Artist Magazine of Taiwan March 2013
Ink Painting with Rebellious and Rock 'N' Roll Spirits— Zhu Wei, Contemporary Chinese Artist
By Xu Yuling
Most people are impressed with Zhu Wei’s figures with tomato heads and audacious color, his painting elements combing ancient and modern elements, idealism, Chinese characters with Buddhist flavors as well as his close observations of society and human relations. In technique, traditional boneless Gong-bi coupled his own innovation won Zhu Wei praise in exploration and expression of contemporary Chinese ink painting.
Born in Beijing in 1966, Zhu Wei studied at Art College of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Beijing Film Academy and Chinese National Academy of Arts successively. His works embody highly sensitive elements of politics and social changes since he joined the army in the 1980s. Born into a military family, Zhu Wei joined the People’s Liberation Army at 16. “Soldiers have the same emotions like others, but they may lead a more bitter life.” Zhu Wei commented with a smile. Being an art soldier, Zhu Wei always has to write some slogan, and that helped him develop good handwriting and his unique observation of the relation between political propaganda and social ideas. After being a solider in the PLA, he was admitted to the Art College of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army where he started his art journey.
“I didn’t go back to the army after graduation. I was dismissed. I just knew I didn’t want to go back and then I applied for Beijing Film Academy.” Zhu Wei said. Students graduated from the Art College of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army must be assigned back to the army, but out of thirst for free creation, Zhu Wei embarked on another road. Since 1993, he had been participating international exhibitions with ink paintings. Later, he signed with the Hong Kong—based American Plum Blossoms Gallery.
Interaction with the Society
“I painted political subjects in 1992 and 1993 when China was basically a political society which also drew particular attention of the westerners.” Zhu Wei said. Sometimes there is a huge gap between a comment or interpretation and what the painting meant to say because the westerners tend to exaggerate political elements and add their own speculations when they view contemporary Chinese arts. “People view things at different angles because of their different backgrounds. That makes works more attractive.” Zhu Wei said.
Zhu Wei had a more comfortable life compared with artists of his age since he began cooperating with galleries in as early as 1993. Besides painting, he also took part in rock music activities. “I have time and capacity to do it.” Zhu Wei said. The wildness, banter and ideals of rock music made his painting more vibrant and full of rhythm.
People are curious about why would this passionate rock music lover choose ink painting as his creating media and especially Gong-bi. “I learned ink painting at the very beginning and I drew ink painting when I cooperated with the Plum Blossoms Gallery in the early 1990s. Back then, I didn’t consider too much about the type of painting, it’s all the same, I just focused on subject. It’s in recent years that ink painting has been attracting business attention” Zhu Wei said. He didn’t get restricted to Gong-bi, for him, what matters is how to express himself clearly.
Zhu Wei has always insisted that art must interact with society. “Everyone has his own preference. I can’t just paint still life.” Zhu Wei said.
The Story of Beijing, Sweet Life, China Diary and Tightrope created since the 1990s were all subjects drawn from reality, however, Floods, Utopia, Red Flag after 2000 are simpler with fewer narrations and more metaphors and implications.
“My paintings were quite full in the 1980s and 1990s; now I paint simpler ones, nevertheless, the language seems to be stronger. Back then, my language was weak so I had to add various subjects to make people understand; now I can communicate my form and emotion with simple lines.” Zhu Wei said when looking back at his works. He also admits that his early works looked like New Year pictures, since that is the most expressive method to reveal people’s lives. In his eyes, an artist must go through that narration-focused process. He demonstrated outstanding performance in integration of traditional ink painting and contemporary subjects, quotation of classic art thoughts and transmission of realities after that period of trail and error.
The Integration of Character
“I use what is the best form to portray, while ink painting is mostly used by me.” Zhu Wei said. Besides ink painting, Zhu Wei also creates prints and sculptures starting in the 1990s with figures and subjects derived mainly from ink paintings. At this point, Zhu Wei says he will focus on ink painting while suspending sculpture creations.
Zhu Wei thinks he has made breakthroughs in both expression methods and techniques in his new creations. “These works can withstand the test of time and I’m satisfied with the technique, composition as well as subjects.” Zhu Wei said when mentioning his new work The Ink and Wash Research Lectures series.
Quite a few people noticed that Zhu Wei almost stopped creating for five years after ending his contract with the gallery. “I feel sleepy whenever I want to paint, so I painted few works in those five years. I was so tired after being urged to paint.” Zhu Wei said. According to him, he watched his painting album everyday, looked at his former works, and wasn’t in a mood to create until 2012. “This time, I prefer simpler pictures with some emotions. It’s essential for artists to integrate their characters into painting for what contemporary art conveyed is more about emotions. Gong-bi is different from realistic painting.” Zhu Wei said.
Symbolized figures, red flag, banana leaves and water waves still can be found in his new creations, while his once apparent emotions have become hidden, showing his ink painting skills and life thoughts in details. Narration has decreased in his new works. For example, there are some pictures of pure red flags in his Red Flag series. “In fact, I want to paint pictures like the pure red flag. Many people regard them as abstract paintings, while I think that’s purer.” Zhu Wei said. Some figures are actually supplementary elements against the backdrop of red flag. Meanwhile, the red-cloth red flag has not just changed people’s feeling about it and reduced its political implications, but also added more imagination to the picture.
Thoughts and Techniques
In Zhu Wei’s perspective, though ink painting pays more attention to techniques, but it can absolutely release its meaning when breakthroughs of techniques are made. “I’m interested in new things. Many people think ink painting has nothing to do with rock music and they are two incompatible things, but I feel my works can totally integrate with rock music and the contemporary era. Ink painting needs to keep pace with the times so they can’t always paint carrot or cabbage. It’s pathetic when people can’t tell an ink painting’s creating period and it makes no sense to only paint the same materials.” Zhu Wei said when talking about how he sees the relation between Chinese ink painting and contemporary Chinese art development.
It seems traditional bandage or rapid formation of “contemporaneity” also stand in the way of the contemporary Chinese art.
“As contemporary art was not born in our homeland, the artists, critics, art dealers can only act like what railroad guerrillas did when they were fighting the Japanese soldiers--everybody holds a rake, as long as there is a train driving near, regardless of the consequences, they use their rake to pull the stuff out of the train, no matter how much they can rake off. ” Zhu Wei once said in his article Richter﹒Contemporary Chinese Art. That was when he reflected on his creation and stopped creating temporarily.
For the development of contemporary Chinese art, Mr. Zhu thinks its special character was born into a special time and environment. Zhu Wei has become more persistent in pursing ink painting and he is convinced that it has the capacity to demonstrate contemporary subjects after fives years of self-reflection.
He also thinks that some painters will show off their skills when they come to a certain level but without ideas. “I hope viewers notice my lines or techniques after they feel something from them not vice versa. Good paintings can both convey thoughts and withstand the test of techniques. ” Zhu Wei said. Besides breakthroughs in subjects and techniques, he is also known for his audacious color. “I don’t need to be modest about that. Many people don’t dare to color like that, fearing not to be like ink painting. But I’m courageous and I have confidence in my paintings.” Zhu Wei said with a smile.
“毕业后没回去，被开除了。当时找了各种原因不愿意回去，然后我又去考了电影学院。”朱伟说道。由于解放军艺术学院毕业后必须分配回部队，而他当时或许是出于对自由创作的渴望，走了另一条道路。自1993年起，朱伟开始以水墨作品参与国际大型展览；后来，很快与设立于香港的美国万玉堂（Plum Blossoms Gallery）签约。