Art Guide April 2013 Cover Story
Zhu Wei: Behind Of Your Time
By Cao Dingding
It’s an enjoyable experience talking to Zhu Wei. His articles are sarcastic and talks humorous. If you discuss academics or arts with him, however, he will be quite serious—listing facts and examples. Maybe good artists are all like him, have strong ability but always keep a low profile. Zhu Wei prefers smaller and cozy studio, and don’t allow people to stand by when painting. Back then, some director came to his studio to shot him a documentary, Zhu Wei was so nervous that he only finished a corner in a month.
Luckily, Zhu Wei doesn’t have to be shot for documentary every day, more of the time he is quite leisure and can stand loneliness. Out of his seriousness to art, he devoted himself to technique and design over the past 20 years. Creation is not an easy job for too many times you have to go against your will. Zhu Wei has been seeking changes in his exploration, successfully combining art and the contemporary era as a significant reflection of our times. These works can be divided into two parts: works in the first ten years was like “Zhanghui Story (a type of traditional Chinese novel with each chapter headed by a couplet giving the gist of its content)” in his own words, for example, “The Story of Beijing”, “Sweet Life” and “New Flower Array” series in 1993, “China Diary”, “in the 1990s”, “Supreme Treatise on Moral Retribution” and “Sleepwalking Notes” in 1996. In the latter ten years, starting from 2002 or 2003, Zhu Wei turned to stress metaphor, paying more attention to the artistic conception with simpler pictures. For example, “Flood”, “Spring” series in 2003, “Utopia” series in 2005 and “Two Red Flags” series in 2008.These pictures still emphasized the difficulties people encountered in real life and comprise more questioning of the reality and human nature though with some changes in contents.
Zhu Wei cooperated with Plum Blossoms Gallery for 13 years, turning into a middle-aged youth from a boy. He also has written columns for magazines for four years, which he regards as a kind of hard work but he also enjoys doing it. In my perspective, he just has so many things to tell and wants to change something though he always says artists can’t change anything. As a generation grown under the red flag, they have their unique idealism and sense of responsibility. Though he was one of the first recognized contemporary ink painting painter by the market, Zhu Wei didn’t get obsessed with money, he also loves painting itself, rock music, movie shooting and other weird but normal things. Besides painting, he also makes prints, sculptures in the factories, writes columns for magazines and shoots movies for rock music bands. These things seem to be unrelated but at the same time have implications for his paintings. In his MV Blossom for Miserable Faith Band, people just standing there, singing “Blooming, blooming, like a snow lotus”, the same as his figures in ink painting. In his columns, he talks about everything from Girls Selling Flowers to Olympics and also something about contemporary art.
“Artists must be the conscience of the society, besides satisfying people’s aesthetic needs, they also must question and criticize the unfair facets of the society, and that’s the least they could do.” (Why I Paint)
Zhu Wei, sarcastic about the current affairs and himself, put his column articles into a book Following Time. “Following” means “slow to react”, as if thinking of selling tea flavored boiled eggs after others had made a ten billion profit. This is surely sarcasm, while there are few in the art community who can stand it from both self and others.
“As a matter of fact, I wasn’t nervous about trousers but the title of artist. People all know that I am an ink painting painter. In recent three decades, the contemporary Chinese art has basically imitated all kinds of contemporary western art, so contemporary artists have their theories to be one, and there’ll be no mistake, since westerners have already made a thorough study and has written what they found into contemporary art history. In China, contemporary art went its rush way with some Chinese characteristics as a later comer, however, there in no ink painting in the West, so there is no reference, the contemporary theoretical base of the western standard, and I’m just one of the few who are willing to take the risk and explore on the traditional base. I’m really excited when someone sees me as a contemporary artist.” (Being an Artist for Two Weeks)
Zhu Wei is holding his sole exhibition after the one at National Art Museum, Singapore in January, Indonesian National Museum in April and Today Art Museum, Beijing in October, exhibiting 12 works created between 2005 and 2012. These exhibitions are not retro respect exhibitions, and his books published were not meant to memorize him. He will surely argue with you if you ever doubt he is in his prime years. “My motive of painting comes from observing the conditions and changes people are involved and that’s where my passion lies. Like rock music players, you can only shout out when you have some emotions to let out such as anger.” Doubtlessly, Zhu Wei is the one who will shout out completely when time calls.
ART GUIDE: What makes truly great artists and art?
Zhu Wei: Artists are closely related with his living environment and his country, there is no great artist born in a mediocre country ever.
ART GUIDE: What will make you great and regretless?
Zhu Wei: To successfully reflect this era with the common sense and techniques accumulated my lifetime.
ART GUIDE: Where do you draw the line between art and life?
Zhu Wei: I haven’t found it yet.
ART GUIDE: Are artists public intellectuals? What role can they play in promoting the development of the current society?
Zhu Wei: Intellectuals should have access to numerous objective and true knowledge and information as well as audacious courage. Now, our society has plenty of intellectuals who can only talk big and they are useless in moving our society forward.
ART GUIDE: What happened to today’s ink painting?
Zhu Wei: Ink painting has gone through 3,000 years of development, but now it’s getting marginalized as a result of recent 100 years of extreme un-confidence. Contemporary art creations are doomed for the over business propaganda over these years. Ink painting stress skills: contemporary spirits and traditional techniques. It requires longer time of practice, because you can’t condense the 3,000 years of history all at once to the contemporary era. It takes at least 30 years, even 20 years is not enough.
ART GUIDE: How do you look at ink painting collection?
Zhu Wei: Too many times contemporary Chinese art, oil painting, ink painting and performance art are not determined by art levels but markets and even auction markets instead, thus produced many satellites of art. These years the contemporary Chinese ink painting market are relatively sound, because since the spring auction in 2005, oil paintings have been over speculated with little rising space, while ink paintings are relatively cheap with the best ones top 700,000 or 800,000 RMB. As China’s local art, ink painting may face obstacles in collection if the prices are too high. The price was low until recently: Qi Baishi’s painting was marked 15 RMB a piece by Liulichang when People’s Republic of China was first founded, and it was no more than 200 RMB in the 1980s.
ART GUIDE: What’s the status quo of the ink painting market?
Zhu Wei: There are a lot of problems because the general public in China hasn’t realized the importance of local culture. It requires at least another five decades to restore our confidence in Chinese culture like Japan and South Korea after three decades of reform and opening up. Then, ink painting market will truly be a healthy one. People used to have paintings at their homes; however, they now have calendars. That is not a good sign. Westerners must hang painted pictures at homes, they may can’t afford Van Gogh’s paintings, but they will hang pictures painted by some real people. Ink painting market will be promising when Chinese people also have that kind of art appreciation and collection, now it’s just about price manipulation.
ART GUIDE: Do you have some plans besides this year’s solo exhibition?
Zhu Wei: I’m exhausted since this exhibition takes me seven years and I’m going to have some rest for a while.