"The aspects that a scholarly painting must posses are: morality, erudition, technical skill and original thought, only when all four are present, is perfection achieved." ①The definition given here by Chen Shiceng's is precise and accurate.
Chinese and overseas art academics see the aesthetic value of traditional scholarly art; as Chinese artists, we were influenced by this art-form. Nowadays, when there are many media resources available to the art world, water-ink and wash paintings still hold an irreplaceable position in Chinese Art, but modern art events are unsure of how to treat them.
Water-ink artists have tried to be progressive and experimental, yet they are limited to pursuing "The Six Techniques"; they also experiment with borrowed images or forms from Western art history without fully understanding their relevancy in terms of time and location. Thus contemporary water-ink paintings are becoming so foreign that traditional art values seem to be a thing of the past.
With endless admiration to the spirit of traditional art and water-ink, and as a revising of artistic creation under the current global context, this upcoming exhibition will show the works of 5 artists, Chen Shaoxiong, Tong Biao, Qiu Anxiong, Sun Xun, Wu Junyong. It is a strange coincidence that all 5 artists did not start their art education by studying traditional painting: over the years of their art careers they all focused on their own creativity, they experimented back and forth searching for their own unique expression, searching for a new artistic way to communicate their feelings and thoughts about living in our present society. This process reflects upon a quotation by Alain Badiou: "All art-form comes from something that was originally without order, by gradually making sense of this meddle, a truth of art comes into being until it passes into history." ②
Chen Shaoxiong's Ink Things, Sun Xun's Beyond-ism, Wu Junyong's Peach all use rice-paper and water-ink and classical techniques, and were then rendered into images using computer software and placed together with sound effects, which finally become single-frame or multiple-frame video art. Qiu Anxiong's Sceneries of the Republic of china uses Western techniques with acrylic and canvas to paint a Chinese painting while taking photos along the creation process, which were then edited into its final image. Tong Biao's Idealism uses charcoal sketches to revive the atmospherically-suggestive concept of true classical painting. We can quickly catch the similarity shared between these artists where elements in Chinese paintings are transformed into new media and new forms of art, adapting as well as resisting classical painting techniques, Chinese painting is merely a fundamental element in their art. Whether or not they realize, these 5 artists are re-shaping water-ink painting from outside its parameters, giving a present day meaning to this art through media transformation: one can say it is a new way of creating art.
Classical scholars choose to lead an aloof and introverted life, poetry, calligraphy and painting expresses their distaste for current times. A classical-scholarly way of thought and anti-social way of life is different to the ways of present day. Today's artists more actively participate in social activity, as intellectuals, these artists expresses their points of view while deeply appreciating the scholarly spirit. Edward Waefie Said says "Intellects are people who represent art for a living, it could be done through talking, writing, education or going on TV. The importance of this profession is that the masses accepts its existence, it must also be willing to give and take risks, be brave and vulnerable." ③ As intellects, rice-paper, water-ink, acrylic, charcoal, image, video and other materials are all mere tools, the aim is to express their views and thoughts about the present society, economics, politics, policies and the system of art.
In an interview with Wu Junyong, he said “As an participant and recorder of the turbulence and rapid changes of China, I hope one can experience the ridicule of our times also in my artwork! To express the ridicule of the reality, I prefer to use a symbolic and sinister narration, to create a portrait of the society woven between the imagined and the reality.” In Peach, a familiar fable-like imagination is used in his ridicule of the reality, the iconic “Mr. Top-hat” keeps appearing in this work, one can detect strong social criticism in his use of symbolic and icons images.
The “setting of context” in classical Chinese painting is evident in Chen Shaoxiong’s art-piece Ink Things, the sound of hitting a wooden bell accompanied drum percussion in a Buddhist Temple, the changing rhythm brings out more and more objects in the painting only to vanish again, he draws relevance to the temporary existence of objects to the consumeristic society and the passing of time, he says :“In the ancient Chinese idiom "Circumstance change with the passage of time", “time” is corresponded with "circumstance" (i.e. the world of material), this idiom represents our understanding ,sentiments and realizations upon the world. To me, it is like the "material world" and "vacancy" in Buddhism, the understand of their relationship changes by the time and environment one lives at.”
Qiu Anxiong writes about his artwork Sceneries of the Republic of china: “It is a poetic imagination and visualization of the Nationalistic Era, within the same setting where water streams from green hills and figures fishing by the pond, there also exist the anxiety over fate of the land and the stories taking place in the meeting halls in the forest”, a history-changing revolution veils its inhumane volatility. As the four seasons cycles by, lives fluctuates up and down, youth turns into remnants of black & whitefragments.” With these short sentences, he talks about both his 14’33” animation as well as his political and cultural stand.
The names of these artworks Beyond-ism, People’s Republic of Zoo and Idealism expresses its contents, without much need to explain and narrate the artworks of Sun Xun and Tong Biao, the audience is left to slowly excavate and then, perhaps, to reach a resonance with the artist.
“Harmony but not Sameness”comes from the classic volumes of <Lunyu-Zilu>, it is an important definition in Chinese philosophy, “Harmony means co-existing ideally and in peace”. To give this exhibition such a name is an attempt to raise again the topic of diversification. Under the reality of Chinese culture being placed within a global cultural context and contemporary as well as regional views, these 5 artists uses the same cultural resources to create different media and images through which new expressions are created. I believe there are more topics to develop and study within the connection of water-ink & wash painting and new media. In this world of art, a gentleman is able to co-exist with others’ differences.
May 2012 in Beijing
①Note: <History of Chinese Painting> Written by: Chen Shiceng Edited by: Xu Shucheng
Renmin University Publishing Agency Sep-2007 Version. Page187
② Note: <Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art> Written by:Alain Badiou
③ Note: <Representations of the Intellects> Written by Edward Waefie Said.