I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms,
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
-Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens

Download Catalog(6mb).

Kang Jianfei's Oil Paintings


Successional Landscape No.6
Oil on Canvas,
120x160cm
2008

 
Successional Landscape No.3
Oil on Canvas,
200x200cm
2008
 


Successional Landscape No.4
Oil on Canvas,
240x100cm
2008

 


An Allegorical Chess Game of Life: 2008 Works


Rock
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
120x80cm

 


Looking for Power
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
120x80cm


 


Hand over Hand
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
120x80cm

 


Fashion Dance
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
66.5x50cm
 
View on the Pagoda
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
120x80cm




 


Following up
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
66.5x50cm


On the Rock
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
66.5x50cm
 
Enough?
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
66.5x50cm
 


A Bird Looks up, a Bird Knocks on the Rock and anther Bird Nibbles at a Bone
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
120x80cm

 


The Nonexistent Story
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
120x80cm

 
Relationship
Woodcut_
Edition of 1, 2008
120x80cm
   


Birdman Series 2006

Birdman
Woodcut_
Edition of 20, 2006
37.5x30cm
 
Untitled
Woodcut_
Edition of 20, 2005
45x30cm
   

 


Cold Observer: Banquet, 2000


Banquet
Woodcut_
Edition of 7, 2000
180x270cm
       

Amelie Gallery

Kang Jianfei (1973~)
Lecturer at Printmaking Department, Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA)

Education:
MA (2000), BA (1997) from Printmaking Department, CAFA.

Solo Exhibitions:
2007 Stage-Solo Oil Paintings Exhibition of Kang Jianfei, Beijing DeShan Art;
2005 Fly-Solo Exhibition of Kang Jianfei, Art Museum of CAFA;

Joint Exhibitions:
2008
Beijing International Art Biennale, National Art Museum of China;
China Contemporary Prints Exhibition, Germany;
New Vista, White Space;
New Year Prints Art Festival, Amelie Gallery;
2007
The First International Prints Exhibition, Red Gate Gallery;
Guan Lan International Print Art Biennale, GuangDong;
2006
Ban Dao Print Art Exhibition, BanDao Art Museum of Shanghai;
Arteinterrazza, Rome, Italy;
MAAPS International Prints Exhibition, Anna Leonowens Museum, Canada;
2005
Shanghai Spring Saloon;
Contemporary Woodblock Prints of Korea-China-Japan, South Korea;
Contemporary Chinese Art Exhibition, Japan;
2004
Art Exhibition of the 1960-1970s Chinese Artists, Today Art Museum£»
Gwangju International Printmaking Exhibition, South Korea;
2003
China Arts Today Exhibition, Beijing;
2001
Asian Printmaking Exhibition, Madrid;
Prints by Eight Contemporary Artists in China Art Exhibition, Red Gate¡­

Awards:
Copper Medal in the 10th National Arts Exhibition, Academy Awards in Printmaking Annual Exhibition, Nomination of Excellent Young Artists from 1960s-1970s, Excellent Young Artist in 2004 Shanghai Spring Saloon(2004), Excellent Award in the 16th National Printmaking Exhibition, Academy Awards in Printmaking Annual Exhibition(2002), Silver Medal in the 15th National Printmaking Exhibition (2000), Silver Medal of the 9th National Exhibition(1999), Copper Medal of the 14th National Printmaking Exhibition (1998), the first Place in Students Graduation of CAPA(1997)¡­

Collections:
National Art Museum of China, Art Museum of CAFA, Guangdong Art Museum,
Suzhou Art Museum, Qingdao Art Museum, Arts Institution of Queensland, Australia, Today Art Museum...


Other Works: Untitled

Untitled,2004
75x145cm

 
Untitled,2002
145x75cm
 
Untitled,2003
145x75cm

 
    ·    


Curator: Tony Chang

Kang Jianfei was born in Tianjin in 1973, and his life has always revolved around school. Since completing undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, he has remained there as a member of the faculty. This once rambunctious student who was a constant headache to his teachers has now become the esteemed Instructor Kang.

The art academy, a hotbed of elitism, provided Kang with stability and social respect, allowing him to escape from the struggle for survival that most Chinese artists have experienced. Kang has the sociable personality of a typical Tianjinner. He is loyal and affable but also sensitive and introspective. In China's relation-oriented society, the academic and social status of intellectuals has been manipulated by the surrounding social ecosystem. Perhaps in the rigidly hierarchical academic system he has paid the price of suppressing his personal spirit, so in his works he began to focus on self-consciousness among intellectuals and issues of social morality in China.

The woodcutting that Kang Jianfei studied has deep roots in the Chinese literati tradition. This craft, which was invented in China, was widely used in spreading Buddhism and for common illustrated novels. Woodcutting continued the Chinese ink painting tradition; the cuts and marks are quite similar to Chinese painting techniques used to render the textures of landscapes. The use of spacing with the imprints is not unlike the "five shades of black" that is so important to ink painting. In terms of image composition, Kang Jianfei intentionally leaves open spaces and carefully prunes the image in a quest for a well-crafted piece with attributes of the sublime. The resulting images appear ancient and a bit na?ve. To understand Kang's unique world, we must seek out the Chinese cultural codes and historical threads that find continuation within his art. These make up the foundation of his contemporary spirit and linguistic concepts of painting.

Kang Jianfei's art started in the medium of woodcut prints, but they are not restrained by the concepts of woodcutting (such as carefully aligned prints, etc). He follows a diversionary strategy, using the inherent language of woodcuts to explore the individual consciousness. The roughly ten years of Kang Jianfei's artistic practice can be basically split into several periods, where his maturation of ideas followed his conceptual explorations, a process that runs through his grasp and alteration of the painting language.

Cold Observer: Banquet, 2000

Upon completing his postgraduate studies, Instructor Kang took his place at the podium for the first time, began to learn how to behave within the academy's system and started to grasp the philosophy of social conduct. When this brash and disorganized youth came into contact with a harsh environment, perhaps he had a strong sense of being out of place. Banquet was completed during his spare time over a period of seven months. The work is very large, and the carving techniques are highly variable around the piece, showing heated passion towards the language of woodcutting. The piece did not emphasize a sense of tragedy; instead, it depicted things as a cold observer: black birds stacked together, looking like they might be asleep (instead of the tragic feel of dead birds); the image bursts forth in a profusion of feathers and abstract lines. The power of this work is internal and tranquil. Behind the long creative process and the intricate language, perhaps we can see an inexperienced and inhibited Instructor Kang, escaping from reality through arduous work.

Flying in Maturity: Birdman Series 2006
Ideas associated with birds and flying constantly emerge in Chinese names, and Kang often signs his works as Kang Fei (fei, meaning 'to fly'). In the Birdman Series, Kang Jianfei's ruminations on the state of existence take the form of birds.

Birds are a rich source of meaning in Chinese classical and folk culture. There has long been a hobby of raising birds in China. Myna birds and parrots are locked in exquisite cages, where they observe people, learn speech and amuse people. Mandarin ducks, magpies and phoenixes are rich with symbolic meaning for everyday life. Imaginings about birds among Chinese intellectuals/literati began with Chuang Tzu's Free and Easy Wandering. There, the massive bird that "mounts a giant wind and soars ninety thousand li" elicited an arrogant and aloof self consciousness among Chinese literati. Painting of birds and flora as an art form emerged in China back in the Six Dynasties period (222-589) period, as with Gu Kaizhi's Sparrow. This love of birds and flowers was continued on through the Five Kingdoms (Xu Xi, Huang Quan), Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing (Shi Tao, Bada Shanren and Yangzhou Baguai) Dynasties, and more recent artists such as Wu Changshuo and Qi Baishi, as well as contemporary artists such as Ye Yongqing and Hong Lei all have a passion for birds, which they use to release emotions and express their will. Among those artists, Bada Shanren played the most transformative role; his birds often gazed up into the sky and shunned the world, an expression of the opposition between the remaining Ming Dynasty adherents and the society around them. Most of the bird forms are hunched over as they gaze into the sky, full of suspicion and alertness; some stand on one leg and look as if they've lost their balance; some of them are perched on branches, looking clumsy and lacking the will to soar.

Under Bada Shanren's brush, the high-flying bird of Free and Easy Wandering stood on one leg, making for a spiritual diagram of Chinese literati as their self awareness gradually lost direction; in terms of painting language, from the intricate brushwork, heavy colors and honorable bearing of the early bird and flower paintings (such as those by Huang Quan) to the abstract freehand signs of Bada Shanren, the bird was gradually stripped of its beautiful and soothing qualities and became a symbol of the literati elite; the free and nimble bird landed in the quotidian, shattered reality.

Kang Fei's Birdman Series follows along the lines of the bird's spiritual descent from the traditional literati form. He expands it from the self consciousness of intellectuals to introspection on human existence in Chinese society. The half bird, half man images are strange, rich in facial expression, and reflect myriad social phenomena: some of these birds hold their heads high and look off into the distance, some lower their heads and mutter, some of them struggle in the hand, some are speaking at the podium¡­ "In these prints, the individual is always in a weak, controlled and distorted condition, but at the same time they appear unaware of this control and distortion, and seem content with their lot." (Pi Li, Art Critic). The bird and flower paintings of ancient times reflected the literati's disillusionment with officialdom, while Kang Jianfei's birdmen wander around foraging in a worldly manmade landscape, stuck in the pitiful cage of social relations.

An Allegorical Chess Game of Life: 2008 Works

Since 2008, Kang Jianfei has shifted from his focus on the state of the individual during the birdman period towards observation of group pathology and the current problems of society. He has created individual images on roughly one hundred different blocks. They include images symbolic of social status, such as a chair, as well as a deer's head, a panda-like beast baring its rear and a birdman with fists clenched and wings spread. Each form is like a chess piece from the game of life. They all have a strong desire to live and are ready to make trouble. Kang Jianfei has reached a level of freedom that resembles that found in a game of chess: he arranges and prints the images according to the needs of the picture, and the various states of life flow out freely. Some of these images form towers to the sky (perhaps alluding to a ladder of increasing social status), some depict lascivious women with bird beaks sprouting out of their heads (perhaps an allusion to women who have to scheme their way through a male society?)¡­ This series is like a set of pictorial riddles that reflect the absurdity of contemporary existence and the perversion of the power structure.

Each image in the work is independent, but also creates connections with the other images around it, erecting a narrative space for free imagination where the viewer can search for allegories about life. These works are reminiscent of the ancient zodiac prints - a type of figurative animal carved seal, which depicted scenes of the ancients hunting, fighting beasts, music and dance, and chariots embarking. Here we can also see Kang's conceptual appropriation of the plurality of printmaking: each arrangement is a single print, but the components (independent images) are used repeatedly. When the independent images emerge in different scenes, their narrative significance becomes complicated.

Bada Shanren also broke with convention before, bringing wholly unrelated animals together: a deer and a bird watching each other, a fish in the water and a quail on land getting along together; Bada's eagles, if not looking up at the sky or looking down on prey, might be inexplicably gazing at a crab¡­ Some of these paintings did actually have an indicative purpose, mocking the people and events of the time, but most of them were allusions to the artist's state of mind. Unlike Bada Shanren's indignation, Kang Jianfei's surreal collocations have a postmodern slapstick aspect, which mocks the bizarreness, abnormality and perversion that has resulted from the fracturing and loss of balance in China's social order. The moral standards in our lives have been challenged, and a new order has yet to emerge; chaos and disorder have become the staples of our lives. Now it is paradise for those who are selfish, deceptive and devilishly ambitious. Insecurity and a go-with-the-flow attitude have led every individual to construct a social relations system around them, but such a system is inevitably temporary and weak, and has an irrational and absurd side. Kang Jianfei uses humorous, reserved criticism to battle with the corruption of the collective subconscious.

The Unique Significance of Kang Jianfei's Art
In contemporary Chinese art, traditional ink painting is in decline; oil painting cannot escape the limitations of this imported artistic language, and can only try to attract attention with Chinese style images. As a contemporary medium rooted in Chinese tradition, woodcutting has a kind of indirectness that embodies the character of the Chinese aesthetic and spirit and contains rich conceptual potential. Kang Jianfei's work uses this to lead us into a secret garden. Here, classical and contemporary branches and flowers mingle together to create mysterious and rich fruits.

The indirectness of woodcutting refers to the fact that the final image is transferred onto the paper from the wood block, and the creator's intentions are concealed behind it. In Chinese thought, direct declarations of emotion and thinly veiled expressions are considered lowbrow, while roundabout and distant expressions are considered to be on a higher level. An interesting cultural phenomenon is Chinese shadow puppetry: with dim lighting, through a tarp, ancient episodes are brought back to life; another example is Chinese seal carving - Chinese literati could roam endlessly through the small square area of a seal inscription, expressing their aspirations in life. Influenced by Chinese cultural concepts, the above tools of expression or mediums have become metaphysical carriers of the spiritual world. Kang Jianfei's woodcut artworks are reserved, and their power is all internal; for him, woodcut printmaking is like striking by proxy; he has surpassed the stereotypes of carving methods and the print aesthetic, conceptually raising woodcut to the level of Chinese culture itself. No longer is this medium limited as a tool of expression or language of painting. It now points at the depths of the Chinese cultural consciousness.

His oil paintings are intertwined with his path of liberation that has at its core conceptual printmaking. The former keeps watch over a more gloomy and meditative wasteland, showing a spiritual world on a heavier, even melancholy level, showing a pure idealist's deep desire for salvation in this desolate era; when compared to the lighthearted playfulness of his woodcuts, we can see the eccentric variations of the artist Kang Jianfei as the mantle bearer of Chinese classical literati.

As a contemporary artist, the unique significance of Kang Jianfei is that he has not wasted his talents on superficial social issues. Instead he has focused all of his efforts on the hidden and inveterate illness that lies within Chinese social mores. Kafka turned a man into a cockroach to decry the alienation of man, while Kang Jianfei, "changing the subject", has made use of a controlled form of mockery, wittily maintaining aloofness. His images carry the rich expressions of the Chinese literati tradition, and his painting language shines with sharp ideas and concepts.