Oriental Art · Masters, Second Semimonthly Issue of February, 2009, Volume 175
Zhu Wei: Originality Comes the First
by Zou Xiaoqing
Since1990s, Zhu Wei has been exploring for the improvement and transformation of traditional Chinese ink-and-wash paintings in contemporary social context. He has made a new attempt to make ink-and-wash paintings contemporary. With his creations, he has also answered the question that whether ink-and-wash paintings can be ‘contemporary’. It is worth noticing that his works are always full of a strength criticizing the social reality, which can arouse people’s reflection even in this era when marketization spreads far and wide.
Question (hereinafter Q):Since the beginning of your artistic creation, you have insisted on the artistic concept of your own and seldom influenced by external factors. Where does your motivation of persistence come from?
Zhu Wei (hereinafter Z): I have no special concepts. What I have is the will that I will never give up till my complete failure. I think one should focus on his own task, and the half-made work should not be displayed. Nobody knows what you are thinking, and others will never make correct comment on your thoughts. Therefore it is unnecessary for you to listen to others, and thus you may not be influenced. Some people love announcing exaggerating news, with their purpose of confusing those who are weak-minded or conforming their own will. Hence we must not be tempted by them.
For anything, we should find its root by asking some questions: Why did he say like this and not like that? Does he keep saying so or will change his way tomorrow? Who paid him? Who ordered him? You have spent dozens of years in studying something, getting no clear result, and how can those unprofessional people guide you? Moreover, the world is full of truth and lies, and only by engaging in something can you understand its nature. However, after engaging in it, you will usually do something involuntarily, and then the only thing you can do is to face everything with smile.
Having understood that, you may not need any motivation. Just like there is a cesspit, which is covered with flowers, ahead, and you will choose to skirt around it without any painstaking judgment and hard ideological struggle.
Q:The combination of ink-and-wash paintings and contemporary subject matters is fairly essential to contemporary ink-and-wash painting reformation, which needs the support of a kind of experimental spirit. Then what is the status of experimental spirit in art creation in your mind?
Z: I think it comes first and is the most important. Bluntly speaking, experimental spirit itself is just the spirit of originality. Facing numerous various artistic works, even professionals will feel confused sometimes, not to say inexperienced people. In my opinion, a classical work must be, first of all, original; otherwise it is valueless no matter how much praise it has received.
Then how to judge whether a work is original or not? Generally speaking, an original one is something that you have never seen or even heard of; theoretically, during artistic creation, the artists must focus on creativity, technique and material, and breakthrough in any of these three aspects can be seen as an innovation. In terms of creativity, original works should reflect ideas that have never been adopted, obviously bear the sign of the times, and show strong critical consciousness. As to technique, original works are created with the methods that have not been used before, such as those painted by Richter, Shi Tao and Zhu Da. When it comes to materials, if a painter, such as Duchamp and Rauschenberg, can adopt something that others do not dare to use, then we can say his work is original. Of course, all innovation should be reasonable and able to bear squeezing. Those ridiculous ones, such as drawing lotus leaves with one’s bottom, eating shit, acting sorcerer’s dance or making exaggerated expressions, should not be taken as innovations.
Q: Then in terms of the innovation of ink-and-wash paintings, what kind of innovation do you think is more important, the one in techniques or that in concept?
Z: I think innovation in concept is the most important, and that in techniques follows. It may be rather difficult to achieve both of them.
The history of ink-and-wash paintings is over 2000 years longer than that of oil paintings with a history for 700 years. Anyway, the techniques that are formed during so long a period are much richer, more detailed and more mature than oil painting techniques. In my opinion, the existing techniques can fully meet my needs.
What we lack is the enrichment and updating of concepts, but I do not mean to negate them totally. Chinese people have lived a miserable life over recent hundreds of years, and sometimes they even fail to find the sense of safety. Therefore, they begin to suspect everything around them, including culture; this phenomenon is rather common and prevalent in China: this is our current concept and we should update it at first.
《东方艺术·大家》 2009年2月下半月刊 总第175期