In this oil painting, a red grid covers a monochromatic portrait of Mao Zedong, which resembles widely circulated images in the art produced during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) in China. The letter A is painted in the top left and bottom right corners, and the letter O in the top right and bottom left corners. Wang Guangyi included these letters in his works in reference to the m, a, and o of Mao’s name. The grid is a reference to the square boxes used to practise Chinese calligraphy and serves to reduce the image of Mao to the level of the ordinary. The grid also recalls printing technology, used to reproduce Mao’s portrait in the 1960s and 1970s. The work is an extension of Wang’s series of paintings in which he painted a red or black grid over significant figures from Western art history. Drawing on the grid’s association with rationality, the series invites viewers to approach the images with distance and objectivity.
Wang Guangyi (born 1957, Harbin) graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, in 1984. A founding member of the Northern Art Group in the 1980s, he is a major figure of the Political Pop movement and is known for producing works that juxtapose propaganda images from the Cultural Revolution with contemporary Western advertising. Wang lives and works in Beijing.