Story of Ink and Wash - Eggs Left Over by the Red Flag
January and February Issue of Hi Art, 2010
On December 24th, the Christmas Eve, Cui Jian, a famous rock singer, held his solo concert again in Beijing Exhibition Theater after an absence of 20 years. Then his fans, old and new, gathered there. Most of them were friends met again after 20 years of separation, with some having shifted to other careers and some having given up enjoying rock music. However, their love for rock music was as before: they would be excited even by the slightest news in this area. Cui’s performance started with such a sentence, ‘Merry Christmas! We are having Christmas under the red flag; we are eggs left over by the red flag! (In Chinese, ‘Christmas’ and ‘eggs left over’ sound the same)*
Fourteen years ago, I was so keenly fond of rock music that my meticulous Chinese paintings were always done accompanied by it. By rights, painting and listening to rock music ought not to be done at the same time. In ancient times, people would wash their hands and faces, change clothes, have a bath, burn license and even play the instrument before painting or writing, but what they painted or wrote were different from what I was creating. My graduation was on the implementation of reform and opening policy, and then China was still very poor. The house I rented had only basic water and power supply, and I had to wash myself yearly or half-yearly. The discos popular in Beijing, such as NASA at Xitucheng Road invested by Wang Shou and Feng Xiaogang, JJ in the commercial district of Xinjiekou, and NIGHTMAN next to International Exhibition Center, were frequented by me. I danced there madly till the midnight when I had been wet with sweat, and went home to sleep after I dried, which was similar to having a bath. Even now I feel it is remarkable that I had no lice on my body in those years. In 1995 Cui Jian invited me on phone to help with the stage decoration, including a backdrop, for his performance. Then I was so excited that I put aside all work for galleries. It took me 2 months to finish the stage backgrounds, which would be used for about ten years in his performances both at home and abroad, in the large stage-art workshop of Song and Dance Troupe of the General Political Department. Recently I found the videotape shot then by accident when I was searching for materials for a review exhibition. It was silent but I still felt the hot atmosphere of rock. Now I have not heard about my assistants at that time, most of whom were students from Central Academy of Fine Arts, for years, but I still want to show my gratitude to them; they are: Zhang Lin from Department of Art History, Wang from Department of Sculpture, Piao Yan from Department of Printmaking and her sister from Department of Mathematics of Beijing Normal University, as well as two boys from the Stage Art Team of the General Political Department. Later the stage backdrop we had made was displayed on invitation in Visual Art Exhibition for the 50th Anniversary of World Rock held in Roman Museum in 2004. Decorated with ink-and-wash paintings, it can be seen as a mixture of western modernity and Chinese tradition created by blending old elements with new ones.
Twenty years ago, in 1989, with the appearance of Cui’s I Have Nothing, China began to have its own rock music. Then people saw Chinese rock bands such as Tang Dynasty, Panther, Transmigration, Three Heroes On the Magic Stone, Confucius Said, and later Brain Failure, Pain Beliefs, Thin Men, Tongue, New Trousers, Supper Market, Yaksha, Secondhand Rose, Fantastic Pharmacy, No.43 at Bao’s Street, Cloth Gown, Twisted Machine, CMCB, Queen Sea Big Shark and Fruit Flavored Vitamin C, with Cui Jian, Dou Wei, He Yong, Zhang Chu, Deng Jun, Wu Tong, Qiu Ye, Xiao Rong, Xie Tianxiao, Wang Feng, Wang Di, Wang Lei as the typical representatives. Among them, Cui Jian, He Yong, Wang Di and Xiao Rong are my best friends for years. Then there appeared China rock festivals, such as Midi Music Festival, which is with a relatively large scale, Modern Sky Festival, Snow Mountain Music Festival, Erdos Music Festival and Zebra Music Festival, which are 10 times and even 20 times smaller than WOODSTOCK. As the original one, Midi Music Festival has also established a sizable rock school of the same name. Located on the edge of the Fifth Ring District of Beijing, the school has enrolled a lot of children from all over Mainland China as well as from Hong Kong, Macaw and Taiwan, corresponding to Whampoa Military Academy, Peasant Movement Training Institute and Lu Xun Arts College in Yan’an in the past. There are also many rock composers, CD stores and rock bookstores pushed by rock advocates such as Liang Heping, Yan Jun, Hao Fang, Huang Liaoyuan, Jiang Xiaoyu, Zhou Guoping, who are still alive. Some record companies, recording studios and producers have also existed, although only for a short period, such as Hundred Flowers, Chinese Fire, Magic Stone, Da Chenjin, Zhang Peiren and Guo Dawei.
Rock music originated in America in the 1950s, rather than in England, as people often think. In 1959, Alan Frater, the disc jockey of Cleveland Radio Station, broadcasted a song We’re Gonna Rock, We’re Gonna Roll, which is the origin of the term ‘Rock n’ Roll’. Rock music came into being on the social basis of the presence of the middle-class-people in great numbers, while then Chinese People were still living below the poverty line; so in China, the understanding of rock music needs gradual development. Generally speaking, rock, whose form originated from Blues, are in 4/4 time, and in some songs the 3/4-time and 6/4-time appear alternatively. Then there appeared Bill Haley and Elvis Presley. The former is a rock star who was entitled ‘Father of Rock n’ Roll’, with his representative music Rock Around the Clock; while the latter has helped with the rapid popularization of rock music and has integrated Black Culture with White Culture perfectly. In 1957, Beatles formed in Liverpool, England, with John Lennon as the lead singer, Paul McCartney as the lead singer and bass player, George Harrison as the lead guitar player, and Ringo Starr as the drummer. Beatles stands for the peak of rock all around the world, and each of its single as well as album is remarkable. Later there also appeared rock bands such as Rolling Rocks, Gun n' Roses and Sex Pistols, rock singers such as Bob Dylan and acid rock represented by Jefferson Airplane.
These years I have enjoyed less rock music than I did before and have done two things for it. One is good while the other was harmful to me as well as to others. The former occurred in 2006. Then I produced lots of large posters, T-shirt and promotional products with ink-and-wash patterns I had drawn in Singapore for Midi Music Festival whose participants in that year had exceeded 100 thousand. And the latter happened in 2006, too. That night I did not attend the opening ceremony of my personal ink-and-wash painting exhibition held in Red Gate Gallery, because I had chosen to go to Shanghai for watching performance of Rolling Stones, for which Brown got so angry at me that he had not said even a word to me for three months. Now I apologize for that again.
Since the birth of rock, none of rock bands, ancient and modern, domestic and foreign, good and bad, have cooperated with and depended on the government, for which 60 years later people still consider that this kind of music stands for rebellion, anti-tradition and noncooperation. For common audience and intellectuals, rock, as before, is pure, struggling, and showing a spirit of striving in hunger. It is hard to imagine that if Beatles had supported by the Royal and represented the Queen, or Cui Jian’s band had changed into one attached to Central Ensemble of Songs and Dances, would their rock still be loved? Could the audience hear anger, dissatisfaction and cry of their inner heart from their music?
Saturday, December 26th, 2009
*The phrase 'Eggs Left Over by Red Flag' came from the name of a song by Cui Jian, 'Balls Under the Red Flag' (1994). 'Laying eggs' and 'under' is the same Chinese character.
摇滚乐二十世纪五十年代出现在美国，而不是人们印象当中的诞生于英国，一九五一年克利夫兰电台唱片节目主持人艾伦·费里德播放了一首歌曲《我们要去摇，我们要去滚》（We’re Gonna Rock, We’re Gonna Roll），创造出了摇滚乐（Rock n’ Roll）这个名词。摇滚乐诞生的社会基础是社会出现了大量中产阶级，而不是当年中国，全部都还在贫困线上，所以中国摇滚乐对摇滚音乐的理解是逐步完善的。摇滚乐的音乐形式来源于布鲁斯，一般选用4/4拍，也有用3/4拍和6/4拍交替出现。早期摇滚乐的偶像，后来被称为摇滚乐之父的美国人比尔·哈利，其代表作《昼夜摇滚》，后边有埃尔维斯·普莱斯利，后者使摇滚乐迅速在群众中传播普及，他出色地把黑人文化、白人文化结合在一起。一九五八年Beatles乐队在英国利物浦诞生，主唱约翰·列侬，贝斯兼主唱保罗·麦卡蒂尼，主音吉他乔治·哈里森，鼓手林格·斯塔尔。甲壳虫乐队是世界摇滚乐的巅峰，他们的每一首单曲每一个专辑都是摇滚乐的经典。后边还出现了滚石乐队、枪花、性手枪，以及鲍勃·迪伦和以杰弗逊飞机为代表的迷幻摇滚乐。