Investigating Contemporary Paintings

Amelie Gallery
Opening: June.20th, 15:00pm

Curator:Tony Chang

Wang KeJu, Li XiaoLin,Wang JiaZeng,Yang HongWei, Yang DaZhi, Zhang Ying,Chen XiaoDi

*The number 195 is the sum total of years that the participating artists have been engaged in painting.

It's not about what you paint, but how you paint it - a conceptual transformation in Chinese contemporary paintings.

A key element in evaluating canvas art, "painterliness", indicates the visual form, marks of crafting and personalized sentiments of a two-dimensional painting that lie beyond the subject matter. Painterliness imbues a work with the marks of humanity and life, producing the illusion of the presence of the creator. Beginning with the '85 New Wave, mainstream Chinese canvas paintings focused on using image narratives to express social issues; after the arrival of political pop and the cartoon generation, the impetus for external image innovation began to wane, and artists began trials in internal conceptual painting methodology, as we see with the practices of such artists as Zeng Fanzhi (wild strokes), Yin Zhaoyang (rotating sawtooth strokes) and Wang Guangle (the technique of accumulated layers of paints used on a coffin in ancient China). Conceptual-based explorations in installation, video and new media are also inspiring artists to rethink their painting methodology. As part of a continuing research project on contemporary painting, this exhibition will focus on ideas concerning contemporary "painterliness". Through the exhibition of artists' experimental innovations and conceptual thinking, and through painting events /games that involve the participation of a broader public, this exhibition will attempt to clarify and expand our understanding of the "painterliness" in Chinese artistic creation. The exhibition is composed of three parts: artists' works, documents and audience interaction.

Part I: Painting Beyond Medium and Style
The artists in this exhibition all have zealous faith in painting, maintaining purity in their painting in a time of diversification in the mediums of artistic expression. The number in the exhibition title is the sum total of years that the participating artists have been engaged in painting; this astonishing flood of time surges with the waves of their tireless, almost punitive efforts in the practice of painting. Among the featured painters there are celebrities who are renowned throughout the art world for their skills in form, and heroes of academia who have broken all of the norms. These artists hail from different backgrounds and academic experiences, practice in oil, ink, pencil drawing and printmaking, and have styles ranging from the realist to the highly experimental. Through their extraordinary control of painting skills, these artists have all displayed an intense desire for innovation. This exhibition's focus is on their systematic approaches and thinking methods. The divergence in their works and concepts will test all of our convictions about painting.

Part II: Research Documents on Painterliness
The participating artists have been asked to respond to the following questions, which provide a clearer understanding of their methodologies on painterliness:
1. What is the most important original aspect of your methodology?
2. The ancient craft of painting is being gradually inundated by new art forms. Where does your value lie as a painter?
The "gulfs" between the various artists and the diversity of their academic orientations guarantee rich documentation which will overturn common conceptions of painting, and bring out new possibilities.

Part III: Painting Training and Audience Participation
The artists have been asked to produce executable painting training programs that will elucidate their conceptions of painting methodology.
Requirements for the Painting Training Program:
1. The program must be unconventional, and imbue painting with a new perspective on action;
2. The program must be fun, suited for non-professionals; they must be applicable with the simplest pens and papers.
This is an integral component of the exhibition. During the exhibition, roughly 400 members of the audience (from all ages of adults and students) will be invited to engage in a game of painting based on the artists' methodologies. As these training plans are implemented, we will be able to observe the emergence of new possibilities.

Play Drawing Games with your Friends!

Drawing with Limited Edition of 500 Color Pencils~ A Special Collaboration Project with Felissimo

Game 1: What do you make of my squiggle?

Number of Players: 2 or more.
Tools: Pieces of paper/ Pencils

This game is about making something out of nothing.
Step 1: Everybody makes some random marks on their paper. Don't think what it might be, it's just a squiggle!
Step 2: All pass your squiggle to the person next to you and say: "What do you make of that?!"
Step 3: Look at the squiggle and simply turn it into something. Rotating the paper can help set your imagination free.

Game 2: Three parts people!
Number of Players: 3 (or 4).
Tools: A piece of rectangular paper for each player/pencils/sticky tape.

Step 1: Have a chat about what sort of character you are going to draw together. It can be any type of person! A mermaid, a strongman, a clown, someone famous, a policewoman, a spaceship captain, anything you like - but you must all agree.
Step 2: Each of you is going to draw a different part of the person so choose who is going to do which bit. The three parts are: head, body and legs. (A fourth player could do a hat or feet.)
Step 3: Draw your part on your own piece of paper. Take care and think about patterns and details. Try to keep what you are drawing hidden from the other players!
Step 4: When everyone has finished, tape the parts together and admire your handiwork!

* The Above 2 Games are Produced by Flow Associates for the Campaign for Drawing and the Campaign for Family Learning.

Game 3: Dialogue by Drawing
Number of Players: 2
Tools: Pieces of paper\Pens or pencils.

The first person draws to imply what is on his/her mind, and pass the paper to the 2nd person, who draws out what he/she can understand from the first person's drawings. After a few rounds of dialogue, make up a story based on these drawings, which can be totally different from the actual meaning. No oral/literal communication is allowed during the drawing process.

Homework 1: Draw a portrait of your Mother or Dad, your wife or husband (cartoon or realist style); Try to be expressive to tell the personality or personal story between you and the character. Leave the picture quietly as surprise for him (her).

Homework 2: Research and study Mind Map invented by Tony Buzan, try to use it in your study or works.


Oil Painting-Wang KeJu (1956~), Head of Painting Dept., Xu BeiHong Academy of Fine Art [45 Years of Painting]
In middle school I always dreamed of getting a book on painting. One time I borrowed the book Wu Ding's Landscape Paintings from a classmate, and it was like I'd found buried treasure. Every day and night for a week I sat and copied each of the paintings on the book. This book kept me excited for a very long time. Later, I went on to copy from publications like Anatomy for Art and the American Painting and the Body and Body Structure for Art. Even now, thinking back gets me excited. I don't know where all that energy came from!

Pencil Drawing-Li XiaoLin (1961~), Associate Professor of Central Academy of Fine Art [38 Years of Painting]
My awakening to painting happened during the tumultuous Mao Zedong years. When the old man passed away in 1976, it was a great shock to me. I felt like the sky was falling down. A lot of stuff happened to the country that year. That was the year I joined the army, and the first big thing that happened there was that I painted two massive portraits of Mao Zedong and then Chairman Hua Guofeng in the main ceremonial hall. When the portraits were hung behind the stage in the ceremonial hall, and I sang the Internationale with my fellow soldiers, I felt my blood rushing through my body. I was sixteen years old.
Oil, Chalk & Etching-Wang JiaZeng (1963~), Associate Professor, Lu Xun Academy of Fine Art [35 Years of Painting]
My earliest brush with painting can be traced back to imitating paintings in children's books, and the Workers, Peasants and Soldiers Book of Painting in Cultural Revolution period; I did it along the road, on the walls, anywhere convenient. It was a lot of fun. This "street art" got me into the primary school art club drawing pictures for the blackboard announcements. Later on, when I became a factory worker, I took jobs as a furnace worker and as a watchman so I would have time to draw. I remember once, after I got into the Lu Xun Academy, I was at Mohe Beiji Village doing life studies paintings, and ran out of money. I ran off to the local government hotel and painted wall paintings to earn some money to eat and make my way home. I just walked and painted. It was a spiritual jaunt.
Woodcut-Yang HongWei (1968~), Lecturer of Central Academy of Fine Art [20 Years of Painting]
Ink-Yang DaZhi (1977~), Lecturer of Lu Xun Acedemy of Fine Art [23 Years of Painting]
In sixth grade, I drew a propaganda image about learning from Uncle Lei Feng on the blackboard. Not long after, the school was relocated, and the building was torn up. I went back to take a look one day, and my classroom had been almost totally flattened, except for the wall hanging the blackboard. Lei Feng was still there in his red bandana, saluting me.
Woodcut-Chen XiaoDi (1982~), Lecturer of Central Academy of Fine Art [18 Years of Painting]
When I was young, if I couldn't draw something well, I'd just keep drawing it until I was satisfied. I have a sketch book that's full of all kinds of pictures I drew of peaches. Back then, no matter how I tried, I just couldn't make perfect peaches like the ones in Chinese New Year's posters. So I decided to draw some, and I filled up a whole book. I wouldn't let people criticize me, either. Once my mother asked me, "what is this?" I said, "it's a peach". She said, "since when do peaches look like this?" I replied, "I only draw rotten peaches."
Woodcut-Zhang Ying(1982~), Lecturer of Central Academy of Fine Art [16 Years of Painting]
What I remember the most was how hard it was learning painting as a child. I had a special dislike for depicting things I didn't have any feelings for. In middle school, the teachers made us draw from plasters, and that's what I hated the most. I just couldn't understand why plaster drawing had to be part of art training. If you wanted to draw a person, just draw a person. Why do you have to draw a plaster person? I skipped a lot of classes back then, but to this day, my middle school teachers still remember me fondly.

Notes from the Curator:

I. The Issue of Painterliness in Chinese Contemporary Art: A Mixed Influence of Eastern and Western Traditions, and the Contemporary Spirit
The issue of painterliness is intertwined with the progression of art history: the impressionists' infatuation with light, the expressionists' focus on inner emotions, pop art's treatment of public images, etc. The various schools of art have had a comprehensive effect on evaluations of Chinese contemporary painting (perhaps because the latter is in itself a synthesis of the various schools of western art). Classical Chinese ink painting is rife with the results of painterly aesthetics and methodologies; the ink and the ideas have woven together to form a luxurious robe that fetters the creator. After traditional ink painting was left speechless in the face of contemporary issues, Chinese painters began using western mediums, mainly oil painting, to explore new possibilities of transferring and marrying traditional Chinese painterliness, or they began experimentation in cross-media practices on rice paper.

Contemporary art mentally obliterated the boundary between the grand narrative and the personal quotidian. In everything from subject matter to technique, painting moved from elitist purity to mundane spontaneity and subjective expression. The heroes have died and faith has gone missing; all has been inundated by the flood of the quotidian. Meanwhile, the values judgments of painterliness have manifested as a mix of divergent conceptions - a move from the realm of traditional aesthetics towards subjective subconscious, pop, street culture and spontaneity, heavily burdened by eastern traditions. As a result, perception of Chinese contemporary art's painterliness appears extraordinarily muddled and complex.

A Murky Evaluation of Painterliness in Chinese Art:
1) It is a question of skill and taste; it is also a conceptual and metaphysical issue;
2) Its conception and territory are vague, an issue that is both of aesthetics and beyond it;
3) It is a form of subjective empiricism that synthesizes the many painting styles of the west, following nostalgic desires for the interrupted traditions of the east¡­
The intention of this exhibition is in that it pulls out the weeds growing over the issue of contemporary painterliness, and goes on to clear up the issue and set boundaries.

II. 195 Years of Obsession: Innovative Contemporary Paintings
Critical thinking into painting methodology is perhaps a motivation of changes in western art forms. In the west, painting is not just a noun, it is more importantly a verb, an active process, as when British artist David Hockney used the optical devices to unlock the secrets of classical masterpieces (Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters,2001) . For contemporary Chinese artists, the question is no longer about what to paint, but how to paint it. From political pop to cartoon generation, Chinese contemporary painting's original image inspiration has come from American pop art and Japanese manga. Painting education uses sketching and life studies methods, and is limited to the realm of purely artistic aesthetic education. Perhaps China needs innovative thinking on the methodology of painting on a deeper level. This touches on how to continue historical splendor and how Chinese contemporary painting can gain cultural self confidence.

The featured artists in this exhibition have all used their own particular methods to expand upon the old set patterns of painting, bringing new suspense to the ancient tale of painting. Wang Keju completes his paintings at the actual scene of his landscapes. The direct experience of nature inject a lively freehand nature into the internal structure of his pictures. Through the past several decades of his windy, dusty romance with the landscape, he has often had to fasten his canvas onto trees to engage in painting. Li Xiaolin's pencil drawing portraits on the Tibetan Plateau are sopping with spirit and emotion, truly representative of the passions of classical realism. Unlike those oil painters who build their works from photos or human models, the oil painted compositions of bronze engraver Wang Jiazeng place more emphasis on subjectivity. The etching textures lend a special feel to his oil color surfaces. Yang Hongwei's woodcut lines are vivid and intricate, full of the richness and expressiveness of brushstrokes. They seem to spread out like lines of diffusing ink; their painterliness seems to have a self-contained spirit of its own. Yang Dazhi, who teaches at the Lu Xun Art Academy's Chinese Painting Department, tries to break out of the classical patterns of the ink wash and the eastern cultural context. He cherishes the joy of the painting process. The unique bleeding effects of scroll paper complement the smearing, stacking and splashing of colors. The clear, translucent colors convey subjects such as bubbles, crystals and lamps, whose lighting and transparency are often difficult to grasp in the language of ink wash, thereby expanding the richness of ink wash art. He is trying to face his inner heart with the playfulness of a brush. Zhang Ying is seeking out the synthesis of the body, the sense of touch and the visual experience. Her massive horizontal depictions of the human figure spare no effort to attain purity, but nevertheless create a visually dazzling effect. The classical Chinese freehand ink wash style branches and leaves of Chen Xiaodi's works carry curled up body forms, like fruits of life¡­. The encroachment of new contemporary art forms on painting may be inevitable, but when it comes to these artists, painting, like writing by hand, has become a need in and of itself. Hence, painterliness has for them become an extension of their individual lives. Their widely divergent painting practices all glitter with the splendor of human creative power.

III. The Importance of Public Participation
Chinese painting is rooted in the literati tradition, and is limited to elite circles. While the concept of western drawing is much broader, transcending the realms of pure artistic creation and aesthetic education, extending into other fields such as science and psychology. It has broad social applications. Ideas such as the Mind Map have long ago become popular means of education through visual thinking. While this exhibition engages a dialogue between divergent artworks, it also invites the participation of those from outside of the art profession, expanding the issue of contemporary Chinese painterliness into a wider field.