid her painting process