www.artron.net, October 24 2008
An Interview of Zhu Wei: There must be one thing to stick to.
By Pei Gang
No matter in which era and country and how fantastic are his talent and creative energy, an artist is inseparable from the influence of his context, race, and age. At the same time, the context, race, and age are the source of an artist's creation. Zhu Wei's ink and wash painting works naturally transform the survival status of people, the human nature, and the inheritance of Chinese traditional ink and wash painting into his unique artistic style. During 15 years of his exploration and practice on ink and wash painting, the collective consciousness in the background of times and the tradition of Chinese painting as the mother tongue together constructed the style of Zhu Wei's works.
Only from the perspective of ink and wash painting itself, or drawing itself, in my humble opinion, ‘the old hard ink, no less lovely’ is the direct sense when I first met Zhu Wei's works. Zhu Wei's painting process is very long and complicated as he said, and finally chap and mottled effect appear. Besides the expression of contemporary quality, his great effort in the ink and wash techniques and modeling that upgrade and develop the ink and wash painting, is another way of performance. The images of green uniform and Chinese tunic suit that often emerge from Zhu Wei's works naturally make viewers think of ‘ideology’ and ‘politics’. But these dramatic conflicted images in Zhu Wei's works are calm and moderate, which is much related to the old paper, the lapping of lines and ink, as well as the careful management of the layout. If the ‘old hard ink, no less lovely’ is a trace of the Song Dynasty's style, Zhu Wei's figure painting is often seen with strong and generous images, including those metal sculptures with dust and sand made according to these images which give the impression of Han and Tang Dynasties. And the accumulation of these skills and cultivation is converted into the power that can be used to criticize and reflect on today's reality.
The strong sense of contemporary feature and consciousness of times emerging from Zhu Wei's works are an artist's demonstration on living conditions of modern people, and also personal experience of the view of current Chinese culture. Many of his series works such as Eggs Left over by the Red Flag, Utopia, are re-drawn in a way of boneless painting on rice papers which has been processed with antique finishing and make the works show a dramatic alienation effect, meanwhile different landscapes of culture in different times and areas integrated and blended on the same picture, aroused a lot of pondering on history and reality among viewers. On 18 October 2008, in the ‘Zhu Wei's Album of Ink Paintings’ held in Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art in 798 artistic district in Beijing, Zhu Wei showed his typical works of ink and wash, silk net print and sculpture, as well as Zhu Wei's latest series of works—Red Flag—which were exploration of new way for expression. Journalist interviewed Zhu Wei in Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art thereupon and Mr. Zhu talked about his creation and contemporary situation of ink and wash painting with his great humor and wisdom.
Pei Gang (hereinafter referred to as P): You have been cooperating with art galleries for more than ten years till today.
Zhu Wei (hereinafter referred to as Z): Yes, from 1993 onwards. I worked on ink and wash painting all along.
P: You have created a lot of artworks already, right?
Z: Yeah, many, I have painted for 15 years.
P: With such a long period of ink and wash art creation, could you separate this 15 years period into several stages?
Z: At the very beginning of creation I did everything, just as today's kids, feel fresh for everything and draw everything. And then I began hope to do only one thing, and later I did not want to say anything but only did an allegorical thing. Just like the recent works like Red Flag. I dare not to do in this way at the beginning of my creation career, now I'm afraid of nothing and acquired inspirations, for example those ‘little human figures’ in my picture. Relatively speaking, I worked ceaselessly within the tradition range. For example, I imitated the large blank left in photos or pictures. Dare you leave blank as the ancient did? You'll die if you do that. Only non-stop drawing makes sense, and I did everything with depth from the beginning. Later I only did one thing with a specific theme. And now I just create allegorical artworks.
The break through of ink and wash painting should focus on the spirit of the ink and wash art.
P: There are not many works on this exhibition. Are there any new works in them?
Z: Most of them exhibited this time are former works of mine except that Red Flag is new. I painted 7 pieces of works since the end of last year and stopped painting this year. I have already expressed almost all what I want to say. It's not unreasonable but a little bit far from ink and wash art. I meant that it's useless to continue focusing on the mass. We are still guided by red flag, only that there emerged a little bit more housing loans, mortgages, and some more bars. Nothing changed. Another is the change in technique, just as a part of photo has been enlarged. I drew seven or eight pieces of Red Flag series, and I left two for myself which are covered with doodled numbers. You can see them when you come to my studio. Today’s reality could well be expressed by those actinomorphic numbers in these two pictures.
P: The number is painted on the red flag.
Z: Yes, and then color it.
P: There is something abstract in them.
Z: There is abstract composition and something contemporary.
P: But you still used ink and wash, Chinese painting pigment.
P: The Red Flag series exhibited on this exhibition are a little different from your human figures in the past.
Z: The red flag background as in Utopia and Meeting was separately drawn this time.
P: What has changed in your idea comparing with before?
Z: I want to use ink and wash to express the effect of photos. When it comes to ink and wash, many people are restricted and seem that they cannot do anything. The sculptures on this exhibition were created from the models in my ink and wash painting.
P: In the process of exploration, many experimental ink and wash artworks break away from the basement of ink and wash painting. They actually entered into another system.
Z: Yes To make ink and wash an installation is also a kind of experimental effort, which is more avant-garde.
P: But ink and wash needs break through, so the question is how to break through and how to express?
Z: Innovation in ink-and-wash paintings does not necessarily focus on rice paper. For example, Gu Wenda, who adopted hair and other forms in his artworks, has been always focusing on the spirit of ink-and-wash paintings. In his works, we can find vitality, intelligence, space, and so on. Although he has not used paper, we can still feel a kind of oriental spirit. The same is true for The Living Word: Bird made by Xu Bing, in which the bird is full of the sense of the ink-and-wash painting.
I think that many people are making exploration on the materials of rice paper and ink. In my opinion, they are but materials rather than spirit of ink-and-wash paintings. By studying painting materials, for example, examining the toughness of paper and fastness of the ink, you cannot touch the soul of ink-and-wash paintings, and such deeds should not be considered as exploration. In real exploration, we should retain the essential things.
P: In traditional Chinese painting, ancient painters used techniques such as ‘drawing with the middle part of the painting brush’ and ‘producing 5 colors by altering the thickness of ink’ to describe the ingenious uses of brush and ink, with which the atmosphere, interest and charm in the paintings were created. I can find a sense of the woodcut New Year painting in your works.
Z: In the past I have taken the woodcut New Year painting as the subject matter of some of my drawings deliberately. Indeed, the so called ‘woodcut’ and ‘New Year paintings’ both belong to ink-and-wash paintings and people have changed their forms just for the convenience of use and circulating. It was impossible for Tang Bohu to draw a painting for each family: he did not have so much time and energy, so people printed some pictures from the original one of him. I mean that the landowners might hold some authentic works, while the common villagers only had printed ones.
P: For instance, people can create woodcuts from the authentic work of Tang Bohu, but the former definitely differs from the latter.
Z: Yes. The modeling and the figure’s action will largely remain, but you may feel pictures printed with the engraved plate unsophisticated. Such printed pictures could be passed down and last for many years in this form. I have also adopted such interesting modeling but that cannot make a lasting improvement.
Ink-and-wash paintings should be discussed within a limited scope
P: The ink-and-wash painting in people’s impression is black and white, while now the discussion on it has covered much wider scope, including colors, various languages, materials and Japanese painting pigments.
Z: In my opinion, no matter what you are doing you have to make it as it should be. Why? It is easy but meaningless for you to create an ‘ink-and-wash’ painting without a painting brush and rice paper. I can also draw an ink-and-wash painting on a car or any other places, but I think it should be held within some limits, or it will be too simple and casual. When talking about ‘ink-and-wash’, even inexperienced people know such paintings are drawn with ink and water, and ink is definitely black. Xu Beihong also wanted to change ink into colored ink, while the works created in this way were far away from traditional ink-and-wash paintings. Therefore, the ink-and-wash painting has its own nature and track. If it was called ‘Chinese painting’ instead of ‘ink-and-wash painting’, it would be more impossible for it to meet the changing situation of the world. I think it is difficult for foreigners to make Chinese paintings internationalized because of such a name, and what reason do world-wide people have to deal with Chinese paintings? The same is true for oil paintings: if they were defined as paintings of a certain nation, such as Italian paintings or French paintings, people would not accept them, either. Hence we can only say they are paintings came from western countries, instead of pointing out the exact nation. Therefore the phrase ‘ink-and-wash’ is fairly important, but it lacks the meaning and sense of ‘Chinese paintings’: many people consider that ink-and-wash paintings are black and white and are drawn with ink and water.
P: Ancient people could create various spiritual interest that he wanted to express only with paper, painting brushes and ink, which was within a so limited scope. Then what they had devoted more might be something in their interest and thoughts. More materials may bring broader visual experiences, stronger impacts and more other factors, but it will not necessarily draw art nearer to one’s spirit and soul.
Z: You are quite right. Oil paintings in China began to develop on a large scale in 1930s or 1940s. However, numerous scrolls, most of which were calligraphic and ink-and-wash painting works, were found in landlords’ and magnates’ homes during property confiscation. Landowners, workers, peasants and merchants all had the habit of collecting paintings, most of which were national artistic works. Later oil paintings came, which have exerted an impact on ink-and-wash paintings. With the emergence of operas, oil paintings and films, ink-and-wash paintings and Peking operas were treated in the same way by many young peoples.
The contemporary situation of ink-and-wash paintings
P: Then it comes to the question on the effectiveness of ink-and-wash paintings today.
Z: Now ink-and-wash paintings have no effectiveness at all, as Li Xiaoshan has said, but they have not come to the last extremity. Today they are just like a cool dish such as tossed cucumber in sauce, which is only an appetizer and cannot satisfy your appetite…We can chat while eating it, and when other dishes are served we will turn to them. (Laugh)
Talking from my own experience, I think that over the past ten years, the market was not flourished and the ink-and-wash painting did not entirely boom as a kind of contemporary art: it seems that it does not begin to boom until the last five to six years. Ten years ago, all kind of paintings advanced at the same time, and ink-and-wash paintings were developing along with oil paintings, so we could not see their booming. In 2004, people’s attention was attracted by Chinese oil paintings and their creators began to shine. Then people had found that ink-and-wash paintings and oil paintings had the same prices and their exhibitions had the same international influence, but why later oil paintings advanced and ink-and-wash paintings fell behind?
Then ink-and-wash painters were as industrious as oil painters. For oil paintings, protective varnish can be sprayed onto them, while that is not applicable to ink-and-wash paintings because rice paper covered with varnish cannot be mounted. That is the feature of materials adopted in ink-and-wash paintings, which is not so favorable. Therefore people say ink-and-wash paintings are difficult to preserve, but I do not think that is true. Indeed, ink-and-wash paintings created in Song Dynasty have survived more than 1000 years and kept good condition, while oil paintings drawn several hundred years ago have cracked badly. With the fact that we can find ink-and-wash paintings created in Song Dynasty and even in dynasties before Song, I think the key does not lie in materials but in cultural value.
P: It is associated with international politics, economy and markets.
Z: Indeed that is a question on whether eastern culture or the western one dominates. Oil paintings came from western countries. Local things in Asia, including Japanese paintings, are facing the same fate. Indeed that is a phenomenon: photography is also in a better situation than contemporary ink-and-wash paintings. Contemporary ink-and-wash paintings are discussed too little now.
Exploration of ink-and-wash painting techniques and practice on contemporary ink-and-wash paintings
P: In your opinion, what is your advantage?
Z: I have made ink-and-wash paintings contemporary. In other words, I have reflected contemporary subjects with ink-and-wash paintings. My first series of works was The Story of Beijing which reflects lives in Beijing and is connected with social reality directly; sometimes it shows a little political flavor, which is really hard for ink-and-wash paintings. I remember in 1993, Wang Lin played a joke on me, ‘Your works are just Pop ink-and-wash paintings!’ Then I said, ‘I don’t know what they are’. Even now I still do not know what they are, but what I can confirm is that what I have drawn are certainly ink-and-wash paintings and I have just used them to reflect the realistic society. It is difficult to integrate ink-and-wash paintings with today’s social reality. Li Jin’s paintings about cakes and ale are also related with social reality; some other painters take the Cultural Revolution as the subject, and we have also seen literati paintings about dreams created by Xu Lei. As we have mentioned, many people are trying to make innovation on rice paper, and many use it to wrap up chairs, stools and other objects for creation. It is rather hard to associate the right angle you have chosen with contemporary subject matter. Ink-and-wash paintings differ from oil paintings in their modeling technique.
P: What is the most difficult thing for you while making breakthrough in painting techniques?
Z: Color. For ink-and-wash paintings, ink is essential, and no matter how you draw at first you should produce the sense of ink. Ink-and-wash paintings should have traces of ink and water, while sometimes that will be forgotten in the process of painting. The technique of combining ink and color is important. For instance, when I draw the transitional places of solid objects with ink, it can only be used to reflect the structure but cannot play a major role. I should make people feel that ink has been adopted properly, but I cannot use it too much: just in a reasonable way.
P: Both ink and lines are forms covering over concepts. If the technique is not well exerted, the concept and spirit of the painting that you wanted to express will be weakened, while the skillful combination of spirit and techniques can produce full expression, satisfying cohesion and the expected effect. Does the key lie in the usage of ink?
Z: Both ink and colors are important. You can see that all of my paintings have been processed with antique finishing, except for Vernal Equinox which was finished recently and drawn on a white background. I have chosen some modern subject matters such as soldiers and troops, and some are even more modern, so if I did not make the paper appear old the sense of the ink-and-wash painting would be lost and someone would say, ‘What you’ve drawn is an American gouache.’ Therefore I have to make the paper old and let people feel what is hidden behind the feeling of ‘old’ are historical sense and something decayed. Only by that can I ‘draw’ back the sense of ink-and-wash paintings. I must process the piece of paper into old one with a color resembling that of silk kept for a very long time, which is rather complicated and laborious. I have to make a piece of white paper yellow, and then I draw on it. That process has been retained for 15 years by me, and it was not until last year did I begin to draw on a white background.
P: You have painted people in Chinese tunic suit, soldiers and persons showing the whites of their eyes, reflecting something breaking away with the earthliness, just like the feeling expressed by birds watching people drawn by Zhu Da. Does that have something to do with your living background?
Z: I think this kind of feeling is, more or less, shared by all people who are in their 40s now. We are unlike those who in their 50s and who have fully experienced the social situation then themselves. Born in 1966, I was 10 years old then. Seeing the end of the period, I only had vague idea about things having happened. Painters in their 50s who take the Cultural Revolution and Chairman Mao as the subject matter have witnessed the period, while people of our generation are pondering whether the movements then are correct and what their influence on the society later is. It is far-fetched for us to deal with such subject matter because we do not understand them as clearly as the previous generation. We are in the middle of nowhere: people born in the 1970s and 1980s are after us, while those born in the 1950s are before us. We were born in a transitional period and we can hardly understand something clear. I only have an impression of the matters, with which I have created some works.
P: What is the meaning of the whites in the people’s eyes you have drawn?
Z: I think that is nothing but a kind of painting technique. I have made the whole painting old and yellow, and black ink has been used, so it would look ugly without shining white. What I have done is required by the picture itself. I can only make the painting arresting by drawing eyes with much white or drawing white clouds. What I want to do is only to make the painting brighter. To accomplish that, a lot of painters reserve some drawing-blank, while I can only do the reverse. Brightness is essential to paintings; I mean it must have some bright color and something arresting.
P: Indeed that is also staged. You have painted some fat people with big heads and short limbs. I think there is a kind of symbol hidden in them. Is that so?
Z: I have spent more than ten years in the army and know the army more than other things. One who has not been a soldier may feel that people in military uniforms are strange, and after he becomes a soldier he will know what the uniform means. Therefore I know soldiers quite well: I even know what they are thinking when they are tired, cold or hungry. For instance, in 1992 and 1993, many young artists drew ‘Post 1989’ people who were with great joy, while I have no idea about them, because I was in the army then. I do not know why they laughed with so much joy and cannot make any correct comment, either. Therefore I select to draw what is familiar to me, such as people with‘big eyes’.
On symbolization in contemporary art
P: Many artists have drawn symbolic things; this has something to do with fast-food culture. For example, such paintings can enter the market and attract people’s attention quickly.
Z: I do not think so. In 1993, I was the only person who began to cooperate with Plum Blossoms Gallery, and then painters such as Wang Guangyi, Fang Lijun and Zhang Xiaogang were in cooperation with Hanart T.Z. Gallery; during 1994 and 1995, Yue Minjun and Yang Shaobin began to cooperate with SCHOENI Gallery in Hong Kong: these happened at about the same time, and the painters’ purpose was nothing but to find a way out. With commercial purposes, then galleries would call you from time to time, saying you should make a change in what you drew; I was told that painting buyers often said that my paintings always showed the same things and I should change that. However, changes are really difficult to make and they cannot be made at once, so I could not satisfy the gallery then. Besides, I had drained my brain to form an idea, so it was hard to be replaced, and I had no other ideas to replace it; it could not be changed until I had finished the same type of subject matter. Therefore, each time the gallery would say through the fax or phone, ‘You should make a change and should not kept drawing the same things,’ and I think all painters have witnessed the similar experience. However, I still kept on something, and they just appeared fewer in my paintings; at last they became a kind of symbol. I consider that at first no one wanted to form a brand deliberately, and guess about that is only an overestimate. Indeed, in the past people had no such concept as ‘brand’, and what we came across was the difficulty to make a change. When we were stuck at somewhere, by no means could we bring out changes, which had made me so restless that I even wanted to slap myself! However, if you made some unnatural changes, then people seeing it would say, ‘We will not come to see such ugly paintings next time.’ So it is really hard to make changes in paintings.
P: Indeed that was also because you have reached some certain degree and only by drawing like this could you fully express yourself.
Z: That is quite right! You had found a breakthrough point and only after 1 or 2 years you were asked to change it: just like you have written numerous aspects of the world smoothly and suddenly someone asks you to write something else. I thought, ‘I cannot make any changes. If my works can’t satisfy you, let’s cancel the cooperation.’ However, then nobody planned to carry out his thoughts, only saying, ‘OK.’ I hardly expected that one day what I have insisted on will become a kind of brand after years- how strange! Indeed, it is untrue that each painter knew what he will be at the very beginning. It was not until we entered our middle stage in late 1990s and 2000 did some painters begin to deal with and keep on certain subject matter on purpose, but they have never planned to offer convenience for auction in future. No Chinese artists have received the training on art market auction, and they only found their way by accident. It is impossible that one has produced a brand and kept his own style deliberately. Westerner’s symbols, such as what Andy Warhol has shown, are totally formed for the market, because such painters are supported by someone. As to contemporary art in China, even critiques and painters do not know what it is. Andy Warhol can get advices from some people, but we cannot. We do not know what to do after the auction. Step by step, we entered galleries and we held biennales and triennials; then what to do next? You will not know that until you have experienced that.
P: During creation, how do you understand the difference between symbolization and stylization?
Z: I think symbolization is somewhat deliberate. In terms of my paintings, they really resemble the life. I have no better ideas so I have to draw like that and add some symbols and style to them. When dealing with some materials, drawing what you want to express, or making up stories, people will differ in their perspectives. For example, seeing two people fighting with each other, you may have an idea which is different from mine. Each person has his own thought, which is by no means deliberate.
P: So you mean that is formed naturally and expressed in a way and language you have been accustomed to, either with lines or colors.
Z: Yes, together with one’s own nature. I will draw in a way that is natural to me. For instance, what is shown perfectly in others’ paintings may be ruined by me if I also deal with it; even if someone can well imitate my paintings, indeed he cannot reach less than half of my accomplishment.
What I concern more is the expression of spirit and concept
P: Although exploration in techniques needs painstaking efforts, what you want to express more is things in your thoughts and concepts. Indeed, the most moving things are on the spiritual level and the strong concept you have conveyed. In my opinion, during the creation, what you are concerning more is just these things.
Z: Although I draw ink-and-wash paintings with painting brushes and rice paper, I always try to reflect concepts with them, and many of my paintings, including Red Flag series, are conceptual artworks. I always wish to see whether ink-and-wash paintings can show a kind of concept like installations and oil paintings do. The key lies in that whether others will consider what you have reflected is a kind of concept. Besides, for ink-and-wash paintings, what kind of things can be considered as concepts? Many people are just satisfied with their first impression that what I have drawn are ink-and-wash paintings; if I say that my paintings include concepts, photos, and so on, they will still feel there is nothing special in these paintings. If, after some time, China can develop well without any disturbance for 30 or 40 years and culture can be well protected as well as improved, then rich and common people will turn to collect ink-and-wash paintings, because local works are so penetrating for us while foreign ones are rather distant. Unfortunately, generally speaking, now few ink-and-wash paintings are associated with contemporary issues and concepts, so people feel oil paintings are more familiar to them than ink-and-wash paintings. Nowadays people will buy what can fully express the understanding of modern and contemporary matters.
The situation of contemporary ink-and-wash paintings in art markets
Z: There is another problem I am always pondering. Now the price of ink-and-wash paintings is not so good; I think there are two reasons. On one hand, someone may have the misunderstanding, which has something to do with painting materials, that ink-and-wash paintings are hard to last long. On the other hand, there is a great gap between the price of contemporary artworks and traditional ones, which you can see from the auction. For example, Tang Bohu’s paintings are sold at 600 thousand yuan or so, while oil paintings created by contemporary young artists are priced at 2 or 3 million yuan. Tang Bohu’s paintings, which were drawn 400 or 500 years ago, are so rare, do you think contemporary ink-and-wash painters could be more successful than Tang? By such comparison people can know their price range. Since no oil paintings created before Xu Beihong and Lin Fengmian’s period can be found, it is natural that their paintings can be sold at an extremely high price - just because nobody had drawn oil paintings earlier than them did. However, you can find ink-and-wash paintings created in almost every dynasty; even the works of Fan Kuan, an eminent painter in Northern Song Dynasty, are sold at a medium price. I think in the market such things should not be considered right or wrong, because they occur in the commercial field. Besides, academic value of paintings should be discussed in art museums, and their price in galleries and the auction has nothing to do with other factors but the goods themselves. For instance, some works done by artists who have passed away may be sold at a high price: although the painter has been dead, the academic value of his paintings remains, which has nothing to do with whether he is alive or not.
P: That has nothing do to with academy, and one’s commercial value is not necessarily equal to his academic value. Now the artistic market in China is nothing like as mad as people expect. It has a process composed of rising, falling and rising again. Accumulation is necessary, and the market will never keep unchanging.
Z: Yes. It is just like we must sway the sifter when screening sand, during which the good and enduring will remain. Rising and falling, which can prove something is true, is necessary, or people’s suspense will grow. I think that such rising and falling is not enough and it should happen more; then what have survived can withstand tests: such process should repeat after several years. Now the rising and falling in artistic market can make people objective and calm down, which I think is necessary. The price of my works in the market is usually normal and stable, without serious rising and falling.
P: The sculptures in this exhibition are supplements to what you want to express in ink-and-wash paintings?
Z: They are supplements to ink-and-wash paintings. However, sculptures, oil paintings and other kinds of paintings are all nothing but artistic forms. Objectively speaking, to live as an artist, one must have a lot of time to do his own creation besides a normal life. For me, I have benefited much more from sculpture than from painting. Of cause, ink-and-wash painting is my career. Indeed, they share something in common. Sculptures will remain themselves even in western countries, while westerners’ watercolor paintings cannot be exhibited with other kind of paintings. Contemporary art is so diversified, and artists cannot only focus on a single thing, so they deal with installations, videos, performance art as well as oil paintings. Art has been handled by people so we can work on it anyhow, which is fairly good. Now no exhibitions are composed of oil paintings solely, and they must contain videos, photographs or performances such as breathing fire.
P: Just like a bustling show.
Z: Yes. That results from the development of contemporary art as well as the inter-influence between different circles. However, for me, I have to keep on something. I have clung to ink-and-wash paintings for so many years and seen the success coming. However, all the efforts I have paid will be in vain if even a little hesitation occurs: this is what in my mind.
P: Ink-and-wash paintings are your priority while other things are only measures.
Z: I have clung to ink-and-wash painting for more than 20 years, and maybe it will flourish after another 20 years. If I give it up midway, turning to sculpture, oil paintings, and so on, then people will say I deserve the failure. Hence I am clinging to ink-and-wash paintings, wishing it will be prosperous some day and then I will see my accomplishment.
P: I think that the recognition from the market results from the increasingly mature and refined integration of a kind of works, concepts and techniques, and such integration can make your expression more understandable and your concepts and spirit conveyed fully.
Z: I feel that my works, and many other things, are accepted better in foreign markets and countries than in native ones. I do not know why. People in Mainland China, where I am living, know each other very well, but they are more unfamiliar with your works than foreigners, which sometimes make me feel sad. When viewing my paintings, westerners always ask something about the effects shown by the painting. They certainly know what I have drawn are ink-and-wash paintings, because I have made it clear, but they still put out such questions as ‘What is shown in your paintings?’ However, it seems that my works are coldly received in China.
P: In my opinion, that is caused by the gap in culture. People need to make up the knowledge if they know little about a certain period of history, the history of contemporary concepts and art as well as the history of western art. However, if they cannot do the making-up, then the new artistic works created based on what they lack can hardly cause their recognition and resonance.
Z: But oil paintings are new-created, too.
P: However oil paintings have been accepted by the market. It seems that they are pushed and led by the market. I have read your previous interviews in which you mentioned Van Gogh. Maybe the fact that peoples seeing Van Gogh’s personal solo-exhibition are more than those enjoying group exhibitions of other artists can be considered as the victory of the market.
Z: Maybe. Sometimes, for example, when artists have reached some degree, the market should offer attention to native artists and works. Now we always focus on western art. I cannot make any comment here, or I may appear jealous. For instance, someone specializing in art history just knows and loves an artist, and you cannot make any retort even if he criticizes you, or you may be suspected to be jealous. He is studying people’s mind: you have to accept what I have written without any objection.
P: Yes, that is where artists’ embarrassment lies in: they can only bury their noses in their artistic works. As you have said, they resemble donkeys with blinders on their eyes.
Z: You are quite right. They have to accept other’s comments and cannot ask, ‘Why is my ranking so low?’ or ‘Why haven’t I included?’
P: As to social recognition and resonance from people, an artist wishes that people would pay attention to his works and discuss them: that, instead of the response from the market, is what they really require.
Z: Anyway, I will benefit a lot if the price of ink-and-wash paintings rises with the prosperity of contemporary art, while ink-and-wash paintings may also be pulled down by poorly developed contemporary art: I can benefit from such association. However, when you are dealing with ink-and-wash paintings, you may always think that why not make ink-and-wash paintings prosperous at first and then oil paintings: that is so ideal. (Laugh)
P: It really has something to do with social accumulation other than a certain kind of paintings or a certain work. As you have mentioned, maybe ink-and-wash paintings will thrive after a period of time.
Z: Yes. When we become the ‘earliest’, others will remain the ‘contemporary’ forever, because they just follow what we have started.
The feeling of cooperating with the gallery is just like dating with someone
P: Which do you think is better, the cooperation with only one gallery, or that with several ones?
Z: Of cause the latter is better.
P: Then will that affect your time of creation?
Z: No. If you cooperate with several galleries at the same time, they will compete to gain your admiration; otherwise, if you have been in cooperation with the same gallery for over 10 years, it will become insensitive to you and show great warmness to new-coming artists. That is just like dating with someone. Since 2004 I began to cooperate with several galleries at the same time. Cheng Xindong and Brown are both my friends for many years. I have proposed to cooperate with the former 12 years ago, which comes true now.