1. This exhibition will showcase your latest works, including the Searching for Light and Sinking & Floating series. How did you conceive the two series and what message do you want to convey?
Searching for Light series depicts the search for light from a child’s perspective. It embodies the new-born’s aspirations for truth and the future, as well as my spontaneous approach to artistic creation. Sinking & Floating series looks at the vicissitude of life in a social context, using a fat woman to suggest a tongue-in-cheek narrative of the ups and downs in life. It is a philosophical reflection on the self in society.
2.You constantly reinvent your own style, from realism with more serious and iconoclastic subject matters, as seen in your early works such as Inverted Woman; Man Upside Down; and Two People’s World, to abstract in a figurative context and humorous style, likeThe Queen, Hidden Dreams, Like The First Time and other later works. So how do the latest Searching for Light and Sinking & Floating series differ from your past works in terms of subject matter and style? How would you describe these two series?
My current style is more painterly, as opposed to my early style that was more detailed. I think it’s hard to represent the essence and aura of the subject matter in a painting; I lacked the confidence to master the skills when I was young. So I tried to make up for it by focusing on the representation of details. Now at the mature age of 40, I am more confident in my ability to grasp the composition and essence of my painting. I am also more informed by my extensive experience of ongoing artistic creation, so my style seems more abstract-inclined and spontaneous now.
Searching for Light and Sinking & Floating are the extension of my reflection on humanistic philosophy. My early work Inverted Woman is a more iconoclastic representation of my criticism of social injustice and oppression, whereas Two People’s World coincided with my early stage of marriage. It was natural for me to explore the conjugal life in my paintings.
Now that I am father of two kids, I can observe childhood closely through my children and reflect on my own childhood in Searching for Light. Kids are curious about everything and they dream about their future – the common traits of mankind throughout evolution. The Sinking & Floating series is a retrospect to the first half of my life, using a fat woman as a metaphor for my expectations of society to express the latter’s influence on me and my value judgement of life. It offers food for thought in terms of humanistic philosophy.
So Sinking & Floating and Searching for Light are the continuation of my analysis of humanity and culture, and they are an important milestone on my artistic pursuit of humanistic philosophy. By observing the relationship between my personal living and society, I probe deep into the true essence of life.
3.The Searching for Light and Sinking & Floating series represent a reinvention of your art practice. How did it come to being? Have you encountered any difficulties during the process? How did you adapt to the change?
It was rather a probe than a reinvention. What seem like changes are just another way of probing into human nature; what seems like a conversion from realism to abstract is in fact a replacement of exploration with confidence. I think it is more a transformation than a mere change. It marks my transition to maturity. It is a palpable embodiment of my life journey, a kind of enlightenment that has dawned on me. But I think every artist would have to survive an arduous struggle in order to transform, like the imago shaking off the chrysalis violently to becoming a butterfly. The artist is a lonely creature; he is on his own in the artistic pursuit. There is no guideline for success, but transformation and progress are essential to artistic pursuit, maybe this is the charm and calling of the artist. Art is always awe-inspiring.
4.Although the subject matters have changed, your preference for human characters as key visual element remains. Why the interest in human characters? What kind of story do you want to tell through them?
It is fitting to express humanity through human characters. In my paintings, fat women, couples and children are metaphors that facilitate the free and comprehensive expression of my reflection on people and society and self-actualisation. Ever since my graduation from the Oil Department of China Central Academy of Fine Arts, I have been pursuing the artistic career with the humanistic spirit, which constitutes my artistic growth and outlook on life.
5. You are a disciple of Jin Shang Yi, Zhu Nai Zheng and Yan Fei Yun. How do senior artists influence your paintings and personal life?
From the three grand masters of contemporary Chinese oil painting, I have learned a lot from painting skills to different schools of painting and to moral standing. They have different styles but they share the same passion for illustrating their own humanistic philosophy through painting. It is natural for me to continue with their pursuit, which in turn is conducive to my own practice. They share the same belief in and advocacy of innovation through tradition, with strong disapproval of illogical creative freedom and expression of self-pity, which sheds light on my artistic pursuit.
6. Your new home was widely covered in the media lately. How did you come up with the idea of a dialogue between family life and art by bringing together a cosy home and an art studio? How do you juggle between family and painting?
I have invested a lot of energy in my new home as if it is my work of art. By bringing together the home and the studio (which, of course, helps save time on my commute), I can mesh artistic creation with my daily living in a layout design that fits my own way of living. I stripped away the decorative elements to probe into the essence of my actual daily needs by way of the functionality of architectural space – an approach that chimes with my artistic vision of probing into the essence of painting and humanity. Granted, contemporary painting and architecture are not exactly the same, but the gauging of humanity and its essence is at the core of both disciplines. What I want for my painting is a straight-forward narrative, and the same goes for space-making – I prefer crudeness over obsession with perfection, and that is what marks out masterpieces in art. My paintings look at society from the lens of family, so now I can have these two separate entities coming together as one.
7. The art market in China has risen to prominence in recent years. There are increasing demands for contemporary Chinese art, domestically and internationally. What does the current art market mean to you?
The art market in China has come a long way since 2000. It has gone from a total buying frenzy in the early stage, to currently picking-up a more planned pace of development. Commercialisation is an inevitable market pattern, where buying frenzy and planned development are the irrational and rational manifestation of it respectively. With the soaring Chinese economy, I think the art market must flourish, which in turn spurs collectors to become more professional and cultivated, that is, to be more rational about the market value of artworks. The demands for art are huge, whether as investment or a symbol of status or personal taste, but so is competition. In this sense, the whole industry, including artists, agencies, galleries and auction houses, must equip themselves with professionalism and scientific observation. After all, market opportunities only come to those who are prepared, however large the market may be – this is an important principle for Chinese art market to gain a footing in the international arena.
8. A report indicates that artists born between 1975 and 85 are emerging in the Chinese art market. As one of the prominent figures of this generation, how do you cope with fame and criticism?
Artists born between 1975 and 85 have now reached the intermediate stage, and are now looking to follow the path of the accomplished senior artists. I think being in the spotlight does not necessarily mean that you are at a mature stage. Now that my generation has amassed a deep reservoir of experience in our 40s, we can give full play to the advantage in our artistic pursuit. There is no such thing as a well-rounded artwork; the notion itself disregards the subjective allure of art. At this stage, I need to give art a mature touch. I will go on with my artistic pursuit holding dear to my heart four principles of being grateful, authentic, confident and persistent.
9. How do you describe the new generation artists? What attributes must an artist possess to arouse interests in the global art market? What is your advice for them?
I always think that this is an age of restraint and freedom. We cannot enjoy absolute freedom at the expense of principle, but too many restraints kill creativity. The quality and market value of an artwork does not necessarily have a positive correlation. There are artists who create good works that do not sell. This is a double-edged sword: as a professional artist, one needs to make a living with his artworks. He can neither disregard market value nor be bounded by it. You need to understand this reality in order to become an outstanding professional artist. I hope new generation artists can have a good grasp of it, so as to unleash their potential fully in the context of this institutionalised logic. The age of Van Gogh has long gone, we can only live with the spirit of Van Gogh while clinging to our own values.
10. How do you think about your upcoming first solo exhibition? What are your expectations?
I am very excited about it and I really look forward to it. I have a passion for self-expression, and the exhibition is a retrospect to my artistic career so far. I hope my works can engage the audience in a fruitful dialogue. I would also like to give back to those who have collected my works with a feast of art in the exhibition.
11. Your works are coveted by many investors and collectors who anticipate your works to come. Are you working on your next project? Could you tell me about the subject matter of it?
I have a feeling that my creative journey has just begun. I always have great expectations of my next work and I hope my passion can impress my collectors. I draw inspiration from all aspects of my life, and I will continue to build my works around my humanistic philosophy which, I hope, will culminate in a powerful impact on my pursuit of art. My next series, entitled Visual Field, will deal with composition and modernity. So in the next three years, I will focus on three series, namely Searching for Light, Sinking & Floating and Visual Field.