Singapore Lianhe Zaobao January 29 2013
Chinese painter Zhu Wei: Thoughts Behind Red Curtains
Reporter: Wu Qiji
Cover designer: Li Liqun
Photographer: Li Baijuan
Painting pictures are provided by MOCA Contemporary Art Museum
Zhu Wei, born in the 1960s, is viewed as a contemporary Chinese painter who first introduced Gong-bi (meticulous) ink painting techniques into contemporary art field. His works demonstrated oriental concepts and skills to the world. He explored to exhibit Chinese political life with ink painting while many new prominent artists are making “Political Pop” and “Sarcastic Realism” with oil painting. Zhu Wei’s works have special attractions for the huge difference between traditional language and contemporary political life.
It’s hard to be an artist in China. First and foremost, he needs to think on his own. In this atmosphere, Zhu Wei came to our notice. He represents middle-aged painters who explored new ways both in practice and theory.
More and more people introduce Zhu Wei as the first contemporary Chinese painter who first introduced Gong-bi ink painting techniques into contemporary art field. Amid the integration of both Chinese and western arts as well as ancient and contemporary arts, Zhu Wei attempted to showcase Chinese subjects with traditional Gong-bi ink painting while a large number of people are making “Political Pop” and “Sarcastic Realism” with oil painting.
Zhu achieved impressive results in demonstrating contemporary Chinese political, social and cultural life with ancient ink painting. Upon his arrival in Singapore to have his solo exhibition, the journalist had an interview with him, meanwhile read his new book Following Time, covering his ideas on art, life, society and politics.
“Artists must have independent characters, and they ought to have their own perspective and view about certain people and things, which is rare in Chinese writers. What is worse, writers and artists nowadays are busy making a fortune, while the ancient literati didn’t purse such an affluent state, so they relatively had independent thoughts. In the contemporary era, Yu Hua is one of the good writers. Recently I have been asking myself: why paint? Why choose it as my life-long pursuit and goal? What problems can paintings solve? What truth is art to reveal? What happened to the paintings in the recent decade?” Zhu Wei said.
In his opinion, our ancestors left little space for us to develop. Zhu Wei basically appraised the art achievement made in ancient Chinese art, but he somehow complained about modern Chinese art and further pointed out the existing problems in Chinese contemporary literature and the Nobel Prize for Literature.
“I employed Chinese material and painting techniques, but different composition. I didn’t think there is something worth worshiping in Chinese art 20 years ago, while now I’ve come to it. Actually, I don’t have to develop any new technique, since the old ones can fully suffice my needs. The technique employed in Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival was the most advanced. Or it can be said that our ancestors left little space for us to develop. I used the ancient approach described as ‘clothes described by Cao Buxing looks like coming out from water’ and ‘belt under Wu Taotzu’s brush strokes looks like being in the wind’ when I drew the curtain for modern stages.” Zhu Wei, enthusiastic about imperial Gong-bi ink painting, said when talking about ancient era.
“From the Qing Dynasty to the Republic of China, China has been learning from the west. That’s why we have few local arts. China can be said to be a test ground of western culture. Take the social system for example: China didn’t create socialism or capitalism. Our five-thousand year history only went through feudalism and slavery system. What’s more, Chinese literature also lacks general value, while western values can be popularized widely. We have been acting as docile students, waiting for the westerners to say: ‘your imitation is good’. That’s all. “He criticized the ill of Chinese culture.
Design Act-drop for Cui Jian
According to critics, Zhu Wei’s works have their distance from traditional Gong-bi ink painting, but remained their basic features in color, outline, dyeing and technique. The contrast between traditional language and contemporary political life added more attraction to his works.
It may be hard to understand that Zhu Wei is also crazy about rock music. He not only designed performance stage for Cui Jian, a rock music singer, when he made his tour show in America and Japan, but also the band logo.
It was back in the autumn of 1995, “Cui Jian is looking for you! He heard of your story, and your rock-music-related paintings.” some told Zhu Wei one day. “Could you design an act-drop for us to also use as a band logo.” Cui Jian requested after their meeting. Zhu Wei readily agreed. Leading a group of college students, he made a huge act-drop with a length of 19 meters in over half a month. Later, Cui Jian brought it wherever he had shows across the globe.
At a visual art exhibition “50 Year Review of World Rock Music” held by Museo di Roma (Museum of Rome), some saw that act-drop and wanted to collect it. Zhu Wei immediately called Cui Jian, but unfortunately, it was lost. It’s said the offer could buy each of them a Japanese sport utility vehicle.
“Many are confused about how could a painter of ancient Chinese painting get involved with popular rock music? I guess it’s because rock music is intense, even various contemporary western arts have been influenced by it, and only rock music can beat such an ancient art like Chinese art.” Zhu Wei said.
Exhibiting 12 Huge Works
Some people say that Zhu Wei had been used to drawing behind red curtains for fearing light. Suffering Presbyopia, his annual works have decreased from 20 to 30 pieces to four or five pieces. The 12 huge works demonstrated at Singapore took him almost seven years, covering “Class Texts of Ink Painting Study”, “Landscape across the River” and “Figure Study” series.
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 seven versions. His works are widely collected by over 20 art museums and museums at home and abroad.
What are the features of Zhu Wei’s works when Chinese art has come to his era without so many constrains on politics and social ideology and taboo of expression?
“A while ago, art was mainly on criticizing problems. A majority of the painters born in the 1950s are still followers of the American Pop Art. Our generation has come back to seeking tradition. What I’m doing now is to express modern subjects with western composition, which is difficult. We used to paint pavilions, now we have none, there are only high buildings which the lines and techniques of Chinese painting are hard to portray. I feel helpless and inferior sometimes when confronting oil paintings.” Zhu Wei said.
吴启基／报道 李利群／封面设计 李白娟／摄影 画作图片由新加坡MOCA当代艺术馆提供
60年代出生的朱伟，被认为是第一位将工笔画手法引进中国当代艺术领域的画家。他的绘画让世界看到来源于东方绘画的当代趣味、观念和功力。当许多中 国新锐艺术家用油画来做“政治波普”和“讽刺现实主义”，他探索以水墨表现当代中国政治生活的可能，传统语言与当代政治生活图景之间的反差， 使作品获得特殊的吸引力。