Bazaar Men's Style, April 2012 issue, Page 288-293
Zhu Wei: Ink Space, Fresh and Clean
Interview, article/Jian Feng
This is a loft work studio, about 5-meter high and 300 square meters, spacious and bright. It looks orderly and prudent with the white and simple decoration style. Everything has its own position and order, which cannot be displaced. It seems only a paranoia would set a rule like that.
In the contemporary ink painter—Zhu Wei’s work studio, four color prints《New Pictures of the Strikingly Bizarre》hang on one side of its wall； On the wall behind the working table, is the famous work China, China on the blueprintof Deng Xiaoping’s image, which once appeared in the US magazine TIME. The Monet family also collected his first work Beijing Story, while the headquarters of IBM in Manhattan put his sculpture China, China beside the Andy Warhol’s prints. Before then, the IBM had never bought any art work that’s not created by American. Though Zhu Wei always murmurs that: “what’s the big deal of painting?” he likes rock music, and Deyun Crosstalk, however, as an ink painter, he can’t even imagine life without Rice paper or writing brush.
The Relation Between Ink and Wash and Rock Music
His work studio is located at the central region of CBD in Beijing, looking at the CCTV headquarters and Beijing's tallest building across the Tonghui River. The reason why he chose this place is he wanted to live around the general public, for he doesn’t like art to be gathered nor has the obsession for school. He thought it would be boring if the studio is one next to another, and company isn’t that necessary for painting. At that time, here was indeed a lovely residential area without any art atmosphere, now, however, the building is loaded with artists, either famous or obscure. With a large-scale art museum around, he is totally surrounded by the art atmosphere.
He is always doing the meticulous (Gong-bi) Ink and Wash in his studio while listening to the rock music. Several years ago, on the invitation of Cui Jian, he designed the composition for his band in America’s tour concerts. In the autumn of 1995, Cui Jian heard that a painter’s works were related with rock music, and his lyrics were inscribed on them. Then, he found Zhu Wei through friends and said to him: “could you design an act-drop for us to use as the symbol of our band?” Zhu Wei agreed at once without any hesitation. He led a group of students of Fine Arts Academies, spent around two months, in the large stage workshop of General Political Department Song and Dance Ensemble, finished the stage background—a 19-meter giant backdrop in the form of Ink and Wash, which Cui Jian used in his performances at home and abroad in the past decade.
Cui Jian used to bring that act-drop with him in all his performances. Many years later, Rome Art Museum held a visual art exhibition “a Fifty-Year Review of the World Rock Music”. Someone offered to buy that act-drop with the price of two Toyota SUVs, but Cui Jian refused to sell. Anyway, that act-drop participated in that exhibition.
In Zhu Wei’s works during the 1990s such as Eggs Under the Red Flag, China Diary, Square and Running Horses in a Rainy Night, Cui Jian’s image and lyrics can be found. He did that because he was so into rock music, not for some Chinese-western combination. All he can master are the writing brush and Rice paper, in spite of years of leaning on a felt rug to paint, thinking of Shi Tao, Ba Da and Huang Gongwang, and trying to draw lines like those of Cao Buxing and Wu Daozi， his rock music complex is till a mark in his head. How much does Zhu Wei like rock music? On April 8, 2006, he gave up the opening ceremony of his individual exhibition in Beijing, with several friends, directly flew to Shanghai to enjoy the concert held by the Rolling Stones that enjoyed 40 years of world popularity in Shanghai Gymnasium.
For the core demonstrated in his works, some critics said: the empathizing tendency rooted in the social elites is clearly expressed in Zhu Wei’s works. The artist realized the strong power held by the words and vision in both traditional and modern China, but he never rigidly stick to the pattern of Chinese inking painting, instead, he explored a brand-new path. The forty-some man still has deep interests in extensive cultural issues. All these made his art obscure yet profound in meaning: humor mitigated the interpretation, and humanity softened the sharpness. His painting recorded the fast-changing social regulations and human weaknesses. It’s humorous as well as sarcastic… It’s hard for viewers to interpret the concept he aims to express with fixed wording, for the images he create have boundless possibilities.
As one of the few artists who earned fame at home and abroad with Ink and Wash, Zhu Wei employed meticulous (Gong-bi) Ink and Wash techniques on the social-critical subjects, which led to clear painting style and abundant visual pulling force. The sculptures and prints extended from his Ink and Wash also bear his usual style of blending tradition and modernity.
Ink and Wash represents tradition, while rock music was born in the advanced industrial civilization. Maybe it’s the beauty of this combination that stands for the position the classic art holds in our times.
The Awkwardness of Reaching a Dead End
Over a long period of time, the "Political Pop" campaign thrived in Chinese mainland. The political implication in Zhu Wei’s works, for its possibility of duplication and easy to spread, were included in the “Pop”. You would find that claim inappropriate if you seriously study his life experience since his 20s. From the very beginning to the end, he never intended to divert and replace visual symbols, relate to reality from a concept angle or with novelty-seeking attitudes, but to make observations from a common Chinese people’s perspective, and make straightforward responses to reality with the traditional Chinese painting techniques. Most of his works reflected the actual life, for he always observe the grand social events with the perspective of “humane” care and the once “deified” great people image.
In front of a famous art gallery in 798, Beijing, Zhu Wei's set of sculptures “China, China” -two fat man in Zhongshan suit, with vague facial expressions, keeping a ridiculous forward standing position, look respectful and flattering—chosen by many tourists to be their photo background. After viewing Zhu Wei’s picture album, a youth who had taken pictures with the sculpture exclaimed: this man can paint?
In 1985, the then 28-year old Li Xiaoshan published an article in Jiangsu Pictorial Art Monthly, claiming that “the Chinese painting has come to a dead end.” Zhu Wei was 19, and he just started to get on that path.
“Dead end” seems to be an exaggeration. Traditional Chinese Ink and Wash doesn’t lack attention, while the debate on its status quo has never ceased, which has become the haunting “pain” in the Chinese art circle. In the first 8 years of his creation, he refused to exhibit his works with other art forms such as oil painting, and seldom participated in other group exhibitions related with contemporary art. Zhu Wei once said: “I used to feel inferior as an ink painter, for inking painting’s expression is not as abundant and vivid as oil painting in terms of technique. To be honest, I feel more inferior now, because no one wants to pay attention to contemporary Ink and Wash, it’s too weak.” Through his words, we can perceive his dismay. But that’s indeed a real problem prevalent in the art circle. Years of contention led to nowhere, and years of academic research and qualifications became important criteria in judging ink painters. In the home Ink and Wash context, Zhu Wei still feels perplexed by that. Critics usually doubt the attainments of the ink painters who are in their 30s or 40s. To be specific, they didn’t even get into the critic’s eyes, and some people only consider western art as the so called contemporary art. The prejudice for Ink and Wash hindered the general recognition of its contemporary nature.
Oscar Wilde once said: “It’s absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” So is painting. Many people like Zhu Wei’s pictures, because they never bored by them. In Zhu Wei’s work Beside the Girls(1996)(the painting was drawn based on the title of the second volume of In Search of Lost Time written by the French writer Proust), two well-developed girls in Lenin coat sitting in the same position with their legs crossing. That picture freed me from the puzzle of the titles like xx Picture when viewing Ink and Wash. “Like dreaming, beside the girls.” Ink and Wash can express everything: in Spring Herald No.3（2003）, which was drawn during the “SASS” period, he painted himself in the picture, wearing a then necessary breathing mask with a blooming peach flower on his shoulder; in Utopia No.57(2005), a meeting was depicted, full of truants with earrings and stunned people with their mouths open; in Vernal Equinox No.16(2008), in the coming of spring, the silent middle-aged men stare at the floating peach flowers before their eyes.
Though under the pressures of the Chinese living condition and the Ink and Wash itself, he still holds fast to Ink and Wash. It’s a delicate art starting from one writing brush and one bottle of ink, why give up?
Contemporary Ink and Wash and Commercialization
Zhu Wei’s life is involved with the courtyard culture. His parents are soldiers, and his childhood memory also started in the army courtyard. But he didn’t enjoy too much the beauty of family life as his parents were too busy in that revolution age. He was sent to grandparents’ home—Shougang courtyard. When recollecting those, he revealed some dismay in the mocking tone. The “wild” Zhu Wei, listening to rock music, reading “existentialism”, why picked up Ink and Wash? It’s quite hard to understand for many people. On the appearance, passionate expressionism seems to be a better choice for him. I didn’t truly understand his enthusiasm for ink language until I heard his understanding for tradition, which came from the on-the-scene application instead of the worshiping inheritance. He has a firm belief that everything happened today can trace its prototype in tradition, which became the thinking foundation for his quote of classics, and that’s indeed the actual linkage between history and the current.
“Whether Ink and Wash can be made contemporary is not a question at all. Just like the westerners eat Western-style food, and we eat Chinese food. It has been like that for thousands of years, but we just have to make discussions about whether we should eat like that? Can we eat like that? Can Chinese food meet the demands of Chinese people? Why do we have to doubt ourselves? Are we being too unconfident? There are only two conclusions waiting for us after this thorough discussion: one is to see whether it’s still available after fixing; the other is to throw it away. Which one do we more tended to chose after all these years of discussion? ” For Ink and Wash’s position in contemporary art, “artists should be like a scientist in creating, improve the current situation and explore the new area. Inheritance first and development second. It’s necessary to inherit and understand well before taking the next step” he once said. “The biggest difference between contemporary Ink and Wash and traditional Ink and Wash is that the former one has got rid of the influences of court paintings and literati paintings, no more focusing on individuals or being groaning, whining and way too emotional. Instead, they get involved in the development process of society”, he said.
Zhu Wei was one among the first group of artists who entered the formal commercial operation in the 1990s. In 1993, he started his cooperation with the Plum Blossoms Gallery, whose branches spread in Europe, America and Hong Kong, and their close cooperation lasted to 2005. Over the past more than ten years, he gained great attention paid from abroad collectors and art organizations with his Ink and Wash works, which demonstrated his works’ international significance. Critic Li Xiaoshan once frankly said “Zhu Wei has plenty of pride record in his profile”. The westerners love to say character is destiny, but in fact, a lot of people don’t know how to treat destiny. Zhu Wei never showed off his achievements, in his own words, he is like an industrious farmer who diligently worked in the fields. In the commercial chains, his strict observance of rules and self-regulation is quite rare. While in the academic links, the abundant thinking and unique art style delivered through his works are also related with his personal experiences and low-profile character.
The cooperation between Zhu Wei and the Plum Blossoms Gallery lasted for 14 years. It was his worldwide exclusive agent. He continued drawing from 26 to 41 and fulfilled the contract, and that was a happy creation period. Up till now, “I haven't painted anything for 4 or 5 years”, he said. But he will continue to paint this year, for there are several big exhibitions to be held and contracts are already signed.
“Drawing Ink and Wash has already become part of my life and a life style. I keep thinking about the possibilities of transforming all the visual pictures and images that I see every day into Ink and Wash. It's your patience that counts in the drawing process. It requires hard work and total concentration if you want to draw well. In a word, once you get distracted, the paintings are ruined.” Seeing his studio spotlessly clean and everything in order, I know that over the 20-plus years, Ink and Wash still occupies a sacred place in his heart.
朱伟经常在画室里一边画着工笔，一边听摇滚乐。他和摇滚乐的渊源很久，多年前，他就受崔健邀请设计了乐队在美国巡回演唱会的布景。1995年秋天， 崔健听说一个画家的作品和摇滚乐有关，画里还有他的歌词，就通过朋友的联系找到了朱伟。崔健对朱伟说：“你给我们设计一个幕布，舞台美术，我们一直要用作我们乐队的标志。” 朱伟没有一分钟的犹豫就答应了。他带领一帮美院的学生忙了近两个月时间，在总政歌舞团的大舞美车间完成了崔健将近十年海内外演出的舞台背景，一幅19米长的用水墨画形式画出来的巨大天幕。