• Date
      2015.08.22 - 2015.11.01
    • Artist
      Zhang Enli, Ding Yi, Xu Zhen, Wang Chuan, Yang Shu, Zhao Yao, Wang Guangle, Xu Hongming
    • Curator
      Pu Hong
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About Painting Too

In 2014, OCAT Xi’an launched the first of a planned series of exhibitions that each addresses a topical issue within art today, and with particular reference to art in China. This year, award-winning young curator Pu Hong was invited to present a topic of his choice. Continuing the critical engagement with painting that was explored in “About Painting” in the spring of 2014, Pu Hong again takes painting as his subject. Through the work of eight artists, he selects a range of older and more recent works, each of which is distinctive of the style and approach for which each of the artists are known. Several, including Xu Zhen/MadeIn, Zhang Enli and Ding Yi, are very well known indeed and have, in recent years, been the subject of a series of large-scale solo exhibitions in China and abroad. In their especial way, Wang Chuan, Yang Shu and Xu Hongming have each made a significant contribution to the language of abstract painting in China, while the younger artists included here, Wang Guangle and Zhao Yao, bring the distinct energy of their generation to the art they produce.
Through Pu Hong’s research, he has focused less on how each individual artist arrived at their particular approach, instead, questioned the conventional notion of painting today as the singular act of applying paint to canvas using a brush. In conclusion, he finds that, in instances, Xu Zhen/MadeIn being the immediate example, success forms of pictorial expression can involves neither paint brush nor even using paint itself. Abandoning the conventional materials altogether, Xu Zhen creates multi-textured collages on canvas as his version of a two-dimensional pictorial image. In a similar direction, Xu Hongming dispenses with the brush and applies pigment directly to dampened paper using his hand or a sieve inviting elements both natural and incidental to occur. Zhang Enli, meanwhile, might still use paint but in this exhibition abandons canvas and the confines of a picture plane entirely to create for OCAT Xi’an a unique space painting that unfolds across the floor of the upper level gallery. This immersive approach allows visitors to float on the painted surface as they walk over it, sit or even lie down on it.
“About Painting Too” thus presents paintings that are not at all conventional in a classical sense. It does not posit a trend, nor make any attempt to summarise and label artists collectively. It is simply about what painting can be in the most elemental sense of creating two-dimensional artworks today. Here, then, an exhibition that does not take as its focus “the best” or “most representative” of, but instead pins down the various artists’ ways of painting in the very act of becoming something new.
For their invaluable assistance with this exhibition OCAT Xi’an and Pu Hong would like to thank the following: Lorenz Helbling at Shanghai Art Gallery, Shanghai; MadeIn Company, Shanghai; collectors who loaned valuable works Zhou Dawei and Zhao Youhou; Lv Jingjing at Beijing Commune; Liu Jie at 1,000 Plateaus, Chengdu; Edmond Li at Workshop117; James Walkden, managing director at The Westin Xi’an.

Participating Artists
Zhang Enli
Our idea of painting conventionally falls within the limitations of framework of knowledge. For instance, the emotions conveyed through dramatic, theatrical stories versus the rigorous self-defined aesthetic systems of lines, colour, texture and brushmarks that occurred through the period of Modernism. The core of Zhang Enli’s painting, however, has nothing to do with either of these two familiar approaches. Instead, he draws inspiration from the brilliant Italian mathematician and Renaissance painter, Paolo Uccello, who modelled his subjects with precise perspective, as a means of establishing a means of ordering knowledge of the world. This practice has been gradually established in Zhang Enli’s paintings through his exploration of simple objects from daily life. Each object is presented from an unusual angle and using different techniques which results in a new sense of their form and function. Other of his paintings have the appearance of a sketch, with the grid lines used to create them intentionally left visible in the final work to allow the audience to have a sense of his process and to consider the question of finished/unfinished as the goal of a painting.
Zhang Enli aims for direct expression of an “object”, subverting an established hierarchy of objects, where painting, like science, is a means of challenging an accepted order. This type of challenge nourishes the artist, allowing him to play with drawing, perspective, and even to preserve mistakes – formal qualities that have fallen out of vogue in the evolution of conceptual painting under Modernism. In this sense, Zhang Enli’s paintings fall outside of recent trends in visual art. His work invokes a core historical tenet of painting, as being a key to unlock the mysteries of the world. Zhang Enli’s ambition is, through painting, to establish a new system of objects in the world.
Zhang Enli was born in Jilin Province in 1965. He studied at the Department of Industry Design in Wuxi Light Industry College, graduating in 1989. He lives and works in Shanghai now.
Ding Yi
As a painter, Ding Yi is disciplined. He is also almost a structuralist in the precision he brings to his practice. If the works of other artists can be said to expand the boundaries of painting, Ding Yi’s works can be described as the deepening of painting in a singular direction. Acutely conscious of rules and restrictions, he cites the definition of sculpture to refute any connection between his latest low relief works and the act of sculpting. His understanding of painting begins from a clear and definite system of references, which have endowed him with the dedication and patience to work with the simple motif of a “cross” (or, more precisely, two lines crossing) for what is now over three decades. Through constant exploration, in the manner of an excavator, he has established his own structured world of symbols.
Within this structure system, the aesthetic pleasure of colour, patterns and lines are like a film of oil on the ocean. Looking over the myriad small works, Ding Yi clearly transcends shallow formalism by diving into the ocean’s depths. Throughout his career, he has drawn no influence from traditional Chinese painting and yet the working drawings contained in his exquisite small sketch books evoke the spirit of Song painting in the way that, to approach “truth”, those painters sought to catch the movement of birds, water and mist through long periods of intense observation. By means of ordering, contrasting and repeating, Ding Yi has built up a system of symbols for his crosses between the regular and the irregular, the deep and the shallow, the complicated and the simple.
Ding Yi was born in 1962 in Shanghai. He graduated from the College of Fine Arts at Shanghai University in 1990. He lives and works in Shanghai now.
Xu Zhen
We spend most of our time entangled in a complex web of experiences as if attacked by multiplying bacteria; Shanghai steamed dumplings, international airports, flashing time zone boards in the airports, the spread of MERS virus, hysteria at slumping stocks… The fast-paced transmission of information floods the brain with news of incongruous, unconnected events. The effect of the accumulation exerts significant control over our power of perception and judgment of the world. Like an anteater eating everything in its path, Xu Zhen’s series of Spread swallows up event headlines and images in the instant they pop up around the globe. In fact, when MadeIn Company was launched, it was in part in response to the pace of contemporary life and its commercialised nature. This is the reason Xu Zhen chose to make art under the MadeIn Company umbrella and to operate it in the mode of a business organisation; the rapid multiplicity of social experiences was a force way beyond that of one individual’s feeble creativity.
The series of Spread combines painting, sculpture and pop culture. His approach is not concerned with expanding the existing boundaries of painting. Instead it is an outcome of his ability to adapt to the fierce social environment. Figuratively speaking, what would we do if a giant Kaiju sea monster emerged from the Pacific Rim (a scenario posited in the eponymous 2013 movie)? Fight with whatever is available, obviously. This will to resist underscores the provocative nature of Xu Zhen’s attitude towards creativity. Therefore, we regard Xu Zhen, not as artist but as resister, fighting fire with fire.
Xu Zhen was born in Shanghai in 1977. He graduated from Shanghai Art & Crafts College in 1996. He lives and works in Shanghai now. Xu Zhen formed MadeIn Company in 2009 in Shanghai. Imitating a corporate operation, MadeIn is a response to the monetisation of art and the demand for products by an ever expanding field of art consumers.
Wang Chuan
Wang Chuan’s rich creative experience is clearly revealed through the abundance of materials that have accrued to it. He began in the early years of his career with realist painting and with successful results. Then, during the ’85 New Wave period, he turned to abstract painting and, by the early 1990s, was producing hard-edge abstract works. When looking at an individual artist’s career trajectory, of greatest interest are those creations which resulted from subtle periods of transition. This is especially true of a mature artist, for every adjustment of his style has to be understood as part of a process of his or her reasoning throughout their career. This is how we gain insight into the specific development of an artist.
In the late 1990s, sudden illness drew Wang Chuan to a turning point. Painting became a personalised spiritual practice. The energy at work here arises from contrasts contained within, between big and small, imaginary and real; thick and thin, points, lines and surfaces that produce an almost spiritual experience. Originating from the artist’s personal experience, this introspective and self-reflective way of working enabled him to achieve deep cultural insight, especially through the contemplation of oriental philosophy. This kind of experience cannot be obtained from art history or other forms of art. It is a psychological experience of the soul; a beyond-life conversation and perception that only comes forth when an artist manages to let go of the ego and submits to the extensive and profound laws of the universe.
Wang Chuan was born in Chengdu in 1953. He graduated from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 1982. He lives and works in Beijing now.
Yang Shu
Yang Shu paints to release his anxiety about painting. The works fall into the category of non-realism; however, these non-realistic works bear no resemblance to traditional abstract or formalist paintings. Carefully examined, it can be observed that images recur, are consciously repeated, and that they are derived from real and concrete forms. For instance, the vibrant, sensually-provocative compositions contain a great deal of vaguely sexual imagery. It is natural then to imagine that the artist draws upon his experience of real life as a resource for his paintings and as the subject for his compositions.
The seemingly arbitrary forms and colours in the paintings exert a powerful control over the viewer, just as the exaggerated performances of abstract expressionism do. The seemingly improvised splashing and unpremeditated doodles of Pollock actually reflected both the artist’s maturity and the great control he wielded. The position of every paint drop and every piece of broken glass were determined entirely due to the artist’s will. Yang Shu does exactly the same thing. His paintings are full of texts, expletives, graffiti and blurred but readable forms from daily life and human experience; a range of elements that has expanded in recent years courtesy of the artist’s rich painting experience. From whatever source an image is drawn, it is perfectly integrated into Yang Shu’s paintings to the most destructive and provocative effect.
Yang Shu was born in Chongqing in 1965. He received a Masters degree from the Department of Oil Painting in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 1988, and started his career as a lecturer there. He currently lives and works in Chongqing where he is the founding director of the independent non-profit art space Organhaus, which supports local artists and runs a broad programme of artist residency programmes and international exchange.
Zhao Yao
Zhao Yao conveys his understanding of “graphics” through installation, video, performance and even religious rituals. The series of works titled Painting of Thought is one example, which began with the artist wanting to make a painting. To be more accurate, the graphics are wittily cloaked in the methodology of painting, embedded in the context of painting’s history and tradition. All the graphics in Painting of Thought were taken from two intelligence-training books purchased in a local bookstore. On a piece of delicately-patterned household textile carefully chosen for the task the graphics were applied again and again by the extremely patient worker that Zhao Yao hired to assist him through the period of an entire whole year. The synthetic pigment endowed the patterns on the textile with a plastic quality, perfectly in keeping with the physical characteristic of acrylic paint. Further, the combination of geometries, polygons, lines and circles serve to invoke a type of abstract style. At the same time, as a form of painting, the tonality, brushwork and texture were weakened.
According to the stereotypes of art history, Zhao Yao is easily categorised as a conceptual painter, who is also humorous, witty and eloquent. But Zhao Yao uses many daily necessities of the post-industrial era as a source for his works, using various media to suffuse them with new life. The artist’s principal practice has veered from conceptualism to fetishism. The graphics in the intelligence training books, which has lain forgotten for years in a commercial bookstore, only opened by the staff flicking through them to kill time, were revived through Zhao Yao’s painting process to become invaders of the territory. Here, in his approach to painting, Zhao Yao liberates graphic marks, releasing them from ordinary life to rekindle their power.
Zhao Yao was born in Luxian, Sichuan Province in 1981. He graduated from the Department of Design Arts in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2004. He lives and works in Beijing.
Wang Guangle
The work of an artist is always a combination of his talents, passion, inspiration, performances and forms. Considering those classical artists who worked on a single oil painting for years, we find that any sense of “timeliness” was excluded from that system. Or, rather, no one was aware of time.
On the premise that contemporary painting had been mostly accepted, Wang Guangle can be said to have reintroduced the experience of time to his system: time is not only visible in but also crucial to the process of producing his painting. For Wang Guangle, the canvas is more than the convention surface with the paint as a thin layer above it. He understands painting to be the combination of these two elements which is why Wang Guangle’s paintings have strong material nature. In the two series Coffin Paintings and Untitled, acrylic paint was applied to a linen canvas layer by layer, over and over, until the thin layer of this chemical material formed a thick, rich texture.
Colour, as a primary quality of paint, is not important to this process. Wang Guangle can even be said to have abandoned painting techniques, for every brush stroke is a repeat of the previous one. From this point of view, the visual sensation of Wang Guangle’s works is nothing but a “quasi-painting” illusion. In his own words, his works are conceived “only to visualise the gradual changes caused by time with the help of the slowly-changing colour.” It is entirely more accurate to say that these works do not belong with painting but rather with time.
Wang Guangle was born in Songxi, Fujian Province in 1976. He graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, in 2000.He lives and works in Beijing now.
Xu Hongming
Xu Hongming is a complete abstractionist. His painting has received a great impact from Western philosophy in the process of striving to surpass the limitations of what was the isolated cultural framework into which he was born. Xu Hongming’s aim is to integrate a wider outlook of the universe, as a concept similar to the concept of natural law held by Song intellectuals, meaning to obtain knowledge by investigating the nature of things and making thorough inquiries. His faith in an integrated and unified universe is unswerving. With the help of Western abstract art, which nourished him, he discerned the limitations which exist in the work of Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko from the angle of speculation that was cultivated by oriental philosophy. Indeed, since the age of enlightenment, science and technology have helped Westerners to think carefully, precisely and scientifically, but at the same time in an increasingly contradictory and isolated way.
Dedicated to studying the natures of various materials, processes and colour, Xu Hongming invented an unusual dust painting technique. He fills a bamboo sieve with the pigments he requires, and allows the pigment powder to fall naturally through the sieve and onto the surface of either rice paper or linen canvas laid flat on the floor. This means of making a painting is a direct counterpart to the vigorous improvisation of Pollock’s action painting. Obsessed with uncertainty throughout the painting process, Xu Hongming tries to enlarge blurred regions between tones and brightness, centre and edge, temperature and colour. As a result, people recognise his pursuit of expressionistic painting on paper and particular abstract-expressionist painting techniques. Although the warm pools of colour contrast sharply with cool ones in the paintings, we still see it flowing freely through the blurred outer portion and, thus, the shades and softness of it.
Xu Hongming was born in Hunan Province in 1971. In 1991, he studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. He lives and works in Beijing.



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