May Lee has our cultural canvas.

CNN Transcript for May Lee Interview

MAY LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His works are vibrant, bold, and sometimes a bit chaotic, but every stroke of artist Pu Jie's brush is deliberate. Pu Jie, whose artistic career spans two decades, often paints about a subject he knows very well: life in Shanghai. Born and raised in the city, Pu Jie's paintings reflect the urban environment, the clashes and fissions between the traditional and the modern, the East and the West.

PU JIE, ARTIST: I like my work to discover what happens, and now the challenge is realism of things. And if we did that like in 20 years ago, maybe you would get a lot of trouble. But now the time is free and people can do that and they can say what they want to say better. Yes, so I think it's changed. It's China developed.

LEE: Pu Jie's style of painting is that of cynical realism. Some of his works combine modern life with splashes from the past, particularly historical figures, icons, and events that shaped China.

JIE: We are living in a new time but we cannot forget the history, people to think about themselves, be sure to look back to history and sometimes we should that people not only forget what we wrong did.

LEE: Pu Jie's works and those of other up-and-coming Chinese artists are often exhibited here at the Shangart Gallery, the first and only contemporary art gallery in Shanghai. Lorenz Helbling opened Shangart four years ago. It was a gamble of sorts, since modern art was and still is fairly unknown.

LORENZ HELBLING, SHANGART GALLERY: Art is very new for many people, and for in the West, you grow up, you see a lot of modern art; you may like it or not, but you have seen it. But here, contemporary art is mostly very new.

LEE: It's that newness that Helbling says is an advantage for avant-garde artists. There are no precedents, no set guidelines, and that allows for a variety of artistic styles to flourish.

HELBLING: They know what's possible, they know about art, and they do a lot of interesting works. And I think now, therefore, also that there is the freedom to do -- to express themselves.

LEE: And for the burgeoning world of contemporary Chinese art, freedom of expression inspires and compels artists to bring their ideas and visions to life.

May Lee, CNN, Shanghai.