南 溪：我前面谈到的都是属于“中国情”的，其实只要生活在中国，就排除不掉“中国情”。展览之所以叫“中国情”就是希望“闲心散游”， 没想过要“叫人眼睛一亮”。也许画了“红色题材”的缘故，你会觉得我完全不是“闲心散游”的心态，看来我们各自调动的“社会资源”有所不同。其实对我来说，“红色题材”有足够的形式感让我“散游”其中，譬如《方阵系列》就是对“矩阵”的利用，它让我的“点”有足够的游走的空间。这种形式上的贴合，让我心理很轻松，这恐怕就是一种“闲心”状态吧。我觉得，吕品田用的“闲心散游”,既适合李津和武义，也适合我，所不同就是我的题材容易会给人以“工作感”，但这并不是我想给别人的。实际上，我真是想带观众到“红色矩阵”中分享我的“点点”快乐和“点点”趣味的。找我们三个人的“公约数”确实不太容易，但我们三个人却彼此投缘，这之间肯定有某种“公约数”在起作用。我想那“公约数”可能还是大家对待生活和艺术的一种态度，也许我们都看重好玩吧。
Ink-wash Image in Digital Age
--- an interview of Nan Xi
Time: afternoon of Aug 22,2007
Site: Nan Qi art space in International Art Park of Beijing Brewery.
Jia Fangzhou as Jia, Nan Qi as Nan in the following conversation:
Jia: My first question would go to your art background. I know you were in the army originally; did you first join the army and then study in the Liberation Army Art Institute? Were you transferred to civilian work after your graduation?
Nan: I joined the army and took the military service in Jinggangshan of Jiangxi province in 1978 from when I began to learn how to draw ink-wash painting. In 1982, I was transferred to work in Arms headquarters in Beijing where I broadened my horizon. In 1984, I went to study in Liberation Army Art Institute. After the graduation in 1986, first I worked six months in general political cultural department to assist the planning of entire army art exhibition, later I was moved to army club for retired cadres to teach senior officers Chinese painting. In 1988, I got approved and became a citizen of Beijing.
Jia: When did you start painting? And when did you become a career painter?
Nan: I was doing great in middle school’s painting class and then started painting. I could not be called career painter neither as originator in the army nor as painting teacher. I stayed at home painting after quitting my job in 1991 and made a living by painting.
Jia: in your 1988 work there is a landscape called “West stone channel”. From your CV we know you held a “Nan Xi landscape exhibition” in Chinese Art Gallery in 1989. What were they look like, the kind of style like “West stone channel”?
Nan: West stone channel is a village name of Gong County in Henan. This painting is created from spot sketches which I had series of them. Some works from that art gallery exhibition are close to geometry landscape image and abstract structure image.
Jia：You seem to be quite sensitive to formal language from the very beginning. This early piece has revealed you are looking for formal language of your own. The skill of landscape dot is of the feeling of balanced artificial sculpting. Do you have any material base for this subjective handling?
Nan: I got inspiration of geometry landscape from the barranca of Mount Huang and Mount Taihang. The changes from early work like “Mount Wutai” to later “Like wind, like city” to “Our Mountain” of 1995. The origin of this dot skill is copied from Fan Kuan, Li Tang and Gong Banqian. I also interlude this skill to express mountain body when doing spot sketch. Gradually it evolved to balanced dots.
Jia: After late 90’s, you did further treatment to geometry landscape, what is your original motivation to artificialize the nature? Is it just out of the need of style?
Nan: I was thinking at that time, the way of modern people’s drawing ink-wash is stereotyped, almost the same as two-thousand-years’ ago. Huang Binhong has reached the peak of brushwork and ink of traditional ink painting. Modern people should reform to accommodate modern age when inheriting the essence of Chinese painting.
Jia: Could you separate your art piece by stage?
Nan: 1985-1990 was the period of learning and creating. The skill was to interlude traditional Chinese dot. Main works include “Mount Wutai”, “Like wind, like city”, ”West stone channel”, “Great Wall”, etc.
1991-1999 was the period of penetrating and mature of geometry treatment. During this period I combined axe-cleaving skill, band-breaking skill and bean petal skill together which make dot even more balanced as time goes by. Meanwhile, I took advantage of ink-accumulating skill to make drawing thick and heavy. Main works include: “Our mountain”, “Sunshine”, “city”, “gathering” and “rising”, etc.
2000-2004 was impacted by digital age. I was inspired from computer software development. With Photoshop I separated and transferred image into ink-wash painting in which I mix the skill of ink-accumulating, ink-spraying and ink-breaking together. During this time I successfully applied digital software to ink-wash image and created “The Nan brushwork”. Leading works include “Where is my home”, “Home”, “Lost” and “Older Brother”, etc.
2005 was the joint period of me using separation with Photoshop and consecutive dots. In the process of the experiment of many works, I captured the sparkling moment of ink-wash effect. What’s more, “The Nan brushwork” was formed during this time through in-depth and patient research which laid the basis for my series of works in 2006.
2006-2007 I got rid of many trifles but concentrated all my energy on creation. I could say my art has reached to a certain depth in this year and a half so I got confirmation from you, Liu Xiaochun, Lv Pintian, Tian Limin, Li Jin, Wu Yi and many masters and peers.
Jia: According to what you said, I think it could be generalized to three phases: late 80’s was the first one, 90’s was the second one, 2000 to now is the third one which is also the leaping phase of your art. Because you successfully transferred separation image with Photoshop and consecutive dots into Chinese ink-wash painting on the combination of digital technology and ink-wash painting, this makes you the pioneer and the most successful artist in this aspect and distinguishes you from tradition but be of obvious characteristics of digital age. However, this age characteristic doesn’t cut off its relations with tradition. For example, the basic element always exists in your several phases is “dot”, which eventually becomes a visual symbol and a “painting way” of your own. Do you think “dot” is the main element existing in those different phases? Did you get inspiration from traditional painting?
Nan: yes, “dot” is the main element always existing in those different phases. Learning from Qian Bangong and “The Mi family” is one factor inspired me to use “dot”.
Jia: Liu Xiaochun divided your recent years’ works into: the Red Pop image, the Fashion image, the Go image, the Tiger image and the Riding image, doesn’t he? Do you have another type of pure abstract image? I think even they are not so many, it is important, do you think so?
Nan; You are absolutely right, I have studied in pure abstract image and geometry mountain stone image for a dozen of years, they are the foundation of other images. I like geometry mountain stone image a lot. After several years of stoppage, I looked back and realized my next researching direction.
Jia: Liu Xiaochun generalized your characteristics with “The Nan Dot” and “The Nan Brushwork” in technique sense. I think they are very high praise for your art in words. In my opinion, from the language of ink-wash painting, your exploration has subconsciously led yourself into a pure language status. What makes this so important is because you found the abundant connotation of this basic unit. In other words, it is the destiny of every art evolution to verify the value of performance itself. In this sense, your exploration has the significance of ontology. However, it seems you are not satisfied with this pure language status, you are expecting some practical content in your works, could you explain this phenomenon?
Nan: I adore Dali and Picasso a lot. Their style and works differs in different time. What they canonized is their art itself. I am expecting myself more than a limner of copying my work. I can not satisfy a series of work for the rest of my life. I accept doctor Liu Xiaochun’s speaking me of being dynamic in thinking. Every time my phase work reaches a peak, I will not paint the same anymore, just like geometry landscape. Moreover, I am not painting on the influence of collector and market. I love fun, imagination and the impact of art.
Jia: I think you are greatly influenced by army career, so is your taste. Even the neatly and orderly mountain and water is quite related to your army life. Your “Phalanx Series” not only reveal a spirit of collective, but also your artistic taste. Am I right?
Nan: Military experience has deeply engraved in my life. Like your understanding, “Phalanx Series” could be considered as my expression of collective spirit. I have deep understanding about collective spirit when serving in the army. Just like the lineup of parade, the powerful force of collective is so strong that one can be sublimed in soul. I lived oversees for quite a long time. I think collective spirit matters a lot in the grow-up process of china. Certainly, art is not a illustration of concept. My understanding of “collective” is accompanied by a strong sense of form and a powerful beauty of the gathering of dots.
Jia: Is your long-term obsession to “The Red Material” related to this life experience?
Nan: Choosing “The Red Material” is certainly related to my life experience but not limited to that. For example, I would like my work to below: “Come on, China!” if necessary. But my understanding to “The Red Material” is different to those “political Bop”. Just like I prefer to use red and rouge to mix light ink and other grey red, I tried to explore the continuous “love” from “The Red Material” to get rid of exiting enthusiasm. In my point of view, it is a ready framework with rich social connotation and carries my individual ideal. I could shorten my distance with audiences if one gets familiar with it. In a sense, I am trying to “reach” audiences closely with the help of “The Red Material” and touch their subtle part of emotion with “red”. “The Red Material” is of social sources so it can ignite rich aesthetic imagination. I think it deserves better usage, deliberate tease is not necessary.
Jia: What on the contrary is those human pornographic theme or “sex” related topic. Besides the Red Pop images divided by Liu Xiaochun, other images like the Fashion images, the Go images and even the Tiger images include some content related to pornography. How do you paraphrase this phenomenon of your creation?
Nan: It is a ready framework just like “The Red Material”. My purpose is to shorten the gap between me and the audience. Speaking of “pornography” and “sex”, it is not necessary to directly imagine sex nor to stress anything. As a matter of fact, this is not fresh to Chinese audiences. If you really want to figure out something, try to consider it as an expression of continuous “love”, it is a concept though. After I mastered the “brushwork” of “dot”, material is not the key factor. As “dot” can adequately “express” itself and “exercise” as much as I like. I enjoy it so much.
Jia: It is said you are going to have an united exhibition with Jin Li and Yi Wu at the end of the year. Could you talk something about the preparation work for it?
Nan: This exhibition named “Chinese affection·new works of Jin Li, Yi Wu and Xi Nan” will be held in Yuxin gallery of Singapore at the end of November. It is simply an academic exhibition. We three are ready for it. That gallery will publish painting collections for this exhibition. I prepared for this exhibition for almost a year and created a new series of “Fashion& city”. I also wrote an article named “Fashion” for this exhibition, in which I explained my idea.
Jia: Why did you choose to hold an exhibition with those two artists? Do you think you have something on common?
Nan: It is suggested by Yuxin gallery of Singapore and agreed by us. I think our common lies in that our style and material differs so much that makes this exhibition colorful and attractive.
Jia: Pintian Lv summarized you three with “roaming leisure heart”, but I think only Jin Li fits this category, Yi Wu is reluctantly of it, and you totally not belong to this. “Chinese affection” is average, not so eye-catching. Is that because it is too hard to find a “common divisor” among you three?
Nan: All I talked about just now belong to “Chinese affection”. In fact, you can never escape from “Chinese affection” as long as you still live in china. The reason it is called “Chinese affection” is that the exhibition is expected to be a “roaming leisure heart” in stead of “eye-catching”. You may think of me not in this mood because of “The Red Material”. It seems we have mobilized different “social resource”. For me, “The Red Material” has enough sense of form to let me “roaming” inside. For instance, “Phalanx Series” take advantage of “matrix” and leave adequate space for my “dots”. The joint in this form makes me feel at ease. I think this is so-called “leisure heart”. “Roaming leisure heart” proposed by Pintian Lv fits not only Jin Li and Yi Wu but me. The only difference is my material has the sense of “work feel”, but this is what I want to give. What I really want to do is to lead audience to “The Red Matrix” and share my happiness and taste of “dots”. It is hard to find a “common divisor’ among us but we get along with each other quite well. There must be some kind of “common divisor” working here. Maybe that is people’s attitude towards life and art but we focus much more on fun.
Jia: Sounds like “Status of three-way struggling for hegemony”----just kidding. What is your next plan?
Nan: My studio situated in Song Village of Beijing is under decoration which is so spacious that I am planning to do further research on the Red Bop image and the Go Endgame image. It is hard to do further creation within confined space cause my work needs enough visual space to examine after finishing. My plan for next few years would be exert my imagination and creation to a satisfactory depth in the research of ink dot and brushwork, just like what you called “pure language state”.
Jia: Wish you go well on the way to artistic ideal.