Wandering to the next page

In memory of Abigail and Giles


140 x 100 cm
Pen and ink on cotton board

Created following a six-month intermittent living stint in Shanghai, this work was conceived and plotted while walking. Its forensic detail enlists knowledge gained from conversations with architects and historians, as well as shared pedestrian sojourns with locals who divulged their personal geographies. Its dense inclusion of cultural symbols and drawings invites variance from other works in the Purposeful Wandering series. Shanghai is collective in its knowledge, painting a personal, colloquial, communal picture of a divided city of past and future. In its totality, it reveals Shanghai’s century-long negotiation of international influence as a predominant foundation to the city’s modern-day culture.

Romance and science

I walked 900km in Shanghai, its international past and future enticed me onto its streets, compelling a closer observation of the old city that made way for the new. The skyline, known to inspire futurists and creatives, transported me into a science fiction-like realm – its art-deco maze of buildings evident in their power to win the souls of romantics. All the while its future-facing design appeared to be celebrated, integrated into the needs of urban space.
During my time there, the city was open and managing its Covid-19 restriction policy effectively. That’s not to say the virus wasn’t lurking amongst us, its simmering presence subconsciously infiltrating the drawing.
Art Deco speed lines race upwards, optimistically, as do modern towers, reaching for inhabitants to live, work and spend their quarters in. Within steps of these vertical lines, the Jing’an Temple captivates passers by while the roar of a sports car bounces off structures – an echo of status and fun.
The romantic former French Concession: Hudec’s Wukang Building is drawn as a boat – a homage to its design muse, the Normandie, a World War I-era battleship. The famous underground nightclub Shelter, now closed, is depicted alongside a memorial to the passing of Austin Hu, a trailblazing local chef. The intimate Heyday Jazz Bar is seen bopping, whilst the cartoonist Zhang Leping’s orphan character, Sanmao, marks his home in the concession.


With the theme of futurism leading my analysis, my intention was to depict the district of Pudong as an emerging technological fantasy land – a place where digital currency and robotics are weaved into the circuitry of the city. This newness offers stark foil to the natural land. The industrious Huangpu River forms the body of a dragon and personifies the strength and fortitude of Shanghai’s history and its ambition for the future.
Blade Runner’s Tyrell Corporation monolith and evil owl logo connect to a pocket-sized rocket powered by an unknown substance. They coalesce in proximity to a popular gigafactory.
AI Island (or AIsland), is a real place, inside Zhangjiang’s Artificial Intelligence Land. Everything here is ‘smart’. This depiction features money—hungry, robotic fish, together with a tech tycoon moored on his own deserted island.

Shanghai subterranea

Below the river, Shanghai is a dense tangle of the historic and the modern. The city’s subterranean history reveals the many events that have passed and are happening there today – cultural artefacts that have been destroyed and are now underground, like the graves of people or buildings that have been destroyed. My goal has been to depict the subterranean world underneath the city, a vast network of malls and facilities, alongside the globe – alluding to the fact that this was the largest subway system in the world, with an added reminder of the fate of a warming planet. The magnitude of consumerism is manifest in the buildings and structures of Shanghai.
The infamous ‘plum rains’, Shanghai’s yearly monsoons, may begin to break record levels.
Shanghai’s Culture Square is home to the world’s largest and deepest underground theatre. Buried around this site are pockets of the past. Once popular for dog racing and football matches, in stark contrast it has also played a role as a site for mass human execution, noted here in memory of its victims with tombstones.

Looking up

Elevated roads layer the city – I walked below them all, attempting to map out distinct zones and use their natural carving up of the landscape to help plot my thoughts down onto the canvas. To its south, the city neighbours quaint and traditional water towns that connect to Suzhou Creek. These bring forth a different measure of scale, offering transference and escape from the hustle, bustle and chaos of the metropolis.
At the conjunction of Chengdu and Yan’an elevated highways is a gigantic infrastructure that supports vital transport arteries. The highways pillar is steeped in urban legend and features a decorative dragon, which gives it the name, ‘The Dragon Pillar’ – a structure that is held in popular belief to protect the city.
Shanghai features a handful of allusions to films, each inspired by and set in the city. A Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, from Empire of the Sun directed by Stephen Spielberg (SS), is drawn close to Suzhou Creek, as portrayed in the film.
A playful and imagined sustainable, green tech residential area uses a reservoir of recycled citywide body sweat, which has been collected during the infamous ‘plum rain’ monsoons.
A pot of traffic jam.