Beijing Business Today February 21 2013
Zhu Wei: A Distant Keeper
Reporter: Zhou Xiao
Many people think Zhu Wei is a special guy who never compromises when he earned fame in his early years abroad and in the western context dominated contemporary art creating environment.
Zhu Wei has been sticking to ink painting for almost three decades behind all those rebellious behaviors. For him, traditional ink painting isn’t necessarily a contrast to contemporary art. It just requires more time and patience. Every culture has its own way of transmission and affecting the world. From a long-term perspective, contemporary ink painting is far more superior to contemporary oil painting, since it has its own carrier, long standing and well established culture.
■Zhu Wei’s CV
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. Since 1993, he began to participate in international exhibitions and has held over 20 solo exhibitions; what’s more, he also published individual painting albums and retro respecting albums of eight versions. His works are widely collected by over 20 art museums and museums at home and abroad.
“Zhu Wei’s Work Exhibition” (Tokyo, Japan)
Group exhibition “Instincts and Instances” (Brussels, Belgium)
“BIENNALE ITALIA-CINA” (Milan, Italy)
“Contemporary Gong-bi Paintings of Five Masters” (Beijing)
“Biennial Exhibition in Xinjiang” (Xinjiang) Group exhibition “Modern and Contemporary Chinese Ink Paintings over the Past Three Decades” (Beijing)
“International Art Exhibition in Hong Kong” (Hong Kong)
“Zhu Wei’s Work Exhibition” in 2011 (Seoul, South Korea)
Solo exhibition “Zhu Wei” (Tokyo, Japan)
Group exhibition “Seeking the Nature—Contemporary Expression of Chinese Gong-bi Paintings” (Beijing)
Art exhibition “Face to Face” (Tel Aviv, Israel)
“Meanings Goes Before Brushes—Contemporary Chinese Ink On Paper” (New York, America)
“Making Ink Painting an Understandable Story”
Beijing Business Today: Did you ever face the choice of choosing one art form before you devoted yourself to ink painting?
Zhu Wei: I learned to paint ink painting at an early age, but it was in the mid 1980s that I decided to focus on that. I chose ink painting because my family was poor, and can’t afford to buy expensive oil painting materials. Back then, people were found of Sartre, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Superman as well as western philosophy such as existentialism but western contemporary art thoughts didn’t come to spread in China. Political Pop and Performance Art were also in their infancy, not ready to export with uncertainties.
Beijing Business Today: There are many personal preferences in your works, for example, the stage effects made by the curtains, figures like pottery figurines, exaggerated limb ratio and grids as backgrounds. It seems that you try to foster a serial cartoon effects and corresponding sense of narration.
Zhu Wei: Style varies from person to person. Take cooking for example, some prefer salty dishes while others prefer spicy ones. In my perspective, styles may base on ability, hobbies and even physiological natures. I myself feel uneasy in my stomach whenever I see some pointy or thorny things. Meanwhile, I didn’t stress the sense of narration and it’s hard to say whether some works can became serial ones, especially those paintings of my early stage.
Beijing Business Today: besides ink painting, you also create prints and sculptures. How did you corporate your ink painting creation ideas into prints and sculptures and integrate their own qualities in your exploration of various art forms?
Zhu Wei: I’m good at ink painting, and other forms are just extension of ink paintings, but not all ink paintings can be transformed into prints and sculptures. For example, the serial work “Pictures of the Strikingly Bizarre” would be the new version of clay work “Rent Collection Courtyard” if to be made sculptures.
Beijing Business Today: Inheritance and innovation are frequently mentioned topics in discussing ink painting. Many painters think it’s hard to “get out” once “getting into” ink painting, unable to surpass the ancient masters and even harder to innovate. What do you think of it?
Zhu Wei: Only Chinese people have concerns like that. No one in Europe or America have questions like that. For oil painting, they inherit and make amendments, integrating tradition and contemporary characteristics. Their innovation is really in the contemporary art forms such as installation, video art and performance art.
I don’t think it’s “hard to get out once getting into” and unable to outperform our ancestors. We lack confidence for our own traditional culture so it’s hard to really “get into” because we can be too impatient. Outperform our ancestors is another thing. Before innovating we need to fully grasp the essence of tradition. Our ancestors stressed “to learn from nature and cultivate one’s own sense of art appreciation”. “To learn from nature” means to integrate nature and the whole society into paintings. Many people already get stuck at this point, finally “getting into” but can’t “get out”.
Beijing Business Today: Currently, ink painting is relatively received less attention than the popular contemporary Chinese art though “experiment ink painting” and “contemporary ink painting” also showed frequent appearance. In history, ink painting went through several reforms, but witnessed no ideal results. In your opinion, how could ink painting represent contemporary features in form or content? Or it would be better left as a traditional national art?
Zhu Wei: Those reforms only appeared after the late Qing Dynasty. Ink paintings have always been about little romance such as flowers or grass with little engagement in social transformation and growth, neither reflecting real life nor enjoying contemporary spirits.
Meanwhile, I think it’s normal to see ink painting receive less attention because people nowadays are more attracted to foreign things. For example, young people like Mac Donald and KFC for their nice atmosphere. I remember some people choose to get married at Mac Donald when it first opened in mainland. People will prefer to eat at Mac Donald, KFC or Maksim than to eat Chinese hamburger or steamed bun stuffed with pork and Chinese chives at roadside if the price is the same. This is a process. People are still curious about the new things.
From my perspective, contemporary innovation in ink painting is somehow similar to dining. For example, I must have a bowl of cold noodle or instant noodle with some tuber mustard to “calm down” after someone inviting me to a western dinner that goes for hours. The former boss of the gallery I cooperated with is an American, every time he comes to China, I would order roasted duck, dumplings, instant-boiled mutton, but he has to eat steak, salad, salmon or even foods from Mac Donald and KFC every few days.
Beijing Business Today: You are one of the artists first signed with foreign galleries and you were known by drawing ink paintings. From then on, the west seems increasingly prefer works with “internationalized” art languages. Local arts face many hurdles in interpreting their meaning since the west holds the discourse power. Do you think this problem is a permanent one or not?
Zhu Wei: I think it’s a matter of time. What lies behind art is culture and it’s value that lies behind culture. The so called “internationalized” art language and even demonstration of general values are in fact stories understandable to everyone, not restricted to one country or region. Everyone loves Hollywood films because they can grasp the meaning of their stories.
General values don’t have patents. Everyone has access to them. If we don’t master them, westerners will. Art transcends national borders, since they convey the same cultural values only with different carriers. In this way, from a long-term perspective, contemporary ink painting is far more superior to contemporary oil painting, since it has its own carrier and long standing and well established culture.
■ 个人简历 朱伟 先后就读于解放军艺术学院、北京电影学院、中国艺术研究院。自1993年起开始以中国水墨画在国际大型展览露面，在世界各地举办多次个人展览。先后出版八种不同版本的个人绘画专集、回顾专集。作品被国内外20余家美术馆、博物馆收藏。
■ 展览 2012年 “朱伟作品展”（日本东京） “本能与瞬间”群展（比利时布鲁塞尔） “意中艺术双年展”（意大利米兰） “当代工笔五人联展”（北京） “新疆双年展”（新疆） “现当代中国水墨回望三十年”群展（北京） “香港国际艺术展”（香港） 2011年 “朱伟作品展”（韩国首尔） “朱伟”个展（日本东京） “格物致知——中国工笔画的当代表述”群展（北京） “面对面”艺术展（以色列特拉维夫） “意在笔先-中国当代水墨画展 ”（美国纽约）