Oriental Art . Master, ‘Cover People’ Column of the First Semimonthly of August, 2010
Illustration of pictures:
Front cover, artist's portrait, photographed by Yu Jie, 2010.
p.50-51, artist's studio in Beijing, photographed by Yu Jie, 2008.
p.52, top, Chian Diary No.22, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 51 x 64 cm, 1996.
p.52, bottom, Two Red Flags No.1, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 160 x 200 cm, 2008.
p.53, The Story of Beijing No.3, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 66 x 66 cm, 1993.
p.54, Vernal Equinox No.10, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 122 x 160 cm, 2006.
p.55, Comrade Caption No.3, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 186 x 162 cm, 1994.
p.56-57, Utopia No.46, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 120 x 120 cm, 2004.
p.58-59, top left, The Heavenly Maiden No.12, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 65 x 56 cm, 2003.
p.58-59, top right, Spring Herald No.3, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 101 x 121 cm, 2003.
p.58-59, bottom left, Spring Herald No.2, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 100 x 121 cm, 2003.
p.58-59, bottom right, Diary of the Sleepwalker No.25, ink and color on paper, signed Zhu Wei, 173 x 132 cm, 1998.
p.153-159, Zhu Wei's image diary.
‘Yaoshunyu Soup’ and ‘Bird & Fish Soup’----Viewing Ink and Wash Paintings of Zhu Wei
Authored by Hao Ke
Two often-talked-about nouns in the 1990s of the art circle can come to your minds when you try to appreciate Zhu Wei’s paintings, namely Cynical Realism and Political Pop. Under the shroud of two schools featuring unique era characteristics jointly forged by the curiosity of the occidental art circles and lofty aspirations of Chinese curators, there emerge some star-like top artists who are still under spotlights today, but a batch of frustrated literati who want to get favors of the occidental art system by dint of designation of modernity and vanguard got buried at the same time. Due to its ambiguous state, Zhu Wei’s works can not be precisely categorized into any of the two concepts. Images with a sense of banter mixed with personal cognition about the social life constitute the main keynote of Zhu Wei’s earlier works, among which quotes of political signs or characters are only humorous jokes without any clear political purposes, which is as natural as when Wei Xiaobao falsified Yaoshunyu Soup taught by Emperor Kangxi into Bird & Fish Soup. Moreover, the complex technical specialty of ink and wash paintings chosen by Zhu Wei indistinctly dispels the basic properties of inexpensiveness and fastness of Pop arts from the perspective of creation while builds a non-realistic characteristic different from occidental painting with its unique modeling and materials texture. But meanwhile, a tendency of signifying in Zhu Wei’s works shows vivid mentalities and characterization specific to the era.
During a specific historic duration covered by Wang Shuo’s Ruffian Literature and capital rock and roll music of post-Cui Jian era, horizontal social and cultural orientation naturally imposed profound impacts on the focus points of visual artists. Just as in those years words ‘Leave Me Along, I Am upset’ were imprinted in the cultural shirts, a provocative mind generated from annoying mope became the universal psychological characteristic of many non-official artists. Visual images represented by them through paintings under the instigation of this mentality took on similarity to a certain extent. So when we review the art tendency of that era from the perspective of literature, the signified big faces, lazy expressions and ‘psora’ pasted Cultural Revolution images become simplified and stereotyped text expression patterns while this trend would obliterate the original value of individuality shown by the initiators to a large extent in today’s vulgarized art industry. For Zhu Wei, he does not break away from the one-dimensional perspective bestowed by the era in choosing the painting themes, but his expression approach of combining subjects beating with the pulse of the era with material of ink and wash broke through the restrictions of single theme space, which enabled Zhu Wei’s works to get into the last expressway of Chinese Modern Arts while simultaneously, the conservative stubborn cognition of ink and wash existing in people’s internal minds make his works linger about the edge of being ‘pioneering’ and ‘avant-guard’.
Yi Ying once mentioned in an article that ‘the so-called history is a linguistic hint in relationship with contemporary life’. For Zhu Wei, to create artworks by adopting traditional ink and wash skill would make him confronted with more complicated historical linguistic hints than those who use oil painting as the main approach. It is the same way as a person trotting forwards with a burdensome mirror who can not escape the impacts of remote images reflected from the mirror, and the images in Zhu Wei’s mirror is not only originated from the signified images of real life, but also from the assembling and colliding of presentation and implication between different art genres from both the South and the West.
In his China China created in 1997, Zhu Wei used Deng Diaoping’s image as the original version, in which the artist integrated various language segments from different historical stages to conduct unique explanations for the typical era images of himself.
The primary origination of the picture composition of China China derives from the painting by Francesca in the earlier stage of Renaissance in Italy titled Portrait of the Duke of Urbino and His Wife. When Zhu Wei shifts the pure redness of the duke of Urbino, he skillfully grafts the rich imaginations of the Chinese nationals of this red color into his own works. The prototype of the picture’s background is also derived from the Italian port scenery drawn by Francesca, but you would find that sailing boats of the Western types are replaced by Chinese traditional three-mast ancient sailing vessels, the replacement of which integrates the original foreign landscape into the Chinese prospect of ‘the canoe has already passed thousands of mountains’ type while stones besides the figure in the picture which was painted with the skill of ‘cun’ strictly following the Chinese painting rules of ‘Stones Have Three Formats ’ further intensified characteristics of ink and wash in the painting itself.
In the modeling of characters imaging, Zhu Wei chooses the images with insufficient three-dimensional effect in earlier stages of the Renaissance which is exactly appropriate for the modeling habit of traditional Chinese paintings. Artists restrict the image in the picture on an abstinent level of being slightly prorupt by mottled texture and patient painting, and make the relationship between it and the background retain the space concept of cavalier perspectives in Chinese painting. We can see from the self-narration of the painter himself, the image of Deng Xiaoping is originated from a picture in the news report. There might be many people who explain its significance too much in the political layer. But just as what we mentioned earlier, I think that for Zhu Wei and many other artists of his age, they are not inclined to construct a grandiose and ideal political image through arts when they are positioned in the contradicted senses and vortexes at loose ends brought about by the huge vicissitudes in the stage of Chinese society from being close to being open, rather, they tend to melt the strong senses of social responsibilities of the former-generation artists into thoughts of occasional types for the selves with an explosive mentality in a self-mockery way. But melting is not deleting. In the bottom hearts of the artists of this generation, there still hide the innocent ideal for the social mechanism to be reformed. Different from artists of former generations, they would more tend to take over the medium resources of the second-hand reality to realize their acknowledgement and expectation of their status quos. This state has similarity in era background with the emergence of occidental Pop arts to some extent, which pushes forwards more cultural signals and concepts with more open knowledge resources and media information than before to visual fields of the artists. While social clues brought about by economical mechanism reform also enables artists to know more fresh things and to be equipped with diversified presentations featuring discrepancy, yet meanwhile, artists have to face the turmoil that makes their daily lives lose unified standards. -Andy Warhol once constantly duplicated in his works the image of Mao Zedong as a sign of popular culture in bright color, which was to respond to the seeking-novelty style report on oriental political leaders by the US press in the 1970s. In here, artists attach great interests to daily declarations of the leaders’ images, which have already covered the strong attempts of the press and politicians to reveal the multifold political implications hidden behind news pictures, Zhu Wei’s choice of Deng Xiaoping’s image has the same intention with Worhol, but under the born influences with nationality characteristics of bloodline clansman consciousness, visual quotes of the leaders used by Zhu Wei bring more family gossip chitchat feelings and a sense of intimacy, which is similar to aunts and uncles enjoying the cool sitting in the Hutong Entrance who are chatting about the grand political propositions after dinner and are integrating themselves into their daily cognition of common life affairs. A quasi grass-root mentality and traitorous psychology of non-official artists at that time injected a sense of self-mockery realistic metaphors in Zhu Wei’s works. ‘passing on what you witness with your heart and paint them with your brushwork’, Zhu Wei coordinated his multifold senses on social and life vicissitudes of himself into images of leaders that account for two thirds of the whole painting, while the extrusion and encroachment of natural landscapes in the background by this fixed signals from photography also become the now a bit helpless and then complacent jocular mockery or self-advertisement of the artist himself for his own marginalized situation. .
Actually in many earlier works of Zhu Wei, this implicit and witty mockery was obviously represented. Take ‘sweet life No.27’ painting which was finished in 1998 as an example, this painting had an old-dull-yellow tone and a stain-like texture all over the picture, which exerts a strong illusion for the viewers at the first sight, who would mistakenly believe that it is an antique painting. The vertical axis arrangement plus a careful linear definition and an economical way of using colors, which strictly adhere to the principle that ‘no mix with colors and lines, line first, color after’, also featuring a similar mark of academic flower and bird painting styles back in Song dynasty. When the viewers look beyond the structure of trees, they would be taken aback to find a white statue of Mao Zedong amid the interlacing branches. This saint-like statue with a waving right arm, a typical leader image commonly seen all over China, ushers a new contradiction into the work. The absurdity and humor caused by the dislocation of different historical images shock the concept of precise time in view of history. They force the viewers to survey their knowledge of history (ancient or modern) fixed in their minds from a contemporary perspective, inspiring people to ponder upon the meaning of current life in reality. Yet based on the above, Zhu Wei makes advantage of the diary-style vernacular language inscription and a seal of the website in English carved in a traditional Chinese seal style to guide the viewers to know the actual creation time of this work.
Till now, three different historic stages jointly connect the ambiguous time clues in the works while under the intertwining of this chaos clue, the political implication of Mao Zedong is also replaced by a jokingly personal mindset for pursuing novel presentation and enjoyment. In such works as One Red Flag NO.1 and Two Red Flags No.1 created by Zhu Wei in 2008, his mockery transformation of the political implications of images was quietly resigning and red flag with original significance as revolutionary symbol in these works of Zhu Wei represented an abstract significance similar to Barnett Newman, American abstract expressionist painter, while those cloth marks indistinctly emerge in the red base also make viewers more easily to consider his works from the perspectives of pure form. It might be because of the boredom for inertial thinking model and little significant space expressed by politicized images, Zhu Wei represented more explosive interest in combining traditional ink and wash forms with daily characters images in his works during this period. For example, in his Vernal Equinox series created in 2008, the images of characters have cast off their obvious political cover and the previous oft-seen colored backdrops were also replaced by large areas of white space while images of different flowers, falling leaves and rockery designs seem to add a layer of poetic flavor featuring sentiments of traditional literati paintings. These works seem to augur that Zhu Wei is coming back once more to the re-cognition of profound traditions of ‘Yaoshunyu Soup’ from the ‘Bird & Fish Soup’ styled mockery status.
Absurd Utopia-Zhu Wei and His Ink and Wash Art
By Yang Juan
Is contemporary ink and wash or the modernity of ink and wash a reasonable assertion? When all are designed in accordance with the occidental standards, local ink and wash has been constantly doubted, nitpicked and criticized and this ‘self-examination’ capability has also been intensified with the forceful slogan when people inside it are sailing against the current. In the mindset of binary oppositions, there naturally emerge two groups of contradictions, namely China vs. ink and wash and the West vs. Oil painting. Against this backdrop, there surely will be such a debate as over how to modernize and domesticate ink and wash painting. The developments of all things follow their own natural regulations. Take ink and wash paintings for example, when different technologies and arts types such as photograph, video, installation etc appear, ink and wash, this ancient art, also faces the same challenges, but it is not annexed or ditched. On the contrary, it shows its new vigor in each historic link such as primitivism, cubism, surrealism and super realism pending Richter, Luc Tuymans. In this way, oil painting does not repel oriental features or other art types, which finishes its every step of surpassing in a fixed system and thread. Its starting point is not to deny the rationality of oil painting art itself or its possibility of extension. I think this is just where the bottleneck lies, and therefore, if we are to say modern ink and wash is a proposition to be discussed, then firstly, how to perceive ink and wash?
Zhu Wei is neither humble nor pushy in his mindsets towards traditions. Ink and wash painting in itself is technically difficult, just as what Zhu Wei mentioned, it requires efforts even in the mastering of brush work. Or, this timeliness and sedimentary deposits of ink and wash forges his stable mentality and calm temperament. In his studio, Zhan Ziqian’s Spring Travel Painting printed by Nigensha (erxuanshe) is pasted on the wall, and there are some figure paintings of Ming and Qing Dynasties that he was leafing through. Zhu Wei said, traditional paintings served as an enjoyment for the eyes. We can see clearly the influence of Zhu Da (Bada shanren), for example, in his earlier work series titled The Story of Beijing in the brushwork style of Zhu Da ‘s landscape while those people turning up the whites of their eyes in his latter works are also similar to those fish and birds under Zhu Da’s paint brush. Concerning distortion, it is not to trace back to Picasso or Cubism, rather, in my view, the distortion of human figure of Zhu Wei is closer to that of Chen Laolian. Zhu Wei has solid molding ability and he sticks to the straight and narrow path of the traditional ink and wash principles of Chinese painting. Yet as a contemporary person with broad visions, he is both open and tolerant. Be them traditional Chinese paintings or occidental oil paintings, Zhu Wei would always place, deploy and reshape them following his own minds. He plays between Chinese painting and Western painting but he is not particularly obsessed with either of them. His domination as the main part has for all along gripped a clear orientation. Therefore, everything could be picked up easily to constitute the absurd sceneries.
In normal classification, due to the political signs in his picture and Wang Guangyi’s Great Critiques, Zhu Wei was categorized into Political Pop while his approaches of expression are close to the Cynical Realism of Fang Lijun. When interpreting paintings of Zhu Wei, many critics normally lay particular stress on interpretations of his political signs, which is surely the obvious factor of Zhu Wei’s drawings. Red Star, Tiananmen and green uniforms are constantly seen in Zhu Wei’s paintings. But Zhu Wei is not the only one who shows preferences for political signs, rather, others also do from the popular Mao Zedong image of Political Pop to the Rock and roll of new long march, Eggs under the red flag of Cui Jian; the red theme which was once used as the main rhythm has been re-constructed by contemporary people.
There are many approaches for artists to step into the reality which are in direct relationship with the temperaments of the artists. As a solider, Zhu Wei created his own patterns through accumulative experiences namely those indifferent and idiotic human figures. In terms of art itself of Zhu Wei, many theoreticians and critics interpreted from picture symbols, character modeling and political codes since the 1990s. I do not concern things related to these specific images, but I’d rather regarding them as angles of stepping into reality of Zhu Wei. What I am interested in is how Zhu Wei steps into reality by dint of such language as ink and wash painting so as to reflect the attention, reflection, criticism and yelling for the reality of an artist. The sensitivity of the artists for both themselves and reality is congenital, the universal existence of which stimulates the creation of literature and art from different perspectives. Rousseau picked up operation knives to dissect his own body and soul in precision just as a surgeon does. While Proust overlapped the past, the present and the future while recalled the fleeting past years in his writing work featuring natural smoothness. The grandeur and dignity of Hugo, the toughness of Hemingway, the soul-stirring of Kafka and the sagacity, humor and incisiveness of Kundera all find their own angles to step into reality with their own characteristics. The more direct this step-into-the-reality approach is, the stronger their dynamics are when colliding with the reality. I think this is one of the aspects why the Political Pop at that time can cause repercussion, just as what Zhu Wei said, if you want to speak, you should surely choose the most succinct and forceful language.
Contemporary art serves precisely as this pattern of sound making, which is displayed as a riddle on a number of occasions. They can express their emotions in here when they confronted confusion, absurdity and boredom in reality. Chinese contemporary art inclusive of Zhu Wei also has one more characteristic, that is, it is for all along associated closely with text, which is a reflection between reality and text or is even originated directly from text for many times. Philosophy mania in the 1980s along with Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus engendered problems like existence became issues reflected by artists and thus absurd feelings about reality came into being. Absurdity almost becomes a collective emotion for this whole generation. In his book Memory and Amnesia (jiyi yu shiyi), Zhang Xiaogang wrote that we might be indebted to the changeable and complicated realities that we are in, and it is just these multifold changes of reality that lead us to be gradually awakened from the romantic feelings and vacuous idealism and we are to confront reality in an artistic way and to face those crying souls in the silent dark long nights. For a long while, Utopia becomes the only inner sustenance of those peoples in experiencing realistic absurdity. But if Utopia is also absurd, then everything would be shrouded by a sense of disillusionment. They belong to an awakening generation and have already acquiesced in the resignation and inability of the reality and their arts also reflect this emotion; therefore, a typical and universal image is always preferred and innovated.
Obviously, human figures painted by Zhu Wei are strongly typified: huge silly heads, blinking eyes, thick lips, poker face or strange grimace. Be they in The Story of Beijing series, Utopia Series or a single character image, this personal submission and personality obliteration may possibly be his sense of the reality. Thinking about the crowd created by Zhu Wei, it is just likened to a phalanx walking through in front of Tiananmen Square when you are not obsessed with one particular person in it, but are attracted by an overall atmosphere and feeling. This is the approach Zhu Wei uses to step into the reality. He perceives this reality with a nitpicky vision as a diagnostician and abstracts sections of life in bridle-wise and delicate approaches before magnifying, observing and diagnosing them under the microscope. Though the image of him has no hoarse intensity, Zhu Wei’s paintings are by no means the easy narratives. Though he adopts techniques of realistic paintings and chooses some daily scenes, what is hidden in this daily affairs or normality are revealing a sense of absurdity. His original purpose is not on these scenes, and all his themes are the routes for him to observe the reality while there is for all along hidden behind the paintings a self with cold eyes in the depths of the picture who sometimes sneers unbeknown laughs now and then.
封面 朱伟肖像 摄于2010年 摄影：于捷
50-51页 朱伟北京工作室 摄于 2008年 摄影：于捷
52页 上图 《朱伟日记二十二号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，51 x 64厘米，1996年
52页 下图 《两面红旗一号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，160 x 200厘米，2008年
53页 《北京故事三号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，66 x 66 厘米，1993年
54页 《开春图十号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，122 x 160 厘米，2006年
55页 《上尉同志三号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，186 x 162 厘米，1994年
56-57页 《乌托邦四十六号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，120 x 120厘米，2004年
58-59页 上左图 《天女散花十二号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，65 x 56厘米，2003年
58-59页 上右图 《报春图三号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，101 x 121厘米，2003年
58-59页 下左图 《报春图二号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，100 x 121厘米，2003年
58-59页 下右图 《梦游手记二十五号》，水墨设色纸本，朱伟落款，173 x 132厘米，1998年