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Southern Weekly 《南方周末》

May 4 2006 二零零六年五月四日刊


Southern Weekly       May 4, 2006


Up left: <Sketch No.1>

Down left: <Utopia No.57>

Pop? Oil Painting? New Ink and Color

By Li Hongyu 

On April 8, Zhu Wei’s first solo exhibition in China opened in Beijing’s Red Gate Gallery. The Ink and color painter is obviously better known in overseas than in the Mainland. Ever since he signed the exclusive contract with the Plum Blossom Gallery in Hong Kong in 1994, his works are scarcely seen in Mainland China, despite the fact that the price of his works has already rocketed to USD40,000 per square meter. 

The overseas art critics and media are happy to refer Zhu Wei as a system rebel, and the fact that he used to serve in the army is frequently mentioned. And they define his works as political pop. 

The word “pop” does pop out of the head when viewing Zhe Wei’s paintings: not to mention the leaders’ images in his early works, the red flags in the background of conference hall, the colorful flowers in the foreground, the high risen arms, as well as the puppetry faces in his latest series “Utopia”, would suddenly break open a warm absurd feeling, and evoke the audience’s memories of a particular political atmosphere. 

This is sure an ingenious attraction to the western art market. But for the creator himself, however, this is more of a forcedness that he can do nothing about. When being asked by critics what the motivation, train of thought, and the rational thinking behind the metaphor are, Zhu Wei often feels awkward for not knowing what to response. Once he was so embarrassed being silent that he was soaked in sweat. 

Political pop today has been a label that the Chinese contemporary art circles try to avoid without hesitation, because it’s said that it’s reaching the dead end. 

In fact, put aside the political pop of the former Soviet Union, the Chinese contemporary artists are yet to exceed the imitation pattern of playing with or putting together symbols. Their subjects are limited, palates flimsy, and instruments indigent. They are far from pushing the possibilities of political subject and way of expression to the limit. 

The Chinese contemporary artists, in terms of pursuing possibilities, it looks like, largely use the western market standard as their guiding star, and are not driven with their own heart, concern and creativity. Because in China, new realistic political subjects are constantly emerging everyday, while the western visual understanding towards China’s reality (people’s, that everybody knows) is probably still limited to the “Cultural Revolution” symbols and leaders’ images; if using the “Shenzhou No.6” astronauts or the Olympic “fortune babies” as their themes, at the time they’re probably not “pop” enough yet, big effort with small return. 

Put down the controversy over political pop, we will have a better look of Zhu Wei’s Ink and colors. There are many artists experimenting innovation of the traditional painting school, but scarcely see one who does Meticulous. 

Zhu Wei makes rice papers with lattice, to inflate with the ancient charm. While the vermeil seals he uses, from scales to contents, are vivacious and carefree as children larking. In drawing figures, Zhu Wei has broken away from the traditional meticulous figure painting rules that figures have to be in full length but not part, and no close-up. The direct result of the experiment is that the intuitionistic view of his paintings is pretty similar to the “contemporary paintings” referred mostly to oil painting. For instance the expression of the nameless man’s eyes in his <Sketch No.1>, you can’t associate it with the traditional ink and color meticulous whatsoever, besides, it is much more appealing than the symbolic elements. 

The thinkings and experiments Zhu Wei has put in the new techniques are much more than subjects and concepts that the critics are concerned, as he knows that there are still many problems unsolved. For an example, the frontal face of a figure - he can never use ink and color to paint a work like Zhang Xiaogang’s <Big Family>. “The basic of oil painting is sketch, while ink and color is directly painting; so the figures all have to be profile, the frontal flat face is simply can’t be done.” As a holdout of ink and color melioration, he keeps sighing on the “weakness” of expressive force of ink and color: “Painting a figure, with ink and color you have to paint a figure at the full length, with oil painting it doesn’t have to. To paint a kit-kat portrait was originally impossible, then it became possible with nobody knows why, but it has to be someone everybody knows, such as leaders. After that unknown figures could be done too, but still very week. Because ink and color stresses on lines, color is only auxiliary - but where are the lines on a human body?” For the same reason, it is even more difficult to realize his ideal of draw human mentality. 

“The Japanese Painting, stopped development after inherited from China; Iranian Miniature, was within an inch of distinction in the 18th century; the Chinese traditional paintings are facing the same problem. Ink and color is on the down hill, but you can reform it.” 

Whether if Zhu Wei’s new ink and color can revitalize the traditional techniques of Chinese Painting is yet to be proved. But there one thing Zhu Wei is aware of: “Do Chinese ink and color, don’t even think about success before 50.” 

A couple of years ago, Zhu Wei was already famous overseas. Once a big piece of work of his was damaged in portage, it was given to the hands of a mounting master from the Palace Museum. “I went to pick it up on the day we agreed, but the old master didn’t have a sense of time, and told me to come back on the next day. And on my way out he preached me - young kid, you’ve got to work hard! Which means, you’re still unskilled.”



本报记者 李宏宇