Xu Lei

1963, Nantong, Jiangsu, China


Xu Lei, born in 1963 in Nantong, Jiangsu, is a Chinese ink artist internationally renowned for his meticulous and surreal paintings. Trained as a gongbi flower-and-bird painter, his iconic portrayals of horses situated in cloistered settings and scholars’ rocks have garnered him international acclaim. Though possibly anachronistic, his paintings are imbued with questions of loss, and the melancholic feelings surrounding the impermanence of time, things, and objects. After graduating from the Department of Traditional Chinese Art at Nanjing Academy of Art in 1984, he held a research position at the Jiangsu Traditional Painting Academy. In 1990, he returned to using traditional tools and techniques in his creations, such as the use of thin silk, a Chinese writing brush, Chinese ink and mineral colours. He was an active member of the 85 New Wave Movement in Beijing during the 1980s. Over the years, he has held over sixty exhibitions, including solo showcases at prestigious venues such as the Library of Congress in Washington, USA; Asia House in London, UK; Today Art Museum in Beijing; Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum in Nanjing; and Suzhou Museum in Suzhou, China. Notably, in 2022, he also participated in the Chinese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Xu currently works at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, and the chief editor of Oriental Art · Classics.

Alisan Fine Arts began representing him in 1995, hosting his inaugural solo exhibition in Hong Kong that same year. The exhibition, titled The Mystery of Absence, unveiled Xu Lei's mesmerizing paintings, showcasing his distinctive subjects: classical Chinese material culture depicted in a Surrealist manner. In 1997, the gallery organised a joint exhibition for Xu Lei and Yu Hui at the Browse & Darby gallery in London, signifying Xu's inaugural showcase in Europe. Since 2014, Alisan has consistently exhibited his paintings at Art Basel Hong Kong, further establishing his presence in the international art scene.

His works are in the collections of Today Art Museum, Beijing; Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai; Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum, Nanjing; and Nanjing Arts Institute, China.

1963    Born in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, China
1980-84    Studied at Chinese Painting Department of Nanjing Arts Institute, China
1984    Researcher and artist of Jiangsu Traditional Painting Academy
1988    Published Dreamy Shore by Jiangsu Art Publishing, China
1991    Listed in Contemporary Chinese Art Documentary (1990-1991)
1992    Published Extraordinary Door by Jiangsu Art Publishing, China 
2001    Published Contemporary style of Court Painting: Xu Lei, Zhang Jian by Hebei Education Publishing, China
2021    Listed in Chinese Ink Art Year Book 2020Culture and Art Publisher, Beijing, China
Currently Works at Creative and Research Centre, China Art Academy; Editor-in-chief of Classics Magazine 



  • Three-State Time: Xu Lei Solo Exhibition, Yinshan Lake Art Museum, Suzhou, China


  • Enjoyment: Xu Lei Solo Exhibition, Nanchizi Museum, Beijing, China


  • Fugue, Suzhou Museum, Suzhou, China
  • Blue Dream, Asia House, London, UK
  • Silent Voices: Ink Paintings by Xu Lei, Red Box Studio & Mee-seen Loong Fine Art, New York, USA
  • Xu Lei: Renaissance of TraditionLibrary of Congress, Washington, USA
  • Silent Voices: Ink Paintings by Xu Lei, Joan B. Mirviss Ltd., New York, USA
  • Illusions: Xu Lei’s Art Exhibition, Keyi Gallery, Nanjing, China
  • Works by Xu Lei & Yu Wei, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong; Browse & Darby Gallery, London, UK
  • Jiangsu Province Art Museum, Nanjing, China
  • Xu Lei’s Painting Exhibition, Cultural Office of the Italian Embassy, Beijing, China




  • Observing the Way: From Chronography Research to Ink Art, After Hill Art Centre, Guangzhou, China

  • Thinking with the Senses: Inaugural, Dacheng Art Museum, Changzhou, China



  • Exhibition of Chinese Ink Art Year Book 2020, Art Museum of Nanjing University of the Arts, Nanjing; An Art Museum, Beijing, China
  • Waves and Echoes: A Process of Re-contemporarization in Chinese Art Circa 1987 Revisited, Inside-out Art Museum, Beijing, China

  • Contemporary Forms of Ink Painting, Art Basel Online Viewing Rooms, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong


  • Beyond Ink: 20th China Shanghai International Arts Festival Program, China Art Museum, Shanghai, China
  • Redefining the City with Context • Beyond the Wall:Xi’an Contemporary Art Exhibition 2018, Xi’an Art Museum, Xi’an, China
  • The Chinese Scholar: Ink paintings and Works of Art, Five Friends of Spring Exhibition, New York, USA
  • Reshaping History: Chinart 2000-2009, National Convention Center, Beijing, China
  • Pavilion of China, 12th International Architecture Exhibition: La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy
  • Chinese Gardens for Living: Europalia International Art Festival, the Square Brussels, Belgium
  • Case Studies of Artists in Art History and Art Criticism, SZ Art Center, Beijing, China
  • Zeichen im Wandel der Zeit: Chinesische Tuschemalerei der Gegenwart, Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin & Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Germany
  • What’s next? Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition, Hong Kong City Hall, Hong Kong
  • Sensitivity: Memories of Twelve Artists’ Works, Dimensions Art Center, Beijing, China
  • Rotation, Nanjing Qinghe Contemporary Art Center, Nanjing, China
  • Poetic Reality: A Reinterpretation of Jiangnan, RCM Gallery, Nanjing, China
  • South-east China, Groups Exhibition of Hong Lei, Tang Guo and Xu Lei, Beijing TS1 Contemporary Art Center, Beijing, China
  • Beyond Temporality: Presentation of Photography According to Contemporary Art Approach, Ping Yao, China
  • Conspire, Beijing TS1 Contemporary Art Center, Beijing, China
  • Pele Dacidade: Imagens of Metropole Contemporanea, Shenzhen Museum of Art, China; Galeria Tap Seac of Macau, Macau
  • Photographs from Nanjing, Nanjing Art Museum, China
  • Dragon’s Nation: Contemporary Art of China, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Ireland
  • 1st Nominational Exhibition of Fine Arts Literature, Wuhan, China
  • One to One: Photographs from China, Chambers Fine Art, New York, USA
  • The Different Same: Contemporary Art Exchange Exhibition, Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai, China
  • Behind the Reality Other Modernity, Dimensions Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Paper/Colour, Taikang Art Museum, Shanghai, China
  • Contemporary Artist Print Art Exhibition, Today Gallery, Beijing, China
  • Exhibition of Chinese Ink & Wash Paintings, Edinburgh, UK
  • Contemporary Silk-screen by Chinese Artists, Dynasty Art Group, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Exhibition of 5000 Years of Chinese Art and Civilization, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
  • Neo-Inkpaintings, Liuhaisu Art Museum, Shanghai; Jiangsu Province Art Museum, Nanjing, China
  • New Frontier-New Vision, Shanghai, China
  • New Voices: Contemporary Art Dialogue Among Taipei, Hong Kong & Shanghai, Dimensions Art Center, Taipei; Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong
  • 5 Cinesi a Verpuno, Arte Nel Castello, Italy
  • Exhibition of 5000 Years of Chinese Art and Civilization, Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA
  • International Asian Art Fair, Alisan Fine Arts, the 7th Regiment Armory, New York, USA
  • Reality: Today and Tomorrow - Chinese Contemporary Art, International Art Garden Museum, Beijing, China
  • Eight Artists From China, Browse & Darby Gallery, London, UK
  • Nostalgia - Modernity: Walasse Ting & Xu Lei, Tresors, The International Fine Art and Antiques for Asia, Alisan Fine Arts, Suntec City Centre, Singapore
  • The Practical Art of Paper, Shanghai Library, Shanghai, China
  • China Avant-Garde, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China
  • Four Artists from Nanjing, Invited by Cultural Department of American Embassy in Guangzhou, China
  • Jiangsu Festival of Contemporary Art – Young Artists Section, China
  • Sixth National Fine Arts Exhibition, Jiangsu Traditional Painting Academy, China


Today Art Museum, Beijing, China
Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China
Jiangsu Art Museum, Nanjing, China
Nanjing Arts Institute, Nanjing, China