today we are going to extend our reviewing skills into the realms of Chinese modern art. Below you will see the artists’ summaries alongside their work. Do the summaries change your perceptions of their artworks? If so, how?
“When we become adults we have to find our ‘real’ selves. My work records the process of finding myself.”
Born Beijing, 1973
In Bu Hua’s strong imagery and flat, decorative backgrounds are traces of traditional Chinese woodblock prints alongside clear influences from Japanese anime. A pioneer of digital animation in Chinese contemporary art, Bu Hua creates surreal narratives about modern life, many of which focus on feisty pig-tailed girls donning the uniforms of Communist Party youth group the Young Pioneers.
A clever convergence of innocence and cunning, these young female characters stand at the center of Bu Hua’s invented world. The girl may represent her “inner child”, who finds all kinds of torment in the adult world—from the monster-ridden darkness of prints like Vowing Not to Attain Buddhahood Until All Are Salvaged From Hell (2008) to the existential discomforts of Anxiety (2009) and the mad chaos of modern cities in Savage Growth—and skips through it all unscathed.
Her series titled Savage Growth (2008) employs the artist’s signature crisp, graphic style to create an allegory of industrialization, pollution, and militarization. Her heroine, armed only with a slingshot, takes aim at flocks of white birds, which on closer examination are actually military aircrafts. “People in China pay a lot of attention to the past and the future, but it’s…forbidden to pay…attention to what is happening now, in real life… “
She uses Flash animation. “I wanted something dynamic and mobile to express my ideas,” she says. She finds Flash such a satisfying medium of expression that she often spends whole days at the computer. Mini-movies like Cat (2002) and Savage Growth (2008) won her an enthusiastic following on sites like FlashEmpire.com.
Figures and landscapes appear and disappear in Xie Qi’s seductive, lushly-layered art works that simultaneously veil and reveal through translucent, glazed, smeared, dripped, and dribbled layers of paint. Central to her 2014 solo show at Beijing’s Pékin Fine Arts Gallery was the Chinese Renminbi bank note with its iconic image of Mao Zedong. “You start from this very noble and serious historic image which gets rumpled and crumpled and dirty, is shoved into people’s pockets, and gets thrown around”, the artist comments. “So it underlines the absurdity of deifying these images. At the end of the day…they come down to this very plebeian level…I wanted to emphasise the absurd nature of the everyday.”
Born in 1978 in Fujian Province, photographer and sculptor Zhou Hongbin transforms the traditional motifs of classical shan shui painting into contemporary art for the digital age. Her works often depict small glimpses into an enclosed environment with a surreal, liminal quality.
Other works depict the artist’s body, multiplied digitally and free-floating through an imagined place, far from any urban construction or destruction. Zhou’s aim is to create “lovely and pure thoughts…and avoid the conflict of reality.” Thus her images are a response to the harsh experience of daily life in China, complete with pollution of every kind, overcrowding, and unnatural levels of stress. In addition to her beloved rabbits (“very smart creatures in Chinese folk tradition!”) other animals such as deer, horses, snakes, and cranes symbolize the artist herself. Surreal and dreamlike, her photographs force us to question what is ‘real’, and what is ‘imagined’.
Born 1979, Guangxi; spent several years in Canada and U.S.A. Lives and works in Beijing
Huang Jingyuan is fascinated by the contradictions and disconnects within Chinese society and between China and the world. The heavily framed pictures of Gossip from Confucius City (2012) look at first glance like black-and-white photographs. In fact, they are acrylic paintings in which European-looking androgynes and movie characters enact dreamlike scenarios in distinctively Chinese settings. (The series’ title refers to the state-run Confucius Institutes, which promote China internationally under the guise of supporting cultural exchange.)
Born 1963 Jincheng, Liaoning Province. Lives and works in Beijing.
Liu Xiaodong is best known for his involvement in the Neo-Realist movement in China during the 1990s. Throughout his painting practice, Liu explores the conceptual aspect of documenting the developing economy of China.The function of the painter today, says Liu Xiaodong, is ‘…the role of the questioner. Questioning politics, questioning society, questioning human nature, questioning art, up to the point at which they question themselves.’
“I like to find scenes that are part of life, of someone’s everyday existence and I choose places that interest me,” he has said. “When I paint someone, I want to capture their environment, their living state. I want to show the personal story behind the image of the person.”
Acknowledged as one of China’s greatest figurative painters, Liu was trained in the rigorous French and Russian traditions that dominated Chinese art education until recently. One of the artist’s main influences is the famed British painter Lucian Freud, who similarly produced stark paintings of figures without beautifying his subjects. He employs thick, luscious brushstrokes that emphasize the abstract nature of the medium while preserving a high degree of realis
Zhong Biao is a contemporary Chinese Neo-Surrealist painter. Born in Chongqing in 1968, l Zhong currently lives and works in Sichuan where he teaches at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts. Zhong’s work vacillates between the tension of body, object, and landscape. He often paints figures in stark black and white set against vibrant backgrounds in color in swirling, apocalyptic compositions. Inspired by a rapidly changing China where the country has grown economically, culturally, and politically, he examines these new circumstances throughout his oeuvre while retaining a sense of remove. “I don’t want to force my own understanding or interpretation of my paintings on the audience. The mixture of images within each of my paintings is like a combination of controversial elements in life,” Zhong has explained. “Like life, we cannot understand everything that we have seen or experienced. In my paintings, Eastern and Western, historical and modern opposites coexist, reflecting the reality of today’s lifestyle,