www.ArtsBJ.com, December 23 2014
To Zhu Wei: Two Dreams And An Artist's Christmas Eve Gift
Zheng Wen (Academic Director of Art Museum of Nanjing University of the Arts)
Art critics seem to have never hesitated to give affirmations and compliments to such painters, whose works not only satisfied the logic requirements of the development of this painting genre, but also satisfied the contemporary aesthetic requirements of creative concepts. The probability of both beautiful situations in one is so small that once it falls on an artist's head, it will be a pleasant surprise as rare as hitting the jackpot. It is naturally the individual artist's luck, but it's also the sorrow of the times. To be exact, the lucky painting artist's name is Zhu Wei. In the nineties of last century, Zhu Wei depicted China's current political life and social life through his brilliant techniques of meticulous painting, which also made him a perfect example of the concept "ink with the times" and renowned overseas. But in the new century, it seems that he is still described as "make up for an area that has often been overlooked in contemporary Chinese art ". In this way, I really do not know whether it is Zhu Wei's luck, or it is the misfortune of the times. When Zhu Wei talked about the clamor of the "ink fever", he said: "The current so-called 'new ink' and 'contemporary ink' are more like decorative paintings, since they seldom touch the social conflict or social reality. I don't know whether it is the artist's intention to avoid the reality, or they are lack of the ability to intervene in reality.
In the loud noises, the way Zhu Wei talks about art is very direct. Compared with the vague theoretical system proposed by theorists, his straightforward manner is as powerful as thunders, which is from the distant - after all, "ink and wash", or more specifically, "meticulous painting" seems not so important in the "mainstream" contemporary art discourse since 1990s. However, the most real voice from an artist always comes from his works rather than words. Even if the art world intentionally or unintentionally chooses to avoid or ignore Zhu Wei's sharp "nonsense", it is always difficult to ignore his works. The difficulty comes from the "weight" and "quality" of his art: the "quality" depends on its highly refined ink painting style, and the "weight" depends on its accurate transformation to contemporary and rich expression of concept.
Zhu Wei's art has a strong "sense of the times", but it does not fully explain the situation. In fact, the "sense of the times" of his works is not the same as the "sense of the times" and "reality" talked by people of different generation. Pessimistically speaking, each person can only live in his own times. But optimistically speaking, this does not mean that he can only be confined in a specific time and space. The power of spirit can either spill or penetrate no matter to the future or back to the past. The source of this power, I am afraid, is the thing what we often call "human nature". Yasujiro Ozu said in his speech about acting: "Running and jumping for joy, crying and shouting for sadness, both are things that monkeys of Ueno Zoo do. Smiling on the face, whilst crying in the heart, saying the words opposite to your thoughts, making a face opposite to your feelings, these are human being, which cannot be seen through." Just like a clever actor, Zhu Wei never uses cry to elaborate sadness or uses roar to express anger in his creation. He uses a comedy way to deal with the tragedy, and a brisk song as soundtrack for a painful story. The cynical contrast not only enhances the power of his works, but also makes his art more focused on human nature rather than political criticism. Balthus warned the artists not to be eager to express their so-called personality, and not to forget that the common sense is more important. As some art critics have already associated Zhu Wei with Chen Hongshou and Bada Shanren, we can also find Zhu's painting and sculpture in the New York Stock Exchange or IBM headquarter in the other side of the Atlantic. It indicates that his art is the same as all the best art, which shows commonality that transcends the time and space.
No matter in Fukuyama's theory of The End of History or Danto's theory of The End of Art, when a linear narrative has been unable to continue, people always choose to look back and recollect the good old days. What they recollect is nothing more than a collective imagination of the "classic style" - such as the ancient Greek democracy or the Italian Renaissance. However, from time to time, I still doubt that the enthusiasm on classics is actually a lack of psychological security. People always refuse and fear for a vague future, and are used to immerse in the established facts and clearly discernible ideas. Zhu Wei's art no doubt has some kind of "classic" characteristics in the realm of both ink art and contemporary art, but I do not want him to become a solid, rigid classic for people to revere - of course, Zhu Wei's continuing thinking and exploration won't let himself become such a role. Although he modestly named his recent works "Ink and Wash Research Lectures series", I do not believe that he will unreservedly "regard the ancient as disciples". He chose the "ancient" to alienate from the hustle and bustle times, to filter out mediocre thoughts, so that he can go further. Neither the "classics" nor the "golden age" is what we can get back to, for they are just a good spiritual sustenance. The only way to associate with the past is not reverence or nostalgia, but walking on firmly and confidently and making ourselves "classics" and "golden age".
At last, I remember two stories about dream in Zhang Dai's The Preface to Dream Recollection of Tao-an. One is about a porter who transported wines for people. One day he accidentally fell and broke a jar of wine, and because he was too poor to pay for the loss, he kept sitting there for a long time and thought blankly: if only it were a dream. The other story is about an impoverished young scholar who passed the imperial examinations at the provincial level. In the celebration banquet, he couldn't believe what had happened was true, so he bit his arm and said: Am I dreaming now? Whenever we talk about the development of Chinese contemporary art, we cannot help but invoke a feeling of dream. For the Chinese ink and wash which had been denied and criticized since May Fourth Movement at the end of Qing dynasty and beginning of the republic, while recently became the market darling, it is even more like a dream. For many artists who are bound by external substances rather than loyal to the heart, their circumstances and minds are like the two people in the story - sometimes they fear that it is not a dream, and sometimes they fear that it is a dream. However, after all, "a dream is a dream. Whether fearing it is or it is not, both are fools." And Zhu Wei is destined not to be one of them. On the Christmas Eve, Zhu Wei will bring a few new freehand works "The Silent Night". The meaning of these works is hidden deeply. He still chooses a marvelous way to express himself, and presents them in the form of gift to a country and its people in a dream.
(Editor: Yang Jing)