Wang Jinsong: United, Alert, Ernest and Lively
When I first got to know Wang Jinsong, he wasn’t an artist yet. He was sloppy, young and arrogant. He had the pen name “A wind” - it was cool and grand, but I had no idea what it meant, or what it was about. That was over ten years ago, we only met once (maybe two or three times); I went to see his exhibition, the impression I got was of some filthy ink painting – like him at the time. Then we drank together, we had a great time, after which we went our separate ways, and lost touch.
The next time I saw Wang Jinsong, he was already quite famous, and he had abandoned the name “A wind” to be Wang Jinsong again. Obviously there is a difference between Song (meaning pine, a character in Wang Jinsong’s name) and Feng (wind)—when the wind blows, the clouds disperse but the pine still stands strong. When I saw Wang Jinsong again, it seemed as though he had taken a long bath, his whole body was glowing, not that his outfit was “bright”, just clean and fresh, like a powdered baby’s back. His hair was neat, like a newly mowed lawn, or newly built fence. Wang Jinsong is now married to a beautiful and leisurely wife – he’s become truly complacent.
What has not changed is Wang Jinsong’s love of alcohol; he has maintained a willingness to become inebriated at any given time. He loves to drink and is also good at persuasion, persuading others and himself to have a great time. Since ancient times, famous drinkers have left behind either a fragrant or a cursed name; when Jinsong’s name is passed on, it could be a fragrant curse. Once drunk, Jinsong still maintains his composure, but he has no morals when persuading others to drink, of course, that’s when not having morals is better. Jinsong will pay back morality with morality, and when morality repays morality will there be any end?
Wang Jinsong has another specialty – cooking, genuine northern food. The dishes are delicious and the soup is tasty. Using this specialty he often invites friends over for dinners at home, this has become Wang Jinsong’s way of making friends.
Wang Jinsong is multitalented and very capable. Over the years he has tried his hand at ink painting, heavy colors, oil painting, performance art, installation, photography, video and many other artistic domains. He has left his mark on every one of them, and has made especially significant contributions in ink painting, oil painting and photography.
Wang Jinsong’s ink painting reminds us of these famous words – unity, alert, earnestness and liveliness.
Wang Jinsong’s ink painting resembles sketches of a sporting event; they appear to be racing against time. The broad lines of dragon eyebrows are imbued with futuristic energy and strength, as “the three cavaliers vowed of loyalty on a banquet at the peach blossom”, to “having captured Sun Hao, and united the land from the three”, the world divided into three was being united again, all happened as the spring came and gone, with one brush to end it all.
Even though Wang Jinsong uses Chinese traditional brush and ink, he portrays legends of people and ghosts of the contemporary world. Looking at his ink painting, there can be presence or absence. Presence – with the spread of ink and swinging hand, startling reflections, like the green lawn under the moon, its beauty partakes from misty dew drops and the cicada’s chirp; absence – above and before all, capturing one’s spirit, allowing it to surf in a moment of visual overload – no need to calmly taste, they will fly into your vision.
I like Wang Jinsong’s ink painting very much, so much that I admire them from the bottom of my heart. However, I still can’t figure out why Wang Jinsong’s ink paintings are so “traditional” (of course, this is only my worry for him, worrying about what will happen when his paintings are attacked by a critic). Wang Jinsong’s oil paintings, on the other hand observe and present contemporary life with great joy, even the most simple twists and excitements are directly revealed. Added to this are his simple execution and form. Wang Jinsong’s simple oil paintings possess the simplicity of contemporary art. Wang Jisong’s “conceptual photography” basically follows along with the current trends, and at times he is at the forefront of the trend. He’s considered “in the current”. How come he’s so enamored with ink painting, is Wang Jinsong “lagging behind”?
Ink painting, no matter what other name is given to it, or which other prefixes are added - “contemporary ink painting”, “experimental ink painting” – is always rejected before the gate of “Chinese contemporary avant-garde art” (or it has never entered). Those working in “contemporary ink painting” or “experimental ink painting”, whether they admit it or not, are hoping to achieve a “contemporary” or “post-modern” outcome. At the same time, they hope to use the characteristically Chinese brush and paper to establish themselves as outstanding “contemporary artists” on the international stage. However, they often belittle “tradition”, they often treat “tradition” (paper, brush and “calligraphic quality”) as only “symbolic”, or they fail to treat ink painting as a “new” medium to explore. Thus, they pick up a sesame and leave a melon behind, catch a shrimp and let a crab go.
But Wang Jinsong is precisely the opposite. He emerged from the shadow of avant-garde oil painting and “conceptual photography”; having loosened his clothes and indulged in ink painting, he relied on traditional methods, methods that could even be traced back to the legends of the wild goose as a messenger in the Book of Records. Wang Jinsong uses tradition to portray the contemporary. His self-important “application of water”, to tell the truth, is rather meaningless. I think his stubborn application of the “traditional method” is more important, such a gesture is already pioneering and avant-garde. Sometimes the pioneering and avant-garde is not revealed on the sharp side of a knife, but on the dull side; like reflections of flowers or the moon, what’s attractive is not necessarily the “real” (and what is real is not necessarily true). Wang Jinsong’s ink painting is set free in the narrow space between “motion” and “struggle”; his use of the brush, both realistic and spastic, makes the viewing enjoyable. What’s wrong with realism? In my opinion, all art is realistic, because in terms of people’s ideals, as long as it takes place, it’s real. If there is a need to distinguish between realistic and abstract, then I would certainly choose realism. it’s like a beautiful girl and an ugly girl, the beautiful one is real, people like her; but people’s liking of the ugly girl is fabricated, good at heart is a fabrication. (the above analysis is irrelevant to China’s current discussion on “realist schools”).
Wang Jinsong’s ink painting is “cloud surfing”, without worrying about “white dominating black” or vice versa, the entire space is in motion, as if the brush and ink in his hands are unmoving while the rice paper spins at his will. Wang Jinsong’s ink painting is “tangled”, every drop is dyed and unrestrained, everything is realized with solitude and tension, like a contract that has already been stamped and put into effect.
Although Wang Jinsong’s ink paintings are outstanding, he has become famous because of his oil paintings. This is really a joke. But Milan Kundera also became a banner because of a “joke” – this is the so-called “contemporary effect”. Wang Jinsong has an easy mastery of ink painting, but he is playful with concepts in his oil painting. In his famous oil painting, “Grand Choir”, he played with the idea of “presence” and “absence” - two concepts that have been constantly pursued yet never disentangled in contemporary art. But they are presented by Wang Jinsong in a cat-catching-mouse style. What are the difference between those with face and those who have face but no skin? What then, is the difference between having and not having face? The uniform faces and expressions, what then is the difference between one face for one person and a thousand faces for a thousand people? Industrialization is the “grand choir”, the time of solo on the highland has long lost its voice. The absence of spirit (mores) and ideal (beliefs), are the true motivations behind Wang Jinsong’s oil painting.
After having done oil painting, he moved on to photography. While he was playing with photography, Wang Jinsong began to play around with ideas. Wang said, “in the long process of artistic experimentation, I always have tried to present the view of the observer. I am passionate about every aspect of human life, and I am willing to experience any interesting phenomenon. The camera usually used to collect materials gave me an appropriate way to express this passion.” Wang Jinsong took over 200 photographs on the subject of the one child policy, entitled “Standard Family”, over 20 photographs on the topic of elderly couples, entitled “Parents”; and over 100 photographs of Chai written on the wall of about-to-be demolished buildings, named “One Hundred Images of Chai”. This time Wang Jinsong gained his success through quantity – but this quantity refers to the amount of work, and the above mentioned hard work in the end resulted in only three pieces of work, because if they were displayed alone, each photograph would be completely meaningless. These three photographs all have great social significance, especially “Standard Family” and “One Hundred Images of Chai” – both are historical records. The former is a “coerced outcome” of family planning regulations, and the latter is the inevitable outcome of progress.
Recently, Wang Jinsong has once again picked up the long-neglected oil brush. He has applied the results of his ink painting experiments onto canvas, especially the impression of “dryness” and “rubbing”, crude but free, unveiling the artist’s idealistic state of being. In fact, the exploration in such techniques implies an exploration of medium, this is the bold behavior of traditional post-modernism. Wang Jinsong’s art has always struggled in the tangles and challenges between tradition and anti-tradition, therefore, his work has always been rather “ambiguous”, wandering between frivolity and ceremony.
Wang Jinsong’s previous oil paintings, even when involving serious topics or applying certain red symbols, are not at all stagnant, rather they are jubilant and carefree. But his new oil paintings make me a little melancholy, they give off the pungent fragrance of a dead millennium. Wang Jinsong has outlined numerous faces of boredom and helplessness, who are, until this day, wandering. This is a continuous question, and also a new question: is there still hope?
Wang Jinsong is an outstanding artist and philosopher, his works are accompanying us on the path of time.