Art Scene China - Contemporary Chinese Art


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Surpassing History and Reality

I went to university in 1988. The ink painting department of Shandong Art University accepted freshmen every other year, so unfortunately I could only apply to the oil painting department. At that time, oil painting was a very strange thing to me. I remember that our first class we painted a still-life; I used oil like water and finished the draft in the morning. When class was over, my teacher praised my color skills. After lunch I went back to the studio and found that my piece had almost melted because I had used too much oil.

I worked very hard during the four years in university. I remember painting until the early morning, then jumping from the second floor of the studio back to the dormitory (the dormitory didn lock doors at the time). Students didn catch up with the new wave of the 1980s and the 1989 modern art exhibition hardly influenced us. We were interested in classic paintings and country landscape paintings. In my senior year, we heard about Western Abstraction, Postmodernism and Expressionism but because of limitations, we could only learn representational matter. These things appeared in front of me simultaneously and I felt excited yet puzzled. I remember I wanted to show that I had surpassed all soviet influence in painting. In the graduating exhibition, I showed my artwork of many different series because at the time I was unable to organize my thoughts.

After graduating in 1992, I was lucky to be able to teach in the university. During the first years, I felt free because I was no longer a student and no one could control me. I could also create freely. But I was confused by the many questions I had about art. I saw an article in Art Circle Magazine talking about the national spirit in oil paintings. I began reading books on Chinese traditional culture and ink painting. So, I began to paint mountains and rivers, wanting to use this traditional cultural spirit to paint with the Western medium of oil.

In 1996 and 1997, I painted the ountain in Autumn?series. I painted long and narrow canvases with grey hues in the traditional Chinese manner. In the spring of 1997, I organized an exhibition called tatus?in Shandong. I presented seven paintings of the series with much success. After the show, two Frenchmen bought the pieces, which made me more confident. In the second half of that year I entered the post-graduate classes at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and went to Beijing. I began to distance myself from the limiting theme of mountains.

Mr. Zhang Daqian said that he painting history of China is a declining history of the Chinese nation vitality.? I did not understand the sentence when I first saw it. Then I went to the pagoda forest in Ling Yan temple and saw the stone sculptures from the Han Tang until the Ming Qing dynasties, and suddenly I understood his words. The reliefs in the Tang dynasties are powerful yet tender. The ones from Song dynasty are weak. The stone lions from Qing dynasty are like Pekignese dogs.

Ba Dashanren catalogs were always my bed-side books. I thought they expressed the beauty that is shown in Chinese ink painting to the extreme. However, the extreme beauty becomes a dead-end. The Chinese traditional artists?paintings express the essence of China. However, this essence was gone. So how does one then redirect himself? If they say that modernism and western art is a process of birth and death, then postmodernism is rebirth. Criticism is what inspires creation. Slowly I began to further understand the pros and cons of the artists?situation in China. So, I began to pay attention to modern and postmodern art.

I went back to Jian in 1999, and began painting small pieces (oy of Fishingeries). I began organizing my thoughts. I found that people rely on cultural traditions. These perform as a power balance to criticism and creation. When I saw masterpieces, I judged them from a personal perspective, but paid no attention to the relation of these artworks to society, history and culture. The author of modern art history, Herbert Read, thinks that all of art history is about different methods of technique and observation. It is the changes of perceptions that lead to different styles. I tried to figure out my own perceptions of my time; fashion, status, internet. In the edge of the new millennium, society was boiling. I had previously considered country landscape painting the ideal, but now it had become obsolete because painting this is escaping from our reality.

In 2001, I went to Beijing for an exhibition and bought an issue of Art World with an article of Wang Shuo that drew my attention. It was called here is no Room for Art in Modern Life.? He criticized the ink paintings, claiming that they were bluffing people. In another part he wrote that amongst all art works, the good ones should not be about understanding. He criticized that artists are focused on complicated techniques, which results in confusion and steps away from the essence of art.

I read Chen Danqing hort Nottes on New York.? After reading it, my mind became clear. One paragraph said that new paintings do not represent paintings, but are a step towards painting. He mentioned the famous contemporary artists David Sally, who brings imaginary information into pure art. He changes the concept of pure art in modern paintings. He indicates the dead-end that a contemporary figurative artist can face and the possibilities that challenge him.

The questions are gradually clarified. I found that in this copy-machine era, people visual experiences has been changed by the media bombardment of images. In such premises, how can we change our methods of observation? I began collecting various images and objects, and began to represent them in my paintings as floating objects with different colored tones. I finished the first pieces of the arefree?series with joyful beauties floating on blue skies, which became a personal symbol. After painting the series for three years, I had a solo exhibition in 2004.

I made a list of contemporary artists that deserved my attention and found that only five of them worked in universities. The other fifteen artists had graduated from their art academies. I noticed that the best trait of an artist is a free status, which usually comes from a struggle with the system and a temptation to surpass it. The experience in art college is beneficial to guarantee good skills, but it limits your thoughts. An art creation loses its values if free exploration is suppressed

Before the Chinese Spring festival in 2001, Actor Zhou Xingchi, was welcomed like a hero into the ceremony hall of Beijing University by the students. He was starring in an epic. The movie took place in another era. After the prosperity of the market-economy in the 1990s, many artists became uccessful.? The way to create art became more personal. The movie is a typical postmodern Chinese art; it reveals multi-media culture as absurd and reproductive, non-narrative and segmented. It resembles a fake freedom, but for me it was a necessary spiritual awakening to reconstruct my art.

Looking at Chinese contemporary art, it is not hard to notice art status in society since 1999. Art plays a role in defining us as a society. It criticizes mainstream culture and collaborates with all things that stand as anti-establishment. I found that a good artist should escape history and reality through continued study. On one hand surpassing this gives the artist the ability to foresee trends, which can balance society. On the other hand, through art creation, people can release the pressures that history, politics and science put on peoples?souls, and use it in a method that is easily accepted. Thus, building up a relationship between reality and hyper-reality.

I decided to simplify the composition and tone of my paintings. Besides keeping blue skies and white clouds as backgrounds, the figuresareblack and white. In my latest series, there aren’t even blue skies. The figuresandanimalsarepresenteddirectly.Theappearanceofhistoricalicons is representative of our current value system. My purpose indicates
an ability to surpass time and space in people’s mental worlds by using nostalgic, yet strangely unfamiliar images. I use free, fresh, calm, introspective, and thoughtful viewpoints to consider history and reality. At the same time, we can think about metempsychosis when developing
material world and try to develop at a proper speed and to a proper extent. Eventually we should rebuild the beliefs of truth, value and what we respect and admire.

- Zhou Weihua