Interviewing Zhu Wei: Ink and Wash Should Keep Up With Times, Not With Market
By Luo Shuyin
Editor's note: Zhu Wei is a Beijinger and a humorous man, with his unique opinions. From 1980's he has kept painting Chinese paintings which are well related with our contemporary life. He changed his themes constantly to keep up with the times and to refuse labels. In addition to artistic creation Zhu Wei also wrote essays. He is a former magazine columnist. He has published a book, in which he criticized those odd things he witnessed then in our art world.
In the exhibition "Rendering The Future - Chinese Contemporary Ink Painting", which is held at Asian Art Center on June 21st, Zhu accepted an invitation of interview from Artron.net. He attacked the recent "New Ink Art" and "Ink Art Fever", and talked about his latest creations as well:
Artron.net: Mr. Zhu Wei, it has been more than half a year since your solo exhibition at Today Art Museum last year. Could you please introduce to us your latest creation and exhibitions?
Zhu Wei: I didn't paint much after the Today Art Museum exhibition. During this period a foreign foundation invited me to abroad for six months, and I turned down some exhibition invitations. This year I had two exhibitions held in Nanjing, including a meticulous painting exhibition at Jiangsu Art Museum, and "Reshaping Shuimo", an ink painting exhibition at Jinling Art Museum. Along with them there is "Rendering the Future - Chinese Contemporary Ink Painting" at Asian Art Center, and then in December, a solo exhibition curated by Li Xiaoshan at Art Museum of Nanjing University of the Art, in which all the works are new, and could be large.
Artron.net: Although there isn't any large-scale solo show, you have attended many group exhibitions this year. What do you think of the current market fever of ink painting?
Zhu Wei: The concept of ink painting, new ink art, and contemporary ink have upsurged since last year, but in this trend an important inclination is the commercial intention, which is stinking with money and not very good for the long-term development of ink painting. So I'm trying to do my December exhibition in a more exploratory and experimental way, to avoid the existing situation of new ink art.
I hold reservations about New Ink Art. "New Ink Art" is a very tricky and speculative name, for it is named only according to time - as if you steam a pot of steamed buns, when open the lid they look new, but its content is the same as other cold steamed buns. It sounds like the mass-produced paintings in Ming and Qing dynasty are suddenly brought back to life.
The concept of new ink art came from commercial manipulation, and basically it is a market concept. When the price of contemporary oil painting was too high to buy, or to speculate, the speculators found that though these ink painters are almost the same age as oil painters, ink paintings are much cheaper. To them ink paintings are not art, but commodities. However, artists can never regard their works as commodity. If they do so, they will go very far from their initial intention to become an artist. Artists will automatically bind their hands and feet if they follow the market. It will lower their creation standard, until at last nobody gets what they want. So I'm trying to steer my art toward exploration. Somebody's got to do that.
Since the concept of "new ink art" is kind of tricky, the more important is whether the ink and wash painting can enter into the contemporary art world. If somebody watches an ink painting today and says, this is a contemporary painting, what he says is usually true. When we talk about contemporary art, we actually are referring to oil painting. Oil painting has been modernized rapidly after it was imported into China more than one hundred years ago, which is a great success. On the other hand, with a history of more than three thousands of years, it's hard for our traditional Chinese painting to become contemporary. Most works of the so-called "new ink art" fever we have seen today are not contemporary art yet. Their art creation status is out of the rhythm of times.
Taking Ink and Wash Research Lectures as example, I have researched the Chinese traditional painting from ancient to today, and found that portrait painting, or figure painting, as an important genre had appeared in each dynasty in the history of China, but not in socialism period. Those figure paintings in 50's or 60's were fully controlled by the government, which could not be counted as creation. When artists have relative freedom to create, there is still no important portrait painting. I am trying to make up for this part.
Atron.net: So what happen next is that you will create new works, which are not so close to the nowadays ink painting fever?
Zhu Wei: I intent to keep a distance from the new ink fever by exploring more in academic study, not only staying in the current stage. The title of my new series does not come out yet, but its form of expression will be out of the old stylization.
Atron.net: Is it connected to your current Ink and Wash Research Lectures Series?
Zhu Wei: It is. The drafts I paint now are large, as the Ink and Wash Research Lectures Series.
From the late 1980 and the early 1990 I began to take part in all kinds of exhibitions together with contemporary Chinese art. In a form of ink and wash to express the contemporary theme, I have painted 16 series. Without any challenge, being viewed as steady as commodity, is not my intention. Until the concept of New Ink Art appears, I have been keeping trying to change continually.
Artron.net: You refused some invitations of exhibitions in the past. Why did you participate this exhibition?
Zhu Wei: The title "Rendering The Future" is attractive to me. Another reason is it features very good artists.
Artron.net: What do you think about other artists in the exhibition?
Zhu Wei: Artists are lovable for their extremely strong personality as well as very unique painting characteristics. As mentioned just now, I would rather see explorative and experimental ink art than the status quo of overwhelming mass-produced paintings. I do not accept such a status quo.
So if I were the curator of this exhibition, I would invite the artists who are contributive to ink and wash from historical perspective, who can combine his art to contemporary life, instead of artists who turn a blind eye to the real life. Ink and wash should keep up with times. It is easy to say, and the topic have been discussed many times in the recent decades, but no more was done. Ink and wash are not keeping up with times today, but with market, which is not so good.
文 / 罗书银