Into the Lion's Den

Shi Cheng, China 2018

In 2016 I heard about a “lost city” … Lion City (Shi Cheng).  This ancient city was once a thriving hub of commerce and tourism but was inundated when it was flooded in 1959 to create Qiandao Lake. 

I was fascinated by this story as the city was flooded the year I was born, so I really wanted to paint there… However it lay 130ft below the water, too deep for normal diving.


Never shying away from a challenge, I spent two years training on specialist equipment, diving to depths I’d never contemplated and in locations all over the world, from Mexico to the Balearics, to Egypt and then Singapore.  Once certified, the next challenge was how to get there.  The area above is a restricted zone and it was impossible for me and my team enter the water from there, so with the expert help of local divers who knew the lake, Team Gray travelled by boat and submersibles to Lion City.

Setting up my canvas and palette, I spent four hours painting against one of the fantastic city walls where carvings of dragons and lions adorning the walls, completely preserved by the cold, deep water.  As the depth meant no daylight reached the city, we were effectively “night diving” which made it a challenge to paint. However using a limited palette, I was able to create two oil paintings at great depth over the course of two days.