May 4, 2006
left: <Sketch No.1>
left: <Utopia No.57>
Oil Painting? New Ink and Color
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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