Mixed Media Sculpture

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Wang Lifeng

Poetry in History: The Visual Narrative of Wang Lifeng: Dao Zi

Today’s information age brings with it a significant consequence—the disappearance of historical consciousness and feeling. History was once a modern foundation. It explained the course of modern society’s origin, development, and evolution, but with the development of modern society has come a bombardment of information technology. This bombardment obscures and eventually destroys the context of evolution. On one hand, modern society has made people feel time is speeding by, like everything is happening at once, blurring what is real and illusionary. On the other hand, people feel as if everything is being duplicated, lacking any creativity or trust. Even fine art does not give people a “narrate the past, think about the future” spirit of idealism. The visual entertainment of history utilizes visual imagery, seeping into households and delivering a kind of lethargic “sleeping city culture” television program. As a result, history has all but lost the meaning of its existence. Even so, the rethinking of modern culture and the exploration of modern aesthetics are also emerging from this very ambiguous, dim reality. In China, few contemporary artists have abandoned their historical imaginations and realities. How people understand history very much reflects how they look towards the future.

Since the turn of the new century, Wang Lifeng has persisted in creating works of art with strong cultural and historical consciousness, such as The Great Han Dynasty, The Great Song Dynasty and The Great Ming Dynasty. Recently, using traditional Chinese ink in solid form, Wang Lifeng has produced astounding sculptural installation pieces. Looking at these works by an artist in the prime of his artistic life, how are we to access its value and meaning? Can contemporary visual art interpret history? Is this art different from historical records used by historians? Is it possible for experimental art to express the meaning of history? People read historical records to understand history, but standard historical texts, which are often called primary narration, are actually official revisions of authorized history. It resulted in legitimizing historical knowledge in a unified text, designed to empower authoritarian rulers.

Consequently, contemporary philosophers have asserted that Chinese history is produced by a historiographic culture. Postmodernists believe historical knowledge is neither absolute nor objective. In the end, what exist are contemporary thought and the political creation of relative knowledge. Though primary narration originates from the Scientific Revolution, new advances in science have caused people to doubt its validity,especially its political connotations—the influence of which even science cannot avoid. The historical function of past figures’ playing decisiveroles became diluted, leaving behind a narrative within a linguistic system of representation; yet narration was not the only means of representationin which people could also use description, interpretation and visualization. Understanding the goal of history is also to understand and to seek historical truth, but who and which text decides this truth? Does history belong to the truth of the past or the suspicions of today?

He does not attempt to speak for cultural history; however, he allows cultural history to speak through him with its own unique rhythm, flavour and individual temperament.
Dao Zi

The face is the body’s soul, and culture is history’s face. The expression in Wang Lifeng’s work is not historical time, but rather a kind of rhythmic time. This rhythmic time abandons the dialectics, teleology and objectivity implied in the relation of original time and tries to use a morec onceptualized approach to expressing the richness and pluralism of culture and history.

History paintings, in the context of art history, are recreations commemorating a famous historical personage or event, but history paintings cannot invent history. Primary narration of history is just the painter defining his or her subject matter—in other words, an accepted version from others. Artists use this as a building block to depict the themes that conform to current mainstream ideas and viewpoints. There is little tolerance for artists who used subjectivity and historical creativity in their work. From the beginning, Wang Lifeng has abandoned these models of history painting.

He rejects the so-called grand fabrication of realism—“objectively recreating historical truth”—and instead consciously succeeds in the Chinese tradition of “taking the truths and misfortunes of the past and putting them into today’s works.” As the writer Qian Zhongshu once said, “Poetry is history’s pen; history is at the heart of poetry.” In Ancient China, scholars wrote poems and read history, and, for the most part, poetry glorified history. Poetry, unlike other modes of expression, was the literary vehicle by which historical events, knowledge and meaning were expressed and disseminated.

The expressions of historical events, knowledge and meaning all have specific contexts: their own historical environments. The originality of Wang Lifeng lies in his utilization of visual imagery to construct a historical environment, laying bare deep layers and connotations of the meaning of historical fact. The meaning of cultural history lies in the fact that it exists in intelligible things—things we understand, including the true and the false. Wang Lifeng does not cater to the tastes of his audiences but challenges them.

He does not attempt to speak for cultural history; however, he allows cultural history to speak through him with its own unique rhythm, flavour and individual temperament. Consequently, just by looking at the wispy, faint imagery in Wang Lifeng’s pieces, one realizes what is being presented is anti-narration demanding introspection. Imagery portrays the autonomy of aesthetics and history’s twinkling symbolism—a concept painstakingly pursued by Wang Lifeng that makes his work so unique and multi-faceted. Each of his series (The Great Han Dynasty, The Great Song Dynasty or The Great Ming Dynasty) has been highly purified and distilled leaving behind only the feelings and mood of the main body: quiet but forceful, sorrowful yet brilliant, sincere yet dispirited almost to the point of despair. What it reveals is an artist highly attuned and skilled at portraying culture and history through imagery.
 

Wang Lifeng: Old Colour, Old Smell, New Medium:Tally Beck

Wang Lifeng’s artistic trajectory is distinctive and unique in Chinese contemporary art. While many of his compatriots have focused on exploring cynicism expressed in the vocabulary of Pop Art, Wang mines history both real and imagined to concatenate past, present and future in his own personal idiom. An impresario of mixed media, he creates abstract compositions from which readable cultural signifiers emerge.

Wang admits to being a romanticist, and this is evident in the titles he gives to his series. He celebrates graceful elegance, opulent texture and international appeal in The Great Ming Dynasty. Fragments of silk commingle with old documents amid Wang’s expressive oil painting on the canvases. His careful juxtaposition and injection of his own gesture tell us that he is not attempting an objective narration but rather uniting collective memory and personal imagination. Wang’s background in stage design is evident in his work. His compositions suggest a setting and an ambiance. Visual clues give us historical bearings, and his painterly abstraction creates a discernible mood. He effectively controls the elements to evoke a dreamlike vision while reining in the ethereal nebulousness with emphatic historicity.

The latest works in The Great Ming Dynasty literally reach out to the viewer. Wang, already having mastered inviting textures, heightens the sensory experience. He inventively incorporates traditional Chinese ink in its solid form into his works. This novel addition adds further texture, dimension and scent to his engaging compositions.

Wang makes his own solid ink according to the traditional recipe. He combines lampblack with gelatine, crushed cloves and borneol, a variety of camphor. After pouring the mixture into moulds of his own creation, he allows it to set. The result is a highly sculptural work of art that carries with it the pungent smell of traditional ink. He describes the effect with the old Chinese saying, “Old colour, old smell,” which suggests the sensory nostalgia experienced when specific sensations transport us to another place and time.

The pieces give a surreal impression. Elegantly styled Ming furnishings seem to break free from the jet-black stone in a Michelangelesque sculptural manner. The texture of the solid ink recalls the abstraction of traditional Chinese mountain landscapes, and the accents of real bronze elements are iconic of China’s opulent, material past. Wang’s wit is evident in his etching of Chinese characters into the solid ink—charming grace notes that reveal his inventive imagination.

While the new works are a further articulation of the artist’s style, they also serve to demonstrate his fearlessness and versatility. These behemoth compositions, dominated by dark black and metallic solidity, subvert the dreamy lightness of the earlier works. Wang concentrates on the mastery of this innovative medium and focuses on the weighty volumes it provides. Cloudy colour gradations and white space give way to anchored, terrestrial solidity. Nevertheless, he imbues these works with an energy that breathes life into them. In spite of the daunting stasis that would seem inherent in this medium, Wang makes them appear fluid and malleable.

Wang’s uniqueness lies in his ability to remain focused on the iconography of China’s past while simultaneously inventing a new visual language in which to portray it. He embraces ambiguity and paradox and transforms them into tools with which he forges his own subjective view of history.

1962
Born in Inner Mongolia
1979
Began Oil Painting and Wood Sculpture
1986
Graduated in Stage Design, Central Academy of Theatre, Beijing
Stage Designer, Beijing Peoples’ Theatre of the Arts

Present
Full-time artist
 

Solo Exhibitions

2013
Ji, Red Gate Gallery
2010
My Abstract Way, Jindu Art Gallery
2009
Qing Mountain Series, Galerie Du Monde, Hong Kong
2008
Qing Mountain Series, China Visual Arts Center, Beijing
Qing Mountain Series, Gefeng Art Center, Shengzheng
Great Song Series, Brussels, Belgium
2007
The Great Ming Dynasty, Red Gate Gallery
2005
Great Song Series, Red Gate Gallery
Great Song Series, Munich, Germany
2003
Great Han Series, J Gallery, Hong Kong
Great Han Series, Red Gate Gallery
2002
Great Tang Series, Yi Bo Gallery, Shanghai
2000
Spring and Autumn Series, Red Gate Gallery
1999
Warring States Series, Red Gate Gallery
1998
Brilliance Series, Red Gate Gallery
1997
Dynasty Series, Red Gate Gallery
1996
Hui Series, Red Gate Gallery
1995
Purity Series, Red Gate Gallery
1993
National Language Series, Red Gate Gallery
1989
Double Crane Gallery, Seattle
1987
2nd Wood Sculpture Exhibition, French Embassy, Beijing
1986
1st Wood Sculpture Exhibition, Friendship Hotel, Beijing
 

Group Exhibitions

2012
Two Generations – 20 Years of Chinese Contemporary Art, 2012 Australian Tour: City of Sydney Chinese New Year; Manning Regional Gallery; Damien Minton Gallery; University of Newcastle Gallery; Melbourne International Fine Arts (MiFA); Linton & Kay, Perth
2011
Wang He Art Exhibition, Deng Ming Wang He Art Museum
20 Years – Two Generations of Artists at Red Gate, island6 Art Center, Shanghai
20 Years – Two Generations of Artists at Red Gate, Red Gate Gallery
2010
China Abstract TOP Exhibition, Hangzhou
China Abstract TOP Exhibition, Today Art Museum
Our Journey of Abstraction, 798 Jindu Art Centre, Beijing
Trickery and Metamorphisis, Jinbao Art Museum, The Fourth Space
Times – No Boundaries, Henan Art Museum
2009
Mongolia : Mongolia, Red Gate Gallery
60th Anniversary Contemporary Art, National Centre for the Performing Arts
Back to Modern Times – 09 Exhibition of Chinese Abstract Art, Xihu Art Museum
The contemporary Power of Chinese Abstract Art, Tap Seac Gallery, Macau
2008
Art Beijing, Red Gate Gallery
Culture Chinese Phenomena, Anderson Gallery, Switzeland
Red Gate Stars, Red Gate Gallery
2007 Chinese Contemporary Art Document, Century Wall, Beijing
2007
Tolman Gallery, USA
Artists in Residence Work-In-Progress Preview, NY Arts Beijing Space
Contemporary Cultural Venation – China Version, Today Art Museum, Beijing
Chinese Text of Abstract Art, Ningbo Art Museum, Ningbo
Critical Thread, First Sound Gallery, Beijing
2006
Tolman Collection, Tokyo
Red Gate Gallery’s 15th Anniversary
Asian Art Interchange Show, Changwon Art Museum, South
Chinese Text of Abstract Art, Shanghai Art Museum
2006 Chinese Contemporary Art Document Exhibition, China Millennium Monument, Beijing
2005
Passion and Force: Group Show of Eight Artists, 798 Yan Gallery, Beijing
2004
Angle: Traveling Exhibition of Artists from Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai
2002
Shang Yuan Artists, Macao City Hall
Great Tang Series, J Gallery, Hong Kong
2001
Clues to the Future – Red Gate Gallery’s 10th Anniversary
1998
Retake: A Selection Reviewing Red Gate Artists’ Signature Works, Red Gate Gallery
1997
Works Featured in the 1994 – 1998 BHP Calendars, Red Gate Gallery
1996
Red Gate Gallery’s 5th Anniversary
1995
3rd National Oil Painting Exhibition, National Art Museum of China, Beijing
China Art Expo, Beijing

1993
China Art Expo, Guangzhou
1991
Inaugural Exhibition, Red Gate Gallery
1984
Beijing Art Museum, Temple of Longevity, Beijing
 

Collections

BHP
Westinghouse
Beijing Capital Club
Italian Bank of Commerce
Anglo
American
private collections in Switzerland, Germany, Australia, France, Austria, Singapore, Sweden, Hong Kong, USA and Beijing.

I reflect on and imagine what different periods of Chinese history must have been like. These impressions, expressed in my work, are partly an emotional response and partly informed by my knowledge of traditional cultures.I believe that contemporary society must maintain the essential beliefs and practices of the past in order to transcend superficial and often self-seeking materialism.

Wang Lifeng

 



 

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