- - for "Virtual Focus: Zhu Wei 1987-2017" at the National Museum of Indonesia
I studied Gongbi in college and participated in several national exhibitions with my Gongbi works after graduation. I've consistently been concerned about Gongbi for years, but frankly speaking, things hasn't been going well. First of all, many painters still use traditional techniques and patterns when they are "creating". Their paintings, as a result, comprise of plants, birds, fishes or insects composed according to prior patterns. Some even just consists of magnified parts of prior Gongbi paintings without novelty and individuality. Secondly, Influenced by the western realist movement, some painters have undertaken a re-evaluation of our objective visual language and effect. More specifically, they use not only prior techniques of traditional Chinese painting, but also western techniques such as chiaroscuro and measurement which are used in perspective drawings. Despite their counter-traditionalist "Gongbi" painting, these painters have frequently been awarded numerous prize at national competitions and awards, misleading many younger artists from the true essence of the style. Anyone who understands Gongbi knows that Gongbi, together with Xieyi, naturally emphasizes on conveying spirit, although it uses highly detailed brushstrokes that delimits details very precisely, which is the opposite to the interpretive and freely expressive Xieyi style. Famous paintings such as Stroll About in Spring and Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, and many outstanding paintings of painters in the Song Dynasty all are good illustrations of this point. In fact, when it comes to depicting objects, "virtuality" still exists in Gongbi paintings. For example, the composition and presentation of Lotus is very different from that of photos of lotus, because the painting, with its abundant white space, is the subjective product of the painter. I believe that artists will borrow from western realistic paintings with caution after they have real understanding of this point. Thirdly, since 1980s, some painters are influenced by western realistic painters, such as Gericault and Dalí, so that the modeling, composition and techniques they've used are similar to those of western painters. Even though these artists highlight "virtuality", their exploration into the technique is less than satisfactory as many aesthetic features of Gongbi are erased after they paint perspective images with the use of rendering rather than lines. I realized from the study of traditional Gongbi that the skeleton of Gongbi, namely what is defined as a line, is purely a product of mind as it is extracted by an artist from objective subject; aesthetically, it is more suitable for it to be performed on a flat surface with ornamentation and exaggeration; besides, as auxiliary means for lines, coloring and rendering must be in harmony with lines while paining Gongbi, as the overemphasis of "three sides and five shades" and changes in warm and cold colors will certainly weaken the expressive force of lines, making Gongbi akin to the 80s pen drawing prevalent during festive seasons, reducing the aesthetic merits of the technique to nothing. It is from the abovementioned angle that I acknowledge the artistic exploration conducted by artist Zhu Wei. In my opinion, he not only uses materials of traditional Gongbi or relevant delineating and dying techniques skillfully but also has boldly transcended the artistic pattern and stereotyped style of traditional Gongbi, using reality as a tool to create works imbued with distinctive yet fresh take on the style. I even think that his weaving between tradition and now helps him make a career. Zhu Wei has painted The Story of Beijing Series, Sweet Life Series, China Diary Series, Ink and Wash Research Lectures Series and Vernal Equinox Series since 1990s. And he created a method of Using antique finish of ripe Xuan paper and personalized symbols, such as bald solider, red curtain, star, grille and banana leaf. These are unquestionably the integration of new theme, new feelings including "socialistic experience" and traditional Gongbi. It is also a process of remolding Gongbi. At present, on mentioning contemporary Gongbi, people seldom talk about stylization. Some even believe that stylization is the reason for the routinism of Gongbi. That is quite a misconception. Actually, compared with western art, Chinese art, including painting, drama and etc., generally emphasizes stylization. To a large extent traditional Gongbi reflects a peculiar aesthetic assumption and brings about an atypical system of presenting and thinking. Only after relentless training and practicing, can painters master techniques and then improve those techniques. Throughout the history of Chinese art, all great painters have mastered traditional patterns and then created the painting pattern of their own. Zhu Wei, as a man who is familiar with the history of Chinese art, has took notice of this. And he, as a painter, not only knows about traditional patterns of Gongbi, but also remold them with new themes, new concepts and new experience, making him a master in both expression and painting. Regardless if one is Chinese or not, anyone can see that Zhu Wei's paintings have both traditional as well as contemporary characteristics. They are paintings with not only Chinese charateristics, but also international features as well.
In an era of novelty and individuality, Zhu Wei carefully balances "innovation" with "tradition". His exploration is invaluable to his contemporaries. We can learn from him that it is essential to preserve tradition and to try to innovate at the same time when we want to express ourselves, which is very important nowadays when similarity emerges in the contemporary art world.
As Seen from the chronology of his works, we can absolutely believe that the works of Zhu Wei displayed in this exhibition are actually reasonable advancement based on the past. As we can see that his new works Curtain Series and Ink and Wash Research Lectures Series all feature a red curtain, which he uses frequently. Interestingly, except a few works where there are meeting representatives in Chinese tunic suit in foreground, more of his works only paint the red curtain or present Taihu stone, goat and palm, banana and figures from the former Soviet Union in foreground. According to the explanation of the artist himself, here red curtain implies place and context as well as recent China and its special ideology, while Taihu stone symbolizes ancient traditions which still influence today's people; goat and palm stand for generations of tamed Chinese people. In addition, the banana is a metaphor for a man who is a westerner inside but a Chinese outside, which stresses the relationship between Western ideology and China's reality; The Silent Night No. 1 and The Silent Night No. 2 which use the scene of troops review in Red Square and Lenin's mausoleum undoubtedly symbolize their great impact on China. To my understanding, the artistic conception of these two works is exactly the same as what he presents by painting figures in the former Soviet Union in the red curtain…which I will not further elaborate in this essay. Zhu Wei once said that, "although people of today are compelled by ongoing massive economic movement, commercial leaps and various commercial satellites and every family has mortgage, ugly car, pop music and jazz, computer, cellphone and the internet now, but the foundation of this society remains completely unchanged, possibly even led to further fortifications. That is current social situation of China which makes people feel helpless." From this, it is not difficult to understand the connotations of Zhu Wei's works. Also, I'd like to mention that Zhu Wei drew a batch of paintings recently, which deeply attracts my attention for he no longer painted with ripe Xuan papers and silks in these works, but adopted the common newspaper. His works are more profound in the expression of ideas through his usage of the red curtains and relevant symbols in these works. People who are familiar with art history all know that great masters Picasso and Huang Keli have performed similar art experiments. In comparison, the latter two are pure exploration in form, whereas Zhu Wei utilized this to stress the control of modern media over people's ideology. So, one is making a big mistake if he or she thinks Zhu Wei's painting with newspaper is just a play with forms and materials.
In his painting Vernal Equinox, those fruits convey Zhu Wei's hope for the future. As for me, that is why he decides to display his seemingly disparate paintings on one exhibition.
8th May, 2017
Overseas Chinese Town, Wuhan
Born in Jiangxi province in January 1954, Lu Hong was graduated from Hubei Academy of Fine Arts in 1981. Now he is the executive director of United Art museum in Wuhan, professor and master students' supervisor of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and Hubei Academy of Fine Arts, researcher of the National Center for Contemporary Arts, visiting researcher in Hubei Museum of Art, the national First-Class Artist, and a member of the China Artists Association.