This article was produced in collaboration with VisionVivo

Jiawei Shen in front of Brothers and Sisters – on exhibition at Rochford Gallery

It’s not often that I visit art galleries. The big ones have so many artworks to perceive, read and digest that I find it somewhat daunting to balance time. I want to sufficiently appreciate each artwork but I also want to see all the artworks and leave no part of the gallery un-explored.

Thankfully, Rochfort Gallery holds a more boutique, intuitive experience. This heritage landmark in North Sydney has two floors. The bottom floor is a hall and the top floor is partitioned thoughtfully.  

You’ll recognise Rochfort Gallery by its majestic, Masonic structure on 317 Pacific Highway in Sydney’s lower North Shore. Collections are regularly rotated to investigate different themes, and you can expect to see paintings and scuptures by international artists. During May and June 2024, a wide collection of works by Jiawei Shen is on display.

The exhibition is called People in History, People Today. It doesn’t take an historian to recognise a few of the 300-400 faces in the centre-stage showpiece. 

One may find it near-unfathomable that an artist could portray 300-400 individuals in such vivid detail, all co-ordinated into a 30-metre piece of work. But then again this artist is Jiawei Shen, who is renowned for painting portraits of historically-significant figures. 

During Shen’s career, which has seen him recognised as one of 1970’s China’s most influential artists, he has painted figures like Pope Francis, John Howard (former Prime Minister of Australia), and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.

Those interested in Chinese history will be fascinated by Brothers and Sisters – the monumental, mural-sized painting currently on exhibition at Rochford Gallery. Jiawei Shen spent over a decade crafting this retrospective, which features a population of figures. As John Mcdonald writes, Shen has “… taken up the story at the end of the Long March in 1936 …”, a pivotal moment in the early development of modern day China. 

I spent some time on the bottom floor, examining the myriad of faces in Brothers and Sisters and the inscription of many of their names in Chinese. Then I went upstairs to see the exhibition’s collection of individual portraits. Jiawei Shen is a 14-time Archibald Prize finalist and a winner of the Sir John Sulman Prize. 

His mastery in portrait painting is as clear as a photo.

Upcoming exhibitions by Rochford Gallery are available here

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