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Zhu Wei’s Recent Work:

From Strange and Sardonic to Strange and Bland

 

Britta Erickson

 

Zhu Wei and Chen Hongshou

I have not had the privilege of meeting Zhu Wei, but having seen his paintings and now having read through many of his published essays, I very much look forward to doing so. His writings and imagery both lead me to expect him to be a contemporary version of the late Ming artist Chen Hongshou (陈洪?, 1599-1652), an extremely talented painter who thrived outside the artistic mainstream. I even am beginning to imagine Zhu looking a bit like the Ming artist in his self-portrait (the scholarly self-portrait, not the drunken and disheveled one), slightly aloof and swathed within a cocoon-like long robe.

Both Zhu Wei and Chen Hongshou came to their profession via a circuitous route, and both have adapted elements of archaic figure painting in order to express their alienation from the mainstream, as well as the value they place on maintaining their integrity as individuals. The archaism hints at a disjuncture with the present, as if the deep past was a purer era. There is the sense that they are out of step with their times, observing and understanding but not participating in contemporary movements.

Chen Hongshou had aspired to follow the family career as a scholar-official, but he failed the provincial examination that would have opened the door to such a position. Instead he became a professional painter, a status beneath that to which he had aspired. He painted figures, and developed a mannered personal style that, at its most extreme, included distorted facial features and body proportions. Zhu Wei avoided the medical career his family urged on him by joining the army, in 1982. A few years later he entered the PLA Art Academy in Beijing, where he received a rigorous and predictably doctrinaire art education (graduated 1989). Upon completing his stint in the army he studied at the Beijing Film Academy (graduated 1993), and afterwards finally became an independent artist. Zhu Wei’s painted figures are guai 怪, or strange, in the extreme. Their grotesquerie would be admired, were they rocks or roots or other such objects treasured and collected by Chinese scholars. Unlike Chen Hongshou, who frequently created complex settings for his figures, Zhu Wei tends to zero in on the figure, and often on the face, rather in the manner of a film close-up. Thus, it is impossible to avoid the distorted, blocky features of Zhu Wei’s stocky figures. With their big lips, jowly cheeks, and squared-off foreheads, many of Zhu Wei’s figures elicit pity: they seem adrift, disconnected from their environment. His most recent works, the Hills Beyond a River, Ink and Wash Research Lectures, and Study of People series (2005-2012), comprise bust views of single figures. The quality of those figures remains essentially guai, while at one point achieving a fascinatingly elusive state of blandness or the Neutral (as Barthes terms it—explained below).

The Hills Beyond a River series

The title of Zhu Wei’s ongoing series, Hills Beyond a River, is taken from James Cahill’s book, Hills Beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yüan Dynasty, 1279-1368. Although Zhu is a figure painter, he is also an adept landscape painter, and long ago had aimed to complete a master’s degree in landscape painting.[1] In the past few years, many high profile figure painters who work in oil or acrylic on canvas have turned their hand to landscape painting. There is a new trend among artists to seek both imagery and inspiration among the major monuments of Chinese art history, most notably the great landscapes of the past. This tendency has been encouraged by a flurry of large exhibitions on the theme of Shanshui (landscape). Although he has the training to create landscapes Zhu Wei has not chosen to participate in this trend, keeping to the genre of figure painting. His nod to historical landscapes is restricted to the title Hills Beyond a River, which he likes because it conveys a sense of alienation. The phrase originated to describe a typical landscape painting composition developed and favored during the Yuan dynasty by such noted artists as Ni Zan 倪? (1306-1374). It featured a foreground land element backed by a wide stretch of water and, in the distance, hills. The two land elements are eternally separated, hence the implied sense of loneliness or alienation. In the case of Ni Zan, the landscape elements became farther apart as he aged.

Paintings in Zhu Wei’s Hills Beyond a River series each portray a single figure from the chest up, against a flat background of patternized water. There is no distant group of hills, and only a few bear any hint of a setting beyond the flat background of flowing water: the figure is completely isolated. One figure has his jacket unbuttoned and holds chopsticks poised, ready for action . . . but we see no dish of food waiting to be savored. Another figure is clearly identifiable: a bust portrait of Joseph Stalin (1879-1953), the Soviet Union dictator responsible for the deaths of ten to twenty million people, is backed by the patternized water familiar from other Hills Beyond a River paintings. His image is as particular as the other figures are nondescript. Stalin’s familiar uniform with gold epaulettes seems more solid and lasting than his head, whose feature are faded, and eyes closed: the individual fades in history, but the powerful role represented by the uniform endures.

The Ink and Wash Research Lectures series

With tongue in cheek Zhu Wei named his most recent series the Ink and Wash Research Lectures series 水墨研究课徒系列. The title has a scholarly flavor, and there are serious issues behind the series, but they have nothing to do with ink and wash. Instead, the series is concerned with contemporary society in China, and the potential for social instability. China has now experienced three decades of reform and opening-up policies, resulting in a higher standard of living and increased expectations. Thirty years ago everyone held great hope for the future; during the last ten years, however, it has become evident that the rigid power structure remains, corruption has established such deep roots that no-one expects a fair chance at anything, the distance between rich and poor is growing ever wider, and the country’s extreme commercialism ensures that no-one is ever satisfied. As Zhu Wei has remarked, “In the past we based our development on the over consumption of natural resources. In the future, however, there will be no more resources to consume, so our development pattern will transfer into a hundred tricks. With tricks being played, political stability will be very important and the foundation of everything. One of the central aims of the government will be social stability. The aim of the Ink and Wash Research Lectures series is to depict and track the social changes of this period. The figure wearing a microphone is a ‘stability maintenance’ person such as you can see everywhere in the streets. It is a real portrait of China. Tourists who make a short stay in China won’t notice that easily.”[2]

The fact that the title of the Ink and Wash Research Lectures series completely avoids the paintings’ subject mirrors the fact that the subject—the widespread unease identified by Zhu Wei—is rarely discussed. So far Zhu Wei has painted only four works in this series, but he sees it as a long-term project. Ink and Wash Research Lectures No. 1 depicts a passive, stolid man with a tiny receiver tucked behind his ear, set against a background of red drapery. The receiver and red background suggest that he is working in the service of government forces, listening dispassionately to comments and instructions relayed to him as a monitor of public safety, or a “stability maintenance” worker. He could, however, be anybody, as almost everybody contributes mindlessly to “stability maintenance” through compliant behavior. People each have a role to play, and they are resigned to accept it even though in doing so they subject themselves to the ongoing and widely shared stress of life without self-determination. The almost identical figure (but with hair parted in a different place) in Ink and Wash Research Lectures No. 2 has his eyes closed, and appears to have reached a state of emotionless calm akin to that of a Buddha. Rather than Buddhist mindfulness, however, it is a state of mindless attentiveness to the instructions issuing from the receiver in his ear. We can read the receiver and its instructions as a metaphor for the unstated rules that govern life in China. Although those rules remain unvoiced, or may be only whispered, they nevertheless carry weighty, oppressive power.

The Study of People series

If we compare the passive, emotionless, unattractive, lumpen protagonist of the Ink and Wash Research Lectures series with similar precursors, we see that although he looks much the same as the key figure in other series, he appears older and tired, he sports the tidily combed hair style typical of Chinese authority figures, and he is garbed in power red, with a red backdrop—a refrain of the red drapery isolated in the Red Flags series (2008-2010)—rather than the indigo or PLA green of, for example, the figures in the Hills Beyond a River and Study of People series. Study of People, painted during roughly the same years as the Ink and Wash Research Lectures and Hills Beyond a River series, is a study of a single person painted in identical three quarters view against a white ground, the only change between images other than clothing being a slight indication of aging: the lines from beside the nose to the corners of the mouth become more pronounced. We can trace this passive, emotionless bald male figure (The artist? Maybe yes, maybe no.) back through Zhu Wei’s oeuvre, to slightly different manifestations as early as 1998 Sweet Life No. 21. In 1998 Sweet Life No. 21 the protagonist looks slightly bemused: by 2012 he is utterly still. We can consider the rendering of the subject in the Study of People series as the epitome of blandness in figural painting.

Blandness

It is ironic that a painter with such a talent for satire should arrive at a superlative visual representation of the bland, dan 淡, an achievement generally reserved for scholarly landscape painters. In Chinese figure painting, such extreme blandness was only common in posthumous ancestor portraits. This is because the latter paintings were executed by a lower class of painters who had never seen their subjects, with the solemn function of commemorating the deceased. By contrast, according to the Yuan scholar-painter par excellence Zhao Mengfu 赵孟? (1254-1322), “In painting human figures, excellence lies in capturing character (xing 性) and emotion (qing 情).”[3] Regarding character, however, blandness was considered an ideal: “When a man’s character is plain and bland and does not exhibit any particular proclivities, then he is master of all his abilities and uses them most effectively: he adapts himself to all changes and never encounters an obstacle.”[4]

In his book In Praise of Blandness: Proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics, the French Sinologist Fran?ois Jullien (b. 1951) has noted that not only does the concept of blandness underlie multiple branches of Chinese philosophy; it also was a desirable quality in the music, poetry, and painting of various periods.[5] Throughout his career Zhu Wei has demonstrated a strong interest in painting of the Yuan dynasty, the era during which blandness came to represent the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Yuan scholar-painter Ni Zan’s landscapes epitomize the concept of blandness in painting, stripped bare of any hint of excess, with little variation in ink tone, no dramatic brushstrokes, and calm minimalistic and repetitive compositions. The value of blandness or, as French philosopher Roland Barthes (1915-1980) terms it, the Neutral, lies in the state of the Neutral as poised on the brink of becoming. It could become one thing or another: the vast potential vanishes the moment the Neutral commits to a defined state. Referring to the work of Swiss semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), Barthes has stated, “the paradigm is the wellspring of meaning; where there is meaning, there is paradigm, and where there is paradigm (opposition), there is meaning è elliptically put: meaning rests on conflict (the choice of one term against another), and all conflict is generative of meaning: to choose one and refuse the other is always a sacrifice made to meaning, to produce meaning, to offer it to be consumed.”[6] The neutral is “everything that outplays {déjoue} the paradigm” or “baffles the paradigm.”[7]

Contemporary Figure Painting and Blandness

Blandness is anathema to contemporary art, where superlatives are common and artists pursue the shocking so as to capture the attention of jaded viewers. And it is not just that viewers are jaded: attention spans seem to shortening as the volume of visual cues skyrockets due to the ubiquity of online culture and the saturation of the city environment with signage. Figure painting in particular eschews the bland. In China this is largely because contemporary Chinese figure painting is the descendent of nineteenth century European academic realism on the one hand, and that same academic realism altered to be an effective propaganda tool in the form of socialist realism. As a result of the May Fourth Movement, early twentieth century art students traveled to Europe for an education. Upon their return to China some sought to meld academic realism with Chinese ink painting. Zhu Wei rues this “reform” or bastardization of ink painting, writing, “I do not think we should be grateful to the ‘returnee artists’ who were devoted to reforming the ink painting tradition. I wish they had never returned. If only they had built the courage to reform western oil painting . . . even if Picasso and Matisse might have kicked them out of the country.”[8] In the mid-twentieth century, the promulgation of socialist realism distorted realism via the addition of dramatic modeling and lighting as well as other tools for emotional manipulation: the same look and feel were deliberately—as a matter of policy—imported into figure painting with the Chinese brush in ink and color on paper. For Zhu Wei to move decisively away from verisimilitude and emotional drama in pursuit of the Neutral is a major step. A few figures approaching this neutral state appear in Fang Lijun’s 方力钧 (b. 1963) paintings from around 1990, but Zhu Wei’s push toward absolute blandness in figure painting is unique. If it was difficult for landscape painters to achieve blandness in the fourteenth century when they shared their values with a small coterie of like-minded individuals, how much more difficult it must be for a twenty-first century figure painter to do so. This is both because we live in a time when there is a widespread yen for stimulation and sensationalism, and because the painter must be more personally invested in the subject, a human being, either like or unlike himself.

Zhu Wei and Early Chinese Painting

Zhu Wei’s approach to the Neutral in recent years is made more interesting by a consideration of his preceding works. From 1988, when he quoted Bada Shanren’s 八大山人 (1626-1705) brushwork in the lead up to his first major series, Beijing Story, he has consistently referenced widely recognized artists and paintings of the past, most often to sardonic effect. His Racing Horse on a Rainy Night, No. 2 and No. 3 (1997), for example, are postmodern pastiches directly quoting the horse and groom in Zhao Mengfu’s album leaf Training a Horse, and incorporating elements of contemporary culture such as a bicycle and inscribed lyrics from the rock star Cui Jian’s 崔健 (b. 1961) “Opportunist” 投机分子 (Touji fenzi). A variant on the Emperor Huizong’s 徽宗 (1082-1135) painting of a parrot wears a protective mask in Zhu’s SARS-era painting, The Heavenly Maiden No. 27 (2003)—the intrusion of a deadly modern disease into the emperor’s vision of a perfect natural world. Court painter Li Song’s 李嵩 (active 1190-1230) resplendent and meticulously rendered Flower Basket makes an appearance in several of Zhu’s Utopia (2001-2005) series paintings where they contrast with such disappointingly prosaic symbols of contemporary post “communist utopian” society as red flags, mandatory meetings, and red neck scarves. Everything from Tang court ladies (Comrades, 1995) to Bada’s fish (Diary of the Sleepwalker No. 24, 1998; South Sea No. 1, 2000) to communist martyrs and political figures (Deng Xiaoping in China China, 1997) are fodder for Zhu Wei’s art, where ironic juxtaposition plays a major role.

Social Commentary

In the early 1990s Zhu’s many humorously disrespectful images of Mao Zedong, PLA soldiers, communist martyrs, and the like brought him close to the widely promoted Cynical Realism and Political Pop movements, but he remained outside. Perhaps his touch was too light, perhaps it was that no ink painters found their way into those movements, or perhaps it was a matter of social circles: as a PLA trained artist Zhu Wei was not well acquainted with artists who had undergone a more mainstream education, for example at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and he chose to remain outside of Beijing’s art circles. In later years he continued to make social-political statements, for example depicting Tiananmen Square as a turbulent ocean stage for dramatic political events (The Square series, 1995-1996). In his paintings and essays, he frequently employs metaphor to make a point, drawing on common experiences such as the appreciation of varieties of cabbage, or fond memories of films seen decades in the past.

The Study of People series presents an exceedingly powerful metaphor. To represent China’s Everyman as existing in a bland state, in the Neutral, implies that Chinese society is at a point where it could be tipped in any direction. Until the future direction is determined there is unlimited potential. All that is needed to commit that society to move in a particular direction, however, is just a very tiny push, and it will be irrevocably set on a new course. Who can say whether that will be for the good or bad of future generations? The Ink and Wash Research Lectures series highlights the unspoken dread people feel about the future: they instinctively sense the negative potential of the moment. Juxtaposed, these two series magnify one another’s power. In the end it appears that referring to an attitude of past painting masters—the Yuan ideal of blandness—can carry even more meaning than the quotation of imagery or brush manner. Transplanting Yuan austerity into the raucous contemporary era requires great perspicacity. This is in accord with a Yuan ideal of purpose in art, as stated by the scholar Tang Hou 汤后 (active early 14th century), who noted, “When the ancients painted, they all had profound concepts. As they nurtured their ideas and manipulated their brushes, there was not one who did not have a purpose.”[9]


[1] 22 December 2012 email from Zhu Wei to the author.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Susan Bush and Hsio-yen Shih, Early Chinese Texts on Painting (Cambridge: Harvard-Yenching Institute, 1985), p. 271.

[4] Liu Shao 刘邵 (3rd c.), “Jiu zheng” 九徵 (Nine traits), in Renwuzhi 人物志 (The treatise on human abilities), I.1b, commentary by Liu Bing 刘?
 (fl. 386). Quoted in Fran?ois Jullien, In Praise of Blandness: Proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics, translated by Paula M. Varsano (New York: Zone Books, 2004), p. 60.

[5] Jullien, ibid.

[6] Roland Barthes, The Neutral: Lecture Course at the College de France (1977-1978) (New York: Columbia Press, 2007), p. 7.

[7] Barthes, ibid., p. 6.

[8] Zhu Wei, 野火烧不尽 春风 吹不活 “Wildfire Will Not Extinguish It, the Spring Breeze Will Not Revive It . . . ,” 《HI 艺术》 HIART (May 2008).

[9] Tang Hou 汤后, Hua lun 画论, translated in Susan Bush and Hsio-yen Shih, Early Chinese Texts on Painting (Cambridge: Harvard-Yenching Institute, 1985), p. 258.

 

(First published on Zhu Wei: Works 1988-2012 , China Today Art Museum Publishing House, January 2013, p.20)


Britta Erickson is a scholar and curator whose work focuses on contemporary Chinese art. She has taught at Stanford University and University of California, Berkley.

 

 

 

 

 

朱伟近作:从怪诞讥讽到怪异淡然

 

林似竹

 

  

朱伟与陈洪绶

早先我并未有幸亲见朱伟,但看过他的绘画,读了这许多他发表的文章之后,我真是不胜期许与他一见。他的文字与画面都让我觉得,他就是中国当代的陈洪绶(1599-1652年)——那位天赋极高、在艺术主流之外独树一帜的中国晚明杰出画家。我甚至想象朱伟看上去都有些像他自画像中的明代画家(我说的是那幅学者气息的自画像,而不是酒醉不整的那幅),微有超然的神色,紧裹在蚕茧般的长袍里面。

朱伟和陈洪绶走上艺术之路都经历了曲折的过程,他们都为表达对主流的疏远和对保持个人完善的重视而运用了古代人物画的元素。古意暗示着与当下的分离,好似遥远的过去是个更为素净的时代一般。他们给人一种与其所处时代步伐不一的感觉,对当代的运动,他们观察,领悟,但不参与。

陈洪绶曾经渴望继承祖业,成为一名士大夫,可惜他乡试落榜,于是通往这一地位的大门向他关闭了,他成为一名专职画家,身份低于他曾期待的士大夫之位。他画人物,创造出一种矫饰风格的个人特点,最显著的特征就是变形的脸部特征与身体比例。而朱伟,为了逃避家庭对他成为医生的期待,1982年参了军。几年之后他进入北京解放军艺术学院,在那里接受了极为严格且果然相当教条的艺术教育(毕业于1989年)。完成兵役之后,他进入北京电影学院学习(毕业于1993年),之后成为一名独立艺术家。可以说,朱伟画中人物显著的特点就是“怪”。这种怪诞颇受人喜爱,就好像中国文人以珍爱和收藏怪石、老根及其他物件为乐趣一样。与经常为自己的任务设定和绘制复杂背景的陈洪绶不同的是,朱伟倾向于在人物本身,甚至常常在人物面部归零,这种方式很像电影的特写镜头。所以,朱伟敦实的人物形象就难免表现出变形的块状特点。朱伟画中的人物嘴唇肥大,下颚宽厚,额头方正,足以引起观者的怜悯之情:他们看上去茫然若失,同其所处环境没什么关系。他的最新系列画作《隔江山色》、《水墨研究课徒》、《人物研究》都是单人半身像。这些人物的特点本质上仍然保持着“怪”的特征,却达到淡然的状态,极具吸引力又难以捉摸,又可以称为“中性”(这是罗兰·巴特的一个名词——我在下文中做了解释)。

《隔江山色》系列

朱伟正在创作的系列作品题为《隔江山色》,出自高居翰的著作《隔江山色:元代绘画(1279-1368年)》。朱伟虽是人物画家,却也擅长山水画,先前还曾计划攻读山水画硕士学位[1]。近几年,很多之前以布面油画或丙烯为材料的高调人物画家,转手画起了山水。艺术家们新近流行从中国艺术史上具有纪念碑式的意义的作品中,尤其是在古代的山水名画中寻找意象和灵感。以山水为主题规模巨大的展览风潮更是促进了这一流行。朱伟曾受过山水画的训练,他却不随波逐流,而坚守了人物画的创作。他对传统山水画的肯定仅限于为自己的系列作品选择《隔江山色》这一标题,而之所以喜欢这一标题,是因为它传达了一种疏离感。人们创造这个词汇,描述的是由元代著名艺术家如倪? (1306—1374年)等人兴起并发扬光大的一种经典山水画构图。这种构图的特点是,前景是大地元素,后面是广阔的水域,再远处则是山。两块土地永远两相分离,意味着孤独、疏离之感。至于倪瓒,他山水画里各种不同的元素则随着他年龄的增长,而愈加疏离。

 《隔江山色》系列画作都是胸部以上的单人画像,平平的背景是图式化了的水域。没有远处的群山,只在平平的流水的背景后面,有寥寥几笔稍加暗示着环境:人物是完全孤立的。一个人物外套的扣子未系,敞着怀,手握筷子摆好要开吃的姿势……但他面前并没有可吃的食物。另一个人物一眼就能看出来是谁:这是那位要对一两千万人的死负责的前苏联独裁者约瑟夫·斯大林(1879-1953年)的半身像,背景正是其他“隔江山色”式绘画中我们熟悉的那种图式化水域。他的形象如此特别,有如其他人毫无特点的程度。挂着金色肩章的熟悉的斯大林军服看似比他容貌褪色眼睛紧闭的头部还要结实耐久:人物在历史长河中消逝,而军服代表的强权角色却可长存。

《水墨研究课徒》系列

朱伟将最新画作系列命名为《水墨研究课徒》系列有些言不由衷。这个标题颇有一番学术意味,系列作品背后隐含着严肃的问题,但这些问题与水墨本身并无关系。实际上,它关心的是中国当代社会状态和社会动荡潜在的可能性。中国搞了近三十年改革开放,人民生活水平提升不少,对未来的预期也逐渐提高。三十年前人人都对未来充满希望,然而在过去的十年里,权力结构依然僵化、腐败根深蒂固、不公平现象随处可见、贫富差距日益加大、国家奉行的极端商业主义注定让人永无满足之日等状况变得昭然若揭。朱伟曾说:“过去我们依靠过度消耗自然资源谋求发展。但以后没有更多资源让我们去消耗,于是我们的发展模式将依靠大量谋略。谋略的时代里,政治稳定将变得极其重要,成为一切的基础。政府将来主要目标之一就是社会稳定。《水墨研究课徒》系列作品就是要描绘和记录这个时期的社会变化。这是对中国的真实刻画。而游客来中国只做短期停留,是很难轻易察觉到的。”[2]

《水墨研究课徒》系列的标题完全避开了画的主题,这反映出一个事实——朱伟所表现的社会普遍的不安感,是很少有人论及的。目前,这一系列的作品朱伟只画了4幅,但他是要把这个系列作为一项长期创作项目来做的。《水墨研究课徒1号》刻画了一个消极迟钝的男人,耳后藏着接收器,背景是红色的帷幔。接收器和红帷幔暗示着他为政府部门工作,他作为一位公共安全工作者,漠然地聆听着传递到他耳中的评论和指令。然而他也可能是任何人,因为几乎所有的人都通过顺从的行为而有意无意地为“稳定”做出了贡献。每个人都有角色要扮演,他们认命地接受自己的角色,即使如此一来,他们只能毫无自我决定权地向当前多数人都在承受着的生活压力妥协。《水墨研究课徒2号》中的人物几乎与前一幅中的完全相同(只有发线的位置不同),他眼睛阖着,看上去好像已经达到了如佛教徒一般无情无欲的平静境界。与佛教徒的专注不同,他只是无需动脑地专注于耳朵里接收器收到的指令。接收器与它发出的指令,可以解读成对统治中国生活不明说的规则的隐喻。虽然没人讲出来,或者只是小声耳语,但它们却具有沉重、压迫的力量。

《人物研究》系列

《水墨研究课徒》系列的主人公消极、漠然、毫无吸引力、一副破落户的样子,若与早先的作品中类似的主角加以对比,我们会发现,或许前者看上去与其他系列的主要人物相差无几,但显得更年长、更疲惫一些,他整齐地梳着典型的中国政治家发型,穿着象征红色权力的衣服,置身红色背景之前——重复着《红旗》系列(2008-2010年)中孤立的红色帷帐——而非《隔江山色》和《人物研究》系列中靛蓝色或军绿的背景。《人物研究》系列与《水墨研究课徒》和《隔江山色》两个系列大致创作于同一年,它研究的是单一人物,统一都是置于白色的背景前的四分之三侧面人物,除了服装的变化之外,唯一区别是对年龄增长的轻微暗示:人物鼻翼到嘴角的两条法令纹一个比一个更明显。回溯朱伟的全部作品,会发现这种消极漠然的秃头男性人物(作者自己?也许是,也许不是)自早在1998年创作的《甜蜜之生活第21号》中出现以来,只增添了些微差异。《甜蜜的生活21号》的主人公看上去有一点茫然:到了2012年,他进入了彻底寂静的状态。我们可以将《人物研究》系列中对主题的渲染看作是人物画中“淡然”的典型。

淡然

如此具有讽刺天赋的画家达到了“淡然”这样一种最高级的视觉表现境界,本身就有嘲弄的意味——“淡然”一般是用于描述学院派山水画家的境界的。在中国人物画中,这种极致的淡然仅仅常见于死后先祖的画像。因为这些画是由从未见过画面主角的社会低层画家所做,有纪念死者的庄严功能。与此相反,元代最卓越的士大夫画家赵孟?(1254—1322年)认为,“画人物以得其性情为妙”[3]至于性格特征,淡然是最为理想的:“凡人之质量,中和最贵矣。中和之质,必平淡无味;故能调成五材,变化应节。”[4]

汉学家弗朗索瓦·于连在其著作《平淡颂:从中国思想和美学出发》中提到,淡的观念不仅成为多个中国哲学分支的基础,它同时也是在不同时期,音乐、诗歌和绘画所要求的品质。[5]朱伟的绘画生涯体现出他对元代绘画的浓厚兴趣,在那个朝代,淡然意味着最高的艺术成就。元代院体派画家倪瓒的山水画,是绘画中淡的概念典型的表现——画家摒弃了任何多余的暗示,墨色变动极少,没有夸张的笔触,集平静的极简主义与重复式构图于一体。淡然,或如法国哲学家罗兰·巴特(1915-1980年)所说的“中性”,其价值存在于一种随时转换的中性状态之中。它可以变成这个东西也可以变成那个东西:一旦“中性”明确地倒向了确定的某种状态时,巨大的潜力也就消失殆尽了。谈及瑞士符号语言学家费尔迪南·索绪尔(1857-1913年)的著作,罗兰·巴特认为:“范式是意义的源泉,哪里有意义哪里就有范式,哪里有范式(反之)哪里就有意义,简言之:意义依赖冲突(两个名词中要选定一个),所有的冲突都会生成意义:选择一个而否定另一个,是为有意义、为制造意义并供人使用而做的牺牲。”[6]“中性”是全部“击败范式”或“困扰范式”的东西。[7]

当代人物画与淡然

当代艺术厌恶淡然,它普遍使用最强烈的语言,艺术家们追求震撼效果,以期引厌倦了的观者注意。其实不仅观者厌倦了:由于网络文化普及以及城市环境的标识饱和,视觉因素在激增,人们对事物的关注时间似乎在随之缩短。特别是人物画,尤其要避免平淡。在中国,这种现象多因为,一方面当代中国人物画延续了19世纪欧洲学院派现实主义人物画传统,而这种学院派的现实主义在社会主义现实下沦为有效的政治宣传工具。20世纪早期五四新文化运动之后,艺术学生去欧洲接受教育。回到中国后,其中一些人寻求学院派现实主义与中国水墨画的结合。朱伟对这种“改革”现象悲叹道,“我不知道该不该感谢那些“海归”回来口口声声要改变水墨画的那些哥们,我甚至祷告他们当年别回来,有种的就他妈去改变西方的油画,……我想这帮丫的不敢,照毕加索、马蒂斯的脾气早把他们大嘴巴抽回来了”[8]20世纪中叶,社会写实主义的普及以夸张造型、用光和其他操纵情感的手段扭曲了现实主义:使用中国的毛笔和纸上水墨为媒介,相同的样子和感觉被故意地——作为一种政策——灌输到了人物画中。对于朱伟来说,毅然远离仿真感和情感剧而追求“中性”,确实是迈出了一大步。从大约1990开始,方力钧的一些画作中出现了接近这种“中性”状态的人物,但是朱伟在把人物画推向绝对淡然状态的方面是独一无二的。如果那些与志趣相投的小圈子里的人共享价值观的14世纪山水画家都很难达到淡然的境界,那么对于21世纪的人物画家来说,无疑难度大多了。这不仅因为我们生活在一个普遍对刺激和轰动效应上瘾了的年代,还因为,画家必须从他的主题——一个像或不像自己的人物中——获得更多人们对自己的投资。

朱伟与早期中国画

考察朱伟早期作品,我们会发现近年来他对中性的靠近更加有趣。自1988年援用八大山人(1626-1705年)的笔法,创作早期主要作品《北京故事》系列以来,他持续广泛借鉴古代著名画家和画作,多追求讽刺效果。例如他的《雨夜跑马图 2号》和《雨夜跑马图3号》(1997年),就是直接引用赵孟?的《调良图》册页中的马和马夫,并融合自行车和摇滚明星崔健(生于1961年)歌曲《投机分子》的歌词等当代文化元素,创作的一支后现代主义混成曲。宋徽宗皇帝(1082-1135年)画的一只鹦鹉的变体戴着保护面具,出现在朱伟SARS时期作品《天女散花27号》中(2003年)——致命的现代疾病闯入了皇帝欣赏自然美景的视野。朱伟在他一些《乌托邦》系列作品(2001-2005年)中,引用了宫廷画家李嵩(活动于1190-1230年之间)华丽精美的设色“花篮”,这些花篮与当代 “后共产主义乌托邦”社会那些让人失望的乏味象征符号——如红旗、强制性会议和红领巾等——形成了鲜明对比。从唐朝宫廷仕女(《同志们》,1995年)到八大山人的鱼(《梦游手记24号》,1998年;《南海1号》,2000年),再到共产主义烈士和政治人物(《中国中国》里的邓小平,1997年),都是朱伟以反讽性并置为主体的艺术创作的养料。

社会评论

上世纪90年代早期,朱伟对毛泽东、解放军战士、共产主义烈士及类似人物颇为不敬的幽默演绎,拉近了他与当时广泛流行的玩世现实主义和政治波普运动的距离,但他却一直置身于这些运动的外面。也许因为他涉入太浅,也许因为水墨画家无人能参加这些运动,又或者这是社交圈子的原因:朱伟作为解放军艺术院校毕业的艺术家,不怎么熟悉那些受过更主流教育的,比如中央美术学院的画家;而且,他自己也选择了在北京艺术圈之外发展。随后几年,他继续着自己对社会——政治的表达,比如他把天安门广场作为戏剧性政治事件波涛汹涌的海洋舞台(《广场》,1995—1996年)来描绘。在他的画作和散文里,常吸收日常经验,以隐喻立意,如对大白菜品种的评价,或对几十年前看过的老电影的美好回忆。

《人物研究》系列表现了一个极有力量的隐喻。对中国普通人淡然中性的生存状态的表现,暗示了中国社会正处在一个结点上,可以被引向任何方向。在确定未来方向之前,它有着无限的潜力。让社会转向一个特定方向所需要的,仅只是轻轻地一推,而这一推将会开启一段无法回头的新征程。谁能说那对未来子孙后代是好还是坏?《水墨研究课徒》系列突出了人们对未来不言而喻的恐惧感:他们本能地感知到了时下消极的潜在可能性。将这两个系列并置,它们能有互相赞美对方的力量。最后我们会发现,对古代绘画大师这样一种态度的借鉴——即元代追求淡然的理想——比对图像或笔法本身的引用更有意义。将元代的朴素植入喧嚣的当代需要极大的智慧。学者汤后(活动于14世纪早期)认为,这与元代理想中的艺术追求是一致的,他说“古人作画,皆有深意,运思落笔,莫不各有所主。”[9]

注:
[1]朱伟2012年11月22日发送给作者的电子邮件。
[2]同上。
[3]见卜寿珊与时学颜:《中国早期画论》(剑桥:哈佛燕京学社,1985年),第271页。
[4]见刘邵(公元三世纪)《人物志》(这是一篇关于人类能力的论文)中的“九徵”,刘?注释。
[5]引自弗朗索瓦·于连《平淡颂:从中国思想和美学出发》,保拉·瓦尔萨诺译(纽约:ZoneBooks出版社,2004年),第60页。
[6]罗兰·巴特《“中性”:法国大学的演讲》(1988—1978年)(纽约:哥伦比亚出版社,2007年),第7页。
[7]罗兰·巴特,同上,第6页。
[8]见朱伟:《野火烧不尽,春风吹不活》,发表于《HI艺术》(2008年5月刊)
[9]汤后:《画论》,卜寿珊、时学颜译,《早期中国画论》(剑桥:哈佛燕京学社,1985年),第258页。

 

首次刊发于《朱伟作品1988-2012》,中国今日美术馆出版社2013年1月出版,24页

 

     

林似竹,博士,策展人。任教于美国斯坦福大学。