Ma Desheng 马德升


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Born in 1952 Beijing, Ma Desheng is a self-educated artist who worked as an industrial draftsman and woodblock print artist before beginning to paint with traditional Chinese ink. He was one of the founding members of the Stars (Xingxing) group of avant-garde painters, one of the many associations that made up the New Wave group of artists. Ma currently lives and works in Paris.


Date & Place of Birth

Ma was born in Beijing in 1952.

Education & Development

Ma had no formal training in his path towards becoming a well-renowned artist. Before painting with traditional Chinese ink, he worked as an industrial draftsman and woodblock print artist.

The Stars Group (Xingxing)

In 1979, the twelve founding members of the Stars group, Ma Desheng, Huang Rui, Wang Keping, Li Shuang, Ai Weiwei, Boyun, Qu Leilei, and Zhong Acheng applied for an official exhibition space in the China Art Gallery, the home of official socialist art in Beijing. Because the group was considered both political and artistic, their application was refused. On September 27th of the same year, the group hung their paintings and sculptures on the park railings outside the Gallery, which was closed by the police the following day. The closing of the exhibit provoked the Stars into organizing a protest march on the 1st of October, the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The group was later given liscence to hold the First Stars Exhibition from November 24 to December 2nd, 1979, in Beihei Park in Beijing. Ma Desheng has said of the Stars, “ Every artist is a star. Even great artists are stars from the cosmic point of view. We called our group ‘The Stars’ in order to emphasize our individuality. This was directed at the drab uniformity of the Cultural Revolution.” 

His works were featured in all the Stars group shows, The Stars: Ten Years, 1989 (Hanart Gallery, Hong-Hong and Taipei), Demand for Artistic Freedom, The Stars 20 Years, 2000 (Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo) and the retrospective exhibition in Beijing in 2007: Origin Point (Today Art Museum, Beijing). In 1987 Ma took part in the founding of The Chinese United Overseas Artists Association (headquatered in New York), together with Stars members Ai Weiwei, Wang Keping, Huang Rui, Li Shuang, Qu Leilei, Yan Li as well as others Chinese artists living in the United States, Zhang Hongtu, Yuan Yunsheng and  Bai Jingzhou.


In the Second Stars Group Exhibition, held at the Beijing Art Gallery in 1980, Ma displayed several powerful woodcut images among the political graphics of his fellow group members. One of his woodcuts titled “Breath” featured a Chinese peasant pushing a wooden plough over the chest of a sleeping man. In reference to this image, Ma has said,

Whenever I go to the countryside, I see how the peasant pursues his heavy and primitive work, so far behind the city in his material and cultural life, yet carrying on silently without a word of complaint. Yet it is quite the reverse back in the city, where some cadres talk about poverty of our country and how we must tighten our belts, but build great mansions for themselves while others have no houses.[1]
Summery Meeting, Acrylic on Canvas, 2006.
Summery Meeting, Acrylic on Canvas, 2006.
Ma Desheng, Purple Pose, Acrylic on Canvas, 2004.
Ma Desheng, Purple Pose, Acrylic on Canvas, 2004.
In recent years, Ma most often paints dark stones upon brightly colored backgrounds, which enables the figures to gain a human-like quality. The stones seem to come to life and engage in various sorts of encounters with each other, or they appear alone and lost in thought. 

The arrangement of the rocks plays tricks on the mind of the viewer, as they almost seem to move within the canvas. The vivacious brushstrokes and vitality of the background colors enable the canvas to offer a sense of lively animation.


Gittings, JohnThe Changing Face of China: From Mao to Market. Oxford University Press, 2005.
  1. Ma Desheng in The Changing Face of China: From Mao to Market. John Gittings. Oxford University Press, 2005.
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