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Lu Hong


We could easily read the contemporary features in Zhu Wei’s artworks if we simply adopt the approaches of iconography and sociology. Because it’s obvious that his works are well related with contemporary life and this could be clearly seen in many series like “The Story of Beijing” series, “Sweet Life” series, “The Utopia” series and “China Diary” series. However, such an interpretation will simplify the works of Zhu Wei to be fairly some common conceptual contents, or will describe them to be one and another symbolic fable. As we all know, similar articles are numerous today. Usually they are not talking about artworks themselves, moreover, they impose unrelated external standards to artworks, and therefore, the achievements in artistic value it acquired are naturally negligible. Of course I’m not denying the necessary grand influence of contemporary life or certain concepts on Zhu Wei; yet I still believe faithfully that they are no more than materials Zhu Wei deals with. When he draws, he is always facing or solving a large amount of formal issues. But these cannot be solved easily through merely presenting contemporary life and new concept; or there would be many peoples who could become outstanding artists. In my impression, there are some people do much better than Zhu Wei in talking about new concept. In fact, artistic forms, including composition, modeling, brush work and coloring, are comparatively independent systems which have both their origin and history. It’s forming up and development depend more upon their internal structure and self-improving rules. If an artist skips to create new approaches or rules before he could enter the existing ones, then it’s impossible for him to be written into the history. Therefore, in the history of art, even those most creative artists cannot but choose patterns and conventions in tradition to be their starting point of certain stages, then change and re-construct them according to needs. There is no other way out. Based on such a stance, I insist my opinion that the key point to understand Zhu Wei’s art is to start from his artwork itself, then analyze and study how the contemporary life and certain concepts influenced his adoption and creation in form. French historian of art Henri Focillon proposed the principle of “technique is the most important” in his The Life of Forms in Art, [1] which I appreciate very much.

We could see from Zhu Wei’s artworks that the main form of his painting is undoubtedly originated from the great traditional imperial court (fine brush) painting. Here we see a problem highlighted: why Zhu Wei didn’t imitate the form of western modern painting with fine brush painting like some others? As is pointed out by the theorist Wu Hong in an article, during the past three decades, some ink and wash painters have been focusing on thinking about how to make ink and wash painting contemporary and globalized. [2] Can this be enough to achieve the goal of making their artworks with “contemporary sense” and “globalized feature” quickly? Moreover, it is easier for medium used in fine brush painting to draw from western modern painting than that in freehand painting. I guess, the reason why Zhu Wei chose the opposite direction is firstly his education background and secondly his artistic ideal. Then what on earth his artistic ideal is? Obviously, it is, based on tradition, to re-create in order to get a contemporary expression completely different from those of the West. He once said: “It’s almost thirty years since I started drawing ink and wash painting and all my materials and techniques come from tradition and are closely related with tradition. I never left tradition yet what I depicted are peoples and things today which are in progress, namely the contemporary subjects we normally refer to. Therefore, I never thought that tradition is separated from the contemporary; making the past serve the present is the idea and clue in my ink and wash painting.”[3] Of course, this also made his exploration especially significant in the progress of Chinese contemporary art pursuing after “Re-Sinofication”.

I noticed that in the process of utilizing and reshaping tradition painting, Zhu Wei has gone through an experimental process of constant trials and errors or constant adjustments. Documents showed that he also had earlier attempts in other ways. Take “Portrait No.2 derivative from Bada’s landscape brush style, the embryo of Beijing Story” created in 1988 as an example, it’s easy to discover that he then was depicting peoples and Tian An Men of Republic of China with minimalist freehand brush on processed rice paper that emphasize the sense of oldness and time. Moreover, he also borrowed forms from traditional mural paintings; that is on the deep blue rectangular grounding, he wrote down some characteristics in simplified Chinese in white color. The work did featured Chinese characteristics a lot, yet not good enough in sense of the times. Maybe he sensed the differences between personal intention and form then, he made significant adjustment to his creation. Take his “Beijing Story, Colorful Sketch, No.2” painted in 1991 as an example, though he maintained the approach in using processed rice paper with ancient sense as the grounding of painting, yet he turned to refer to traditional imperial court (refined) painting in creation, which also became his later main way to go. As we see, in this painting depicting the plot of Peking Repartee, he not only made meaningful deformation to figures, but also used the small surface of Cubism in his background. It’s precious that he made a wonderful integration of the two. In Zhu Wei’s picture, there are the following elements that led to the distortion of figures: firstly, following the modeling form of traditional imperial court (fine brush) figure painting, Zhu Wei’s work is to make a transformation to cater to contemporary peoples. Moreover, during this process, he successfully created bold soldier, red flag, five pointed star, lattice window, banana leaf and other artistic symbols full of personal features based on his special personal experiences and he successfully transformed these symbols into forms. Actually this is a process that new subjects and new sense, including “socialism experiences”, entered traditional conventions and reshaped them; then in turn the results influenced the overall structure and dealing approaches of the picture naturally; secondly, Zhu Wei’s humorous mentality also had certain impact which not only promoted his expression of absurdity in life with wisdom in a mocking way, but also helped him to form a modeling way with personal characteristics——for example, the faces of his figures feature big head, big nose, big mouth and small ears which made people recognize that they are Zhu Wei’s artwork at the first glance; thirdly, the flat and decorative characteristics caused by the process and material in traditional fine brush painting called “alum water for 3 layers and dyeing for 9 layers” also played a role. That is to say, he has always been doing a contemporary transformation based on the traditional aesthetic principles of fine brush painting. Having in mind that some fine brush art painters often reform fine brush painting in 3D approaches or western realistic techniques, I could realize the brilliance of Zhu Wei even better. Related with this, Zhu Wei also went further deeply into his creation pursuit; namely, on one hand, he adopted the big-close up approach often used in modern photography into his paintings, for example, this composition is used in “The Story of Beijing, No.3” and his recent works “The Ink and Wash Research Lectures” series; on the other hand, he used surrealistic approach through juxtaposing ancient peoples and modern peoples together in picture, which we can see in “My Story No.1” and “New Positions of the Brocade Battle, No.5” which showed the coexistence of modern soldier and ancient child. Besides, he also utilized “post-modern” approaches like “image appropriation” and “reforming the classics”, for example, there are utilization and re-processing of traditional Chinese painting subjects in both “Two Red Flags, No.5” and “China Diary No.54”. The former one featured Zhu Wei’s reference borrowed from “Cao Buxing’s depicting of clothes look like just coming out from water” and described details of red flag which is closely related to the memory of contemporary Chinese; the latter, however, showed Zhu Wei’s re-process of the details of “Five Bulls Picture”, a masterpiece of Tang Dynasty painter Han Huang. As for the coloring, in my mind, though Zhu Wei added in some new approaches based on the lightening of modern life and western modern art, he is still in the traditional painting procedure and is still using colors from Chinese paintings. The sober visual effect with sense of thickness in thin coloring is achieved through his many times dyeing and rendering blending color and ink; it also has a totally different artistic sense from western paintings. Undoubtedly, to a certain extent, the unique style in Zhu Wei’s artwork is established upon his alternative utilization of the features stated above. I must emphasize that the “Album of Vernal Equinox”, a recent series of Zhu Wei changed the past freehand approach and adopted traditional composition. For example in “Album of Vernal Equinox NO.17”, four agravic peoples are drawn on the widely empty background, which stand there dully like four tumblers. A bunch of blossoming peach on the mid-left part of the picture is manifesting the coming of spring yet the scene that spring outing peoples who are in isolation from one another seem to be implicating that peoples have strange mentality that keep looking out one another and emphasize self-protection in the declining era. Yet in his new works “The Ink and Wash Research Lectures series” series, he still adopted his normally used close up composition and red color tone. The background is the red flag symbol he created while in the foreground, it’s Chinese man of strong modeling style of Zhu Wei who is in Chinese tunic suit and looks dull, numb and slow, or with the hair style that the separation line lies in the middle or on one side; or with eyes open or closed. I don’t know other people’s feel about them; as to me, after viewing these paintings, I sensed the great impact on most Chinese people from a kind of strong invisible power. So in my mind, they seem to be portraits of the era. I believe that all peoples with same background could read out some personal thoughts of their own from these works.

Today, people rarely talk about the conventional representation problem in Chinese painting when touching Chinese painting and contemporary ink and wash. Some even think that Chinese art has always been emphasizing the conventional representation; it is like this in painting as in opera. I remember once Mr. Jiang Zhou said in an article that “the integration of the east and the west made Chinese traditional painting gone through an almost damaging development in the 20th century, when many precious excellent elements were lost for that; the lesson we got in it need to be reflected entering the new century.” He also said that “development of Chinese traditional painting is a process solving the relationship between formula and reality, rather than cancelling the basic formula to rely on because of the existence of this relationship. No formula, no Chinese traditional painting.”[6] I agree to him a lot and here I want to supplement something: the artistic representation formula of traditional fine brush painting not only showed a special aesthetic assumption, but also formed a set of special representation principle and thinking logic. Heritance and development could only be gained through good training up to a precise extent. Looking back to those outstanding painting masters in the history of China, all of them had precisely grasped the traditional formulas before they could create their personal ones. With a profound and overall understanding of the art history of China, Zhu Wei of course knows well about this point. His brilliance lies in that he can on one hand well inherit the representation formula of traditional fine brush painting, while on the other hand well re-construct the new tradition of fine brush painting with new subjects, new ideas and new experiences, which made him feel free to do brand new artistic manifestation. This reminds me of the following words of Ooka Makoto, an artistic critic of Japan:

“All products of human civilization hide in the past time and space, which is unknown world to every one of us. What we need to do, is to start exploring it from now on and take it as something of our own, namely to acquire ‘future’ again. Based on such a consideration, what I try to discover is new Du Fu, new Mozart, new Baudelaire, and new Matsuo Basho. For me, they are never peoples of the ‘past’, but on the contrary, they are peoples of ‘our future’. When we enter their worlds, we enter the future rather than withdraw back to the past. In this sense, I think, one of the greatest powers of culture and art is that they can turn the past into the future.” [7]

I don’t know whether Zhu Wei has read these words of Ooka Makoto or not, but I think, he is unanimous with Ooka Makoto mentally. Or he cannot develop the contemporary elements he excavated from the traditional imperial court (fine brush) paintings. And this pursuit which closely connected contemporary art with traditional context is precisely what we must give full attention to when we do contemporary art creation or participating in international dialogues. My teacher, the famous art historian Ruan Pu once said, “Chinese fine brush painting is a genre with great future and should be well developed.” Zhu Wei proofed the rightness of professor Ruan Pu’s view.

In the new era emphasizing artistic invention and personality expression, Zhu Wei kept good tension between “creation” and “reservation” which well worth learning from for other painters. The inspiration he gives us is: when seeking for the expression of contemporary life, it’s important to inherit and develop the traditional expression and make something new and better. Against the background that contemporary art is going on a globalized homogenous development, isn’t this pursuit of differentiation expression even more important?

I wish Zhu We a greater success!

At Marco Polo Hotel, Hong Kong
Dec.16, 2012

[1] Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art , Peking University Press, January, 2011.
[2] Wu Hong, Integration of Chinese Contemporary and Tradition: Re-Outlining, published in Hong Kong M+ art center website.
[3] Zhu Wei: Techniques and Materials Can Be Inherited, But Not Spirit, published in Art website www.99ys.com: Song Rui interviewing Zhu Wei.
[4] During the “’85 New Wave” period, as a rebellion to the extremeleft Cultural Revolutionary creation mode, Chinese new wave artists borrow ideas and methods more from western modern art; which, though was helpful in surpassing Cultural Revolution mode and open multiple pattern, brought about “de-Sinofication” problem. From mid- 1990s onward, Chinese contemporary art started to make effort in “re- Sinofication”; where the importance of Zhu Wei’s pursuit was revealed.
[5] Here the so-called “socialism experience” specifically refer to the collective memory of Chinese people after 1949.
[6] Published in Wenyi Bao (Literary Gazette), on May 11st, 2000, edition 4.
[7] See Core Problems in Modern Art , by Ooka Makoto, published in World Literature, issue 1, 1990.


(First published in Zhu Wei: Works 1988-2012 , China Today Art Museum Publishing House, January 2013, p.10)

Lu Hong, art director of Shenzhen Art Museum, famous critic and international curator.






传统与当代的成功对接 ——解读朱伟的艺术追求







我注意到,朱伟在借鉴与改造传统绘画的过程中,其实有一个不断试错或不断调整的实验过程。资料显示,他早先也有过其它的尝试。以他在1988年所画的《用八大笔法描绘北京故事人物图二号》为例,我们并不难发现,他当时是在已经做旧或强调时间感、间隔效果的宣纸上,以极简的写意笔法描绘民国的人物与天安门。而且,画上还借用了传统壁画的方式,即在深蓝色的长方形底子上,以汉简的风格与白色写下了一些文字。作品的确很有中国特点,但时代感却不太够。也许是感到了个人意图与形式之间尚存着差异,他此后大幅度地调整了创作方案。以他于1991年创作的《北京故事粉本之二》为例,虽然他还是保留了将宣纸做旧为画底的方式,但却改以传统院体(工笔)画传统作为创作的借鉴,这也成为了他今后的主要创作方向。恰如大家所见,在这幅表现讲相声情节的作品中,他既对人物进行了有意味的变形处理,还将立体主义的小面引用到了对背景的处理中。难得他将两者融合得特别的好。分析起来,在朱伟的画面中,人物变形的结果乃是由以下几个方面的因素所决定的:第一,传统院体(工笔)人物画的造型方式在起着前导作用,而他所做的工作就是将其转化,使之符合当下人的感觉。而且,在此过程中,他基于个人的特殊经历,还成功地创造了光头军人、大红旗、五角星、格子窗、芭蕉叶等具有个人特点的艺术符号,并让这些符号成功地转换为形式。应该说,这是新题材与新感受——包括“社会主义经验”进入传统程式,[5]继而改造传统程式的过程,其结果又自然的影响了画面大的结构与处理方式;第二,朱伟本人幽默化的心态亦起到了一定的作用,而这不仅十分有利于他以调侃的方式智慧表达生活的荒谬性,也很有利于他形成具有个人特点的造型方式——比如,他的人物脸部造型就具有大头、大鼻、大嘴、小耳的特点,以致让人一看就是朱伟的作品;第三,传统工笔画“三矾九染”的程序与材料自身引发的平面化、装饰化特点所致。也就是说,他一直是在遵从传统工笔画美学原则的基础上进行当代性的变通。联想到一些工笔画家常常借用三维或西方写实的画法改造工笔画,更令我体会到了朱伟的高明所在。与此相关的是,朱伟还进一步深化了他的创作追求,即一方面将现代摄影常用的大特写手法移入了他的画中——如在《北京故事三号》、近作《水墨研究课徒》系列中就运用了这样的构图方式;另一方面还将古人与今人并置的超现实方式置入了他的画中——如在《我的故事一号》、《新编花营绵阵五号》中,就有现代军人与古代小孩共处的处理。此外,他还巧妙地运用了“形象挪用”与“改画经典”的“后现代”方式——如在《两面红旗五号》、《中国日记五十四号》中都有对源自中国传统绘画的题材的借鉴与再处理。在前者,是借鉴 “曹衣出水”的手法,描绘了与当代中国人记忆密切有关的红旗局部;后者则对唐代大画家韩晃的《五牛图》局部进行了再处理。至于在色彩的运用上,我认为,尽管在现代生活与西方现代艺术的启示下,他也加进了一些新的手法,但他仍然是在传统的作画程序中操作,运用的也主要是中国画颜色。由于他画中的色彩是通过色墨交混的多次渲染而成,所以既具有薄中见厚、深沉耐看的效果,也具有与西画完全不同的艺术感觉。毫无疑问,在很大的程度上,朱伟那独辟蹊径的作品风格就是对以上诸特点加以交错使用才形成的。必须强调的是,朱伟最近的作品《开春图》系列一改了过去的大特写方式,采用的是传统构图方式。如在《开春图十七号》中,便在大片留白的背景之上画了四个失重的人,他们都表情木讷的站着,就像四个不倒翁一样。在画幅中间偏左的地方,放有一束开放的桃花以表明春天的到来,可游春人之间互不往来的场面,却似乎暗示了在当今世风日下,人们相互防范与强调自保的奇怪心理。而在新作《水墨研究课徒》系列中,他仍然采用了过去惯用的大特写构图与偏红的色调。背景是他创造的大红旗符号,前景上则是有着强烈朱伟造型特点的中国男性。其身着中山装,显得十分呆滞、麻木、迟钝。或者梳着中分头或侧分头;或者睁着眼与闭着眼。不知他人感受如何,我在看了画后,体会到的是一种强大的无形力量对大多数中国人的巨大影响。故我认为其仿佛是一幅幅关于时代的肖像。相信一切有着相同背景的人都可以从中读出自己的感想来。







[1] 福西永,《形式的生命》,北京大学出版社,2011年1月版。
[3] 《朱伟:精神不能继承,继承的是技法和材料》,载于99艺术网:宋睿采访朱伟。
[4] 在“85新潮”时期,为反拨极左的文革创作模式,中国新潮艺术家更多是借鉴西方现代艺术的观念与手法,这虽然对超越文革模式与开创多元化的局面有利,但带来了“去中国化”的问题。从90年代中期以后,中国当代艺术开始了“再中国化”的努力。而朱伟追求的重要性在此之中,也显示出来了。
[6] 载于《文艺报》2000年5月11日第4版。