Contemporary Art March 2013 Article on Ink Painting
Zhu Wei: Keeping up with Reality
Interviewer/editor: Wang Zhen
Zhu Wei’s artworks are regarded as, with abundant metaphors and sarcasm of the reality, a “successful integration of traditional and contemporary elements”. When I first interviewed him not long ago, Mr. Zhu was busy in preparing for his new exhibition this year. A few months later, the exhibition has been held in the MOCA Contemporary Art Museum in Singapore. This is also an exhibition where Zhu Wei presents his latest thoughts and researches on ink paintings. “Reflecting social realities with ink painting” has always been his opinion of ink and wash, and the influence of this thought has been spreading gradually. In this interview, Mr. Zhu provided us with his personal ideas and experiences of contemporary ink paintings.
CONTEMPORARY ART: The contemporary ink painting was isolated from the traditional ink painting. During the process, is there any timeline?
Zhu Wei: Excuse me. I have to correct this saying frist. The so called contemporary ink painting was not isolated from the traditional ink painting; it is an inheritance and continuation of traditional ink painting, but not a development. Everything of the contemporary ink painting can be found in traditional ones; however, some traditional elements are lost. Our inheritance varies from people to people. That is to say, everyone do it on their own capability. Some combine the traditional spirits and techniques with the present social transformation and characteristics of the times, and if the combination works well, contemporary ink painting can be created. Some just inherit the traditional techniques, but cannot link them with social reality. They play ink games and paint flowers and grasses which our ancestors had been painting for thousands of years, so these people can be regarded as ancient people who live in today. They are the most common. And there is another type, who is the most confusing. Neither can they combine their works with the transforming society, nor can they master traditional ink techniques. There seems to be some modern features in their painting, but you cannot tell when it was painted because there is no characteristics of the times. When it comes to the techniques, they hide the head but show the tail with a lot of vague gestures, but no real skill can be verified. It's impossible for this sort of painting become an ink description of the contemporary society, or be in the realm of "discussion on painting techniques", because either of above needs art exploration. Thus, they are artisan ink paintings at most.
CONTEMPORARY ART: According to your experience, what kind of state should the contemporary ink painting or new ink be?
Zhu Wei: The history of Chinese painting is basically the history of ink painting. Oil painting has not been introduced into China until the recent 100 years, so it’s still in its infancy. That is to say, Chinese oil painting is still in the phase of imitating, absorbing and disseminating, and it has not settled down yet. It can often be ignored because in the history of oil painting, no technique, style or trend was initiated or developed in China.That's why it's important for us to look at the contemporary ink painting from a historical angle. It'll be better if there is no fault. Many Asian countries lost their traditional local painting as a result of being colonized. What's worse, they can't even find teachers to teach local painting in universities. It's fortunate that we still have the major or department of Chinese painting in fine arts academies, and they are given priority at least on surface.
The most important issue that the contemporary ink painting confronts is whether it can keep up with the development of the society in both form and content, and whether it can reflect the reality. If this issue cannot be solved, it cannot be called contemporary ink. The state I expect is that the Chinese contemporary ink painting can be like the Western contemporary oil painting: there are art trends such as Political Pop represented by Andy Warhol , Out of Focus represented by Richter, vivid depiction of real life with multi-materials represented David Hockney, bright abstract represented by Damien Hirst and so on. The ink painting would be so popular that years later, the western artists will have a burning ambition to learn Chinese painting skills as a swarm of bees. They will study hard on "three layers of alum and nine procedures of dyeing", as well as various types of shading skills including big-axe shading and small-axe shading. They will compete to each other who is doing the best and understanding the ink spirit the most deeply. And then, there will be some German Gu Kaizhi, Li Keran, Fu Baoshi, some British Fan Kuan, Zhang Zeduan, Tang Bohu, some American Gu Hongzhong, Shi Tao, Bada Shanren and so on. Just as Westerners never discuss the existential questions of oil painting, we will no longer talk about whether ink painting has come to its dead end by then.