Tian Mangzi’s Apples / Planets

by Michelle Chin

Born in Shenyang in 1968, Tian Mangzi began to paint when he was 12 or 13 years old. He studied ink and brush techniques under the guidance of Chinese masters who taught him to paint landscapes outdoors in nature. At the age of 18 he entered the Shenyang Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1990 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. In 1992 he attended the classical Chinese paintings department of the Academy of Fine Arts of Xi’an and graduated with a Master’s degree in 1995. From 1999-2002 he taught painting at the Shenyang Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts. Since 2002, he has worked as a full-time artist.

When Tian Mangzi began to paint still life he focussed on trying to understand the structure and character of the pear, orange, banana and other fruits and vegetables. He finally chose the apple as his favourite object for still life paintings because it has the same characteristics of simplicity and complexity, just like Planet Earth.

A turning point for Tian Mangzi was the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 which shattered all of the ideals that he and other students had believed in until that time. Although they wished to contribute to creating a better planet, the students realized that they cannot control the future of state and government. Mankind also cannot change the problems and pains of the world.

He says, “The world is not beautiful, and I even hate it a bit. Human society deviates from morality and ideals. Human history is full of political intrigues, tyranny, war and slaughter. Everywhere there are destitute and homeless people, beggars. On the one hand there are the helpless, poor, hard-working people and on the other hand there are the extravagant and miserly rich. Human are gradually destroying the environment, the planet is polluted, and all the rivers stink with garbage. I feel disappointed by all of this and I have no power to stop it.”

One year after he started to focus on painting apples, he suddenly realized the reason for doing so. It was “an impulse to overthrow the accursed world and then to create a new, beautiful, peaceful planet which belongs to everyone.” Tian Mangzi does not tire of painting apples because he says, “What I have painted is not apples but planets.”

Tian Mangzi explains, “Chinese attitude is to suggest a shape as a hint of the universe. Chinese philosophy is based on emotion rather than logic or rationality. My art has two functions: firstly, to construct an apple, and secondly to try to encourage the viewer to move into a second stage of realizing that the shape represents the universe.
The apples/planets are suspended in space, but “space” has been removed so that the dimensional effect remains.”

The various colours that Tian Mangzi uses represent the different types of people, character and environment. The colours are his attempt to achieve happiness.

Blue symbolizes the sky and, by extension, the gods. Blue represents mystical things and the wonders of the universe.  Tian Mangzi’s blue apples represent a blue planet of water and oceans most like the Planet Earth where we live.

Yellow represents gold and wealth, while red symbolizes fire, courage, anger, stormy emotions, love and power.

Pastel pink is like a youthful complexion, the skin of a young girl.

Purple and lilac represent mystery and the unknown things that we cannot understand. Imperial purple is chemically very closely related to indigo, and it can sometimes be very difficult to tell the two colours apart. It was indeed possible to get blue from purple by involving a photo-chemical reaction (sunlight) in such a way that it was like the world itself born out of light.

Purple has often been considered to be a symbol of power, greed and luxury. However, bluer shades of purple (with little sunlight mixed in) remind us not to forget the more mystical side of the universe.

Black can represent time, and white represents logical things. Mixing black and white together, we achieve the colour grey which is passive, silent and meditative, representing profound thoughts and those who love peace.

Green is the new planet, and the hope that this should be the ideal planet.

Through his paintings of apples, Tian Mangzi wants to create a perfect world. Maybe there is no possibility yet for Utopia. So at the moment, the dream is present only in his paintings.


[published in Michelle Chin, 16 Apel Tian Mangzi. Surabaya: Emmitan Fine Art Gallery, 2006. ISBN 981-05-6976-9]