Shan-Shan Sheng

In her artwork, Shan Shan Sheng fuses East and West, past and present, expression and technique. Transforming her vivid brushstrokes into translucent glass, and ancient innovations into modern forms, she invites viewers to see through time and material to a uniquely integrated vision. Raised in mainland China, Sheng furthered her education and artistic development in the United States, settling in San Francisco. Reversing the trajectory of Marco Polo, the Venetian explorer who visited China and wrote about his encounters, Sheng discovered in Venice a way to translate her large-scale Abstract Expressionist paintings into new forms. Since 1999, she has been collaborating closely with the master glassblowers of Murano to mix and arrange pigments for sculptures and installations marked by ethereal streaks and speckles that reflect her hand and line. This time honored Western technique provides an ideal mode for breathing fresh life into the Eastern traditions that shaped her childhood and still inform her artistic perspective. Sheng mines her heritage in the “Chinese ancient invention series,” reviving here the abacus, a counting mechanism that long predates the now ubiquitous calculator and renders numerical change tangible. Still used to teach children how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, the abacus need not become obsolete in the rush of data and technology that now consumes society. Nor must we abandon national traditions in order to meld cultures and mine knowledge, Sheng points out by using her own process to illustrate universal principles. The gem like beads of her abacus smooth transitions without glossing over the elements that inform our complex calculations.