Moody Settings Reveal What People Are Feeling in Uncanny Portrait Paintings

Portrait Paintings by Xiao Wang

Xiao Wang, “Double Portrait,” oil on canvas, 48″ x 60″, 2022.

New York-based artist Xiao Wang masterfully sets the mood in his portraits with uncanny environments. Although realistically rendered, the color palettes have a slightly distorted quality that speaks to what each figure is feeling or thinking at the moment. From swirling violet clouds to blue-toned leaves, these backgrounds help us understand what Wang's subjects are trying to say—but cannot.

Originally from China, Wang's experience as an immigrant has a major influence on his portraits. The work describes the feeling of being “trapped between two worlds,” navigating feelings of uncertainty and unease while trying to assimilate. His subjects wear slightly enigmatic expressions that make it hard to discern exactly what they are thinking. While some stare off into the distance, others even look like they are smiling. The cues to what is truly going on in their head exist in the settings.

Most of the figures depicted in Wang's work have a personal connection to the artist, either as a friend, partner, or Wang himself. The juxtaposition of a naturalistic approach to human anatomy and the altered colors makes it seem like these people exist somewhere between reality and a dream. And it is in this place that we can better understand their state of mind.

Limited edition prints of Wang's work are available through Art for Change. Be sure to follow the artist on Instagram to keep up to date with his latest projects and exhibitions.

New York-based artist Xiao Wang creates portrait paintings with a moody atmosphere.

Portrait Paintings by Xiao Wang

Xiao Wang, “Passing Hours,” 60″ x 48″, 2022.

Painting by Xiao Wang

“Monkey Mind” (2022), oil on canvas, 58 x 44 inches.

His subjects are enveloped by environments with strong contrasting colors.

Painting by Xiao Wang

“Slumber-Dusk” (2020), oil on canvas, 44 x 58 inches.

Painting by Xiao Wang

“Spaced in, Space out #2” (2023), oil on canvas, 40 x 32 inches.

The cues to what is truly going on in their head exist in the settings.

Painting by Xiao Wang

“Sound of Cicadas” (2022), oil on canvas, 60 x 80 inches.

Portrait Paintings by Xiao Wang

Xiao Wang, “Eda,” oil on canvas, 18″ x 22″, 2022.

Xiao Wang: Website | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Xiao Wang.

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Margherita Cole

Margherita Cole is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and illustrator based in Southern California. She holds a BA in Art History with a minor in Studio Art from Wofford College, and an MA in Illustration: Authorial Practice from Falmouth University in the UK. She wrote and illustrated an instructional art book about how to draw cartoons titled 'Cartooning Made Easy: Circle, Triangle, Square' that was published by Walter Foster in 2022.
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