YANG QI’S BIOGRAPHY OF ART LIFE
I was born in an artist’s family. My father graduated, around the end of 1930s, from Suzhou Art Institute, one of the predecessor institutes that constituted the unsurpassed China Academy of Art today. Suzhou Art Institute was established in the 1930s by Mr. Yan Wenliang, a great modern painting master and educator, together with a group of Chinese artists who studied in French. Later, my father continued his study in the art department of Central University under Chinese painting master Xu Beihong’s education. After a long period of training and studying, my father soon became an influential artist and art professor in southern China. My mother was born in Frankfurt, Germany; my grandparents went to Germany at a young age to study. They lived there as doctors after getting their PhDs. So I also attained a bit of Western education as a child.
In my early memories, in great interest, my brothers and I often watched my father painting. Sometimes we also made casual drawings mimicking our father’s work. He often gave us some lessons, telling us stories of traditional Chinese poetry and foreign arts. Unconsciously influenced by this creative atmosphere, my original interest in painting developed. I spent my childhood and teenage years painting with my father, discovering initially how to sketch, sculpt and paint spontaneously around the same period. Apparently, my father was my first teacher of the arts.
I was influenced by different artists during different times, most of whom were Western artists. The one and only Chinese artist who influenced me greatly was Feng Zikai, a famous modern painter, prose writer and art educator. Influenced by my father during childhood, I have also seen many paintings in Feng Zikai’s books created during the War of Resistance Against Japan. Those empathetic images of life scenes, and the poems written with the paintings, rooted themselves deeply in my mind for a long time. Foreign artists such as Picasso and Chagall influenced me significantly; living in Europe, German expressionism and later neo-expressionism both transformed me from a Chinese artist into a representative figure of German neo-expressionism, which has been an important process for my art.
My work, to a large extent, is based on Chinese and German philosophies, such as Taoism, as well as Heidegger’s theories. In terms of arts, German artist Joseph Beuys raised my interest greatly when I first came to Germany.
I don’t favour pop art much as I am more into academic art. I have spent a long time developing and creating art with an academic focus.
There are a few things in life that have influenced my art. The first thing was coming to Germany to see great masterpieces in person that I had previously seen in magazines. From classicism to renaissance, from medieval arts to modern and contemporary ages, I ventured among as many masterpieces as I could. With a great dedication of time and interest, I studied and compared their works, contemplating how my own art could reach and exceed their accomplishments. I also have seen many original artworks by European artists in galleries, including some artists I didn’t know.
The above experience was an important transformational point in the way I think about the arts: there have been so many people in the world creating different artworks that I should continue my path creating something different from existing forms; I should create something of my own. Moving from China to Germany, from an Eastern world to the West meant my entire artistic insight has transformed within a complete change of environment. In the West, especially in Germany during the late 80s and 90s which was its rapid flourishing period of contemporary art, I attained great knowledge of the arts.
The second major point was my shift from abstract art to figurative art. I have always longed to fuse Zen, Taoism and German dialecticism into my artwork. I had been thinking about the way I paint, the feelings I have when I paint and the changing of my style, so I did abstract paintings. At the end of 90s, after being exhibited in many major art museums in China and Germany, I felt that it was time for a change. Thus, my art-making became very free and wild when I changed from abstract to figurative work.
Neo-expressionism has influenced me, freeing me from abstraction and leading me back to figurative painting. It has become a significant part of my art. I gradually changed from pure abstract style to figurative painting, incorporating academic techniques from the late 90s. Later, I noticed that my works appeared differently, meaning my own style was established confidently with more feelings and emotions added in. It was in the late 1990s in Germany when some European critics called me a “rising neo-expressionist in abstract art with unique style”.
The third important thing was my long working period during which I made art installations. This started from the late 90s alongside my paintings and continues today. I participated in many art exhibition with both my paintings and installations, from group shows to solo shows. Those installations stand for my own style to a major extent. An artist should not only do paintings, but also should use various artistic elements to express his styles, showing a comprehensive artistic consideration with diversified art languages. Many famous artists today use diverse artistic media, varying from paintings to sculptures and to a wider range of styles. Art develops into an intensively diversified portfolio of forms. This has encouraged me to devote my time to creating paintings, installations, photography and multi-media arts, which all formed my contemporary artistic expression in the 21st century as a whole. I think, as an artist, the process of changing and transforming artistic styles is also a process of self-revolution and self-introspection.
The forth important thing has been to raise the quality of my art to new heights after being declared a German neo-expressionist. For fifteen years since 2002, I have participated in many major art exhibitions throughout the world, which has been a great encouragement for me to continue creating art. Being a recognized artist in the West, I am able to promote and express my own art style. This experience has been exceptional to me, giving me great confidence in my artistic life. An artist is meant to be confident and proud, otherwise his art will show timidity. I was able to advocate for myself and push my art to a higher level, to be compared with international artists and to join important exhibitions, which would be hugely encouraging for any artist.
I left China thirty years ago, thus I always look at issues happening in China with a foreigner’s perspective. Looking at the media’s presentations, I don’t really care about politics; those major political issues seem irrelevant to me.
Issues in Europe or other parts of the world, or even social development topics, are to an artist objective matters which he should be looking at with his own angle and position. He should not be swayed by the issues, unless there are wars or similar chaos. I think in a peaceful environment in Europe, people’s life and society, as well as the broader culture and cultivation opportunities are not vastly influential in an artist’s development.
Any interview question asking about my choice of style and technique appears a bit absurd. A successful artist does not choose his style or technique, but forms the style after a life-long exploration of his artistic development. He forms this style, instead of choosing it, to create art. I express my art with heart and flesh, with my spirit and whole soul. It’s a matter of independence for an artist; he needs not to listen to others’ opinions. An artist is in a world of his own, thus he could influence the outside world as a whole. I have not chosen a style.
This interview should not be a show, thus I want to express what is true to me, saying what I want to say to the media. Other things are not related to me. I am responsible to my own art, and to myself. How people praise or criticise my art should be a very natural thing.
One of the talented emerging Chinese artists we’ll be exhibiting at November’s Asian Art in London show is Hammer Chen, whose creative life bounces between Shanghai and London. Hammer is a printmaker, an artist and illustrator whose work, as she puts it, stems from an interest in using marks and textures to express sensations and emotions. Since 2013, she has had several exhibitions in London and, in 2016, graduated with an MA in Illustration from Camberwell College of Arts. She won the Gwen May Award from the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE) in 2016 as well and was selected to be a member artist of the RE in the same year.
From 2016, Hammer began to run a printmaking art studio called Wait and Roll in Shanghai in an effort to increase access to printmaking in China. Services of her studio include printmaking workshops, printmaking publication, print service, open space and an artist residency. The photos throughout this post were all taken at Wait and Roll.
Hammer’s series of prints that we’ll have on display in the ArtChina booth at Asian Art in London is from her degree project.They’re much darker than the work in the images here, and run deep into the psychology of being. They revolve around the topic of Maladaptive Daydreaming, which she defines in our interview below. Read on to find out more.
ARTCHINA UK: Tell us about the work you made for your MA project.
HAMMER CHEN: My subject is Maladaptive Daydreaming. “Maladaptive daydreaming is a psychological concept to describe an extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.” So the series of works is exploring fantasy, struggle, disconnect between mind, body and self.
ARTCHINA UK: What inspired you to make your final piece?
HAMMER CHEN: The main reason that I chose the subject is that I realised I’ve developed Maladaptive Daydreaming in the last two years and therefore felt the need to explore this in my work. Also, I realised lots of people are suffering from this but they don’t want to share the bad experience of daydreaming because they are afraid of incomprehension. I do feel it’s necessary to let people know that this problem exists and we should pay attention to it.
ARTCHINA UK: How did you start this project? If you’d like you can make it as a step by step explanation.
HAMMER CHEN: I recalled a lot my previous experience to begin the sketches. It was hard in the beginning, but after I started to open myself up and express my real feelings, it became a process of self-curing. I made many sketches before I began etching. Even while I was in the etching stage, I still kept doing sketches. I picked the ideas which are most expressive then made them into etching pieces.
ARTCHINA UK: What technique did you choose to make your final piece and why?
HAMMER CHEN: I chose to do etching for the final project. Before I started printmaking, my works went through several different stages. They pretty much all stemmed from my interest in making marks and textures.The reason I am so keen on working with textures is that they can give an image a strong atmosphere, provide a different quality and build space for sensations and for the imagination to run wild. When I got into the printmaking studio, I realised that this is an ideal way to produce works with great quality which, at same time, can still be narrative.
ARTCHINA UK: Tell us about any difficulties or challenges you found while making your final piece.
HAMMER CHEN: The challenge might be the uncertainty of the final results and the long process. Sometimes you won’t know what is going to happen on your plate until the last minutes before you see the prints. But actually, I really enjoyed the waiting and appreciated all the failures and surprises that happened in my works throughout the process.
To see Hammer’s work in person, visit the ArtChina booth at the upcoming Asian Art in London exhibition or the Woolwich Contemporary Art Fair, both in November 2018, where we will have her prints on display and for sale.
One of the more established Chinese artists we’ll be exhibiting at Asian Art in London at Design Centre Chelsea Harbour next month is Wang Chao, professor at the China Academy of Arts and director of its noted Purple Bamboo Studio. His work has been collected by leading museums in China, Europe and the USA.
Wang Chao makes multiple allusions to the past in both technique and in subject matter. The fine lines, refined colouring and subtle tonalities are reminiscent of illustrative printing from the Ming and Qing periods and Japanese Surimono. Of particular note in our collection are six prints based on art from around the time of Wanli, but the detail is simplified. The appearance is of aged silk paintings, achieved with the use of a newly manufactured paper called Tangzhi where we see the douban, multiple woodblock, method of printing.
But his work is best described by Dr. Anne Ferrer, Programme Director for the MA in East Asian Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. The remainder of this post is written in her words, an excerpt from an article titled “Continuity and Revival in Modern Chinese Culture: the Woodblock Prints of Wang Chao.”
“As a young artist establishing his career in the 1990s, Wang Chao has developed a type of individual antiquarianism in printmaking through which he uses formats, imagery, and techniques drawn from pre-modern China to offer a personal statement about the present. The character of this antiquarianism has evolved through his woodcuts which offers a significant and unusual achievement in the field of traditional art in contemporary China.
Wang Chao’s group of six prints (pictured above), produced in 2014 in the studios of the Xu Yuan 虚苑 printing workshops in Beijing, explore a new aspect of visual interpretation of Ming painting and book culture. The prints use subjects based on erotic imprints of the Wanli period, and illustrated editions of the Romance of the Western Chamber (Xixiang ji 西厢记). In Wang Chao’s reinterpretation of this subject matter, he simplifies the pictorial detail of landscape, architecture and textile patterning of late Ming book illustration, producing sparse compositions in the manner of sixteenth-century Wu School paintings. The prints define the architectural structures and garden ornaments with fine outline filled in with tones of monochrome, and the slight forms of the figures are printed in an overall tone of light ink, topped with darkly printed detail of hats and hair arrangements. Notable in these prints in Wang Chao’s representation of the materiality of aged silk paintings. The paper Wang Chao has uses for this set of prints is a newly manufactured paper called Tangzhi 唐纸 which is very thin and is so-named because its colour imitates Tang dynasty paper. In Wang Chao’s prints, the light olive tone of the paper gives the impression the colour of aged silk. Over the surface of the paper, Wang Chao prints a bamboo lattice in light monochrome to imitate the texture of woven silk. With the addition of dots and darker streaks of ink to show surface blemishes, representing the wear and tear in old silk paintings, each print presents a completely individual image. The printing process for each of these prints uses the douban method of printing, using between twenty-five and forty blocks made from both pearwood and plywood.
Wang Chao’s use of monochrome and subdued colours in his prints carries powerful artistic associations relating to the use of ink for expressive purposes in scholar-amateur painting. Many contemporary print-artists, following the revivalism of traditional painting, have produced largely monochrome prints with landscape and subjects such prunus, lotus, grasses and insects, in compositions which resonate with painting traditions of pre-modern China. These print-artists have been experimental in their use of materials and techniques, borrowing and adapting elements from both traditional and western-derived traditions to achieve a variety of different effects. Although Wang Chao is part of this group of print-artists, he occupies a separate category of his own in his use of techniques of colour printing associated with the Purple Bamboo Studio, and pictorial formats and subject-matter which are derived from late Ming printing.
Wang Chao is unique as a print-artist in contemporary China in his use of the douban printing technique in an unmodified form. His prints involve the use of multiple small woodblocks made from pearwood, each representing linear elements and intricate areas of colour, and blocks, often made from plywood faced with Manchurian ash giving a woodgrain texture, to build up larger areas of tone in the print. These blocks are printed in sequence, on a traditional Chinese printing table which achieves completely accurate registration. The embossing process used in the printed book Foreign Images is part of the colour-printing process and is carried out after the printing of ink and colour. It is achieved by placing the paper over an intaglio block which is rubbed with a wooden burnisher. Using this complex process involved Wang Chao in cutting more than forty individual blocks for the print Reminiscence, and twenty-three blocks for The Desk in the Jiuli Studio. Although Wang Chao is the only academy artist using the douban technique in a largely unchanged form in China, other artists frequently use the less technically demanding approach of colour printing using a set of blocks sharing the same register (taoban), in combination with other aspects of traditional or western realist printmaking.
Wang Chao’s woodblock prints investigate and rework different aspects of technique and subject matter in the printmaking history of pre-modern China. His prints are an important example of how the reworking of past models continues to be a powerful force in the generation of the highest quality traditional art in the twenty-first century.”
(The text above is from the article: Dr. Anne Farrer, “Continuity and Revival in Modern Chinese Culture: the Woodblock Prints of Wang Chao,” in Megan Aldrich and Robert J. Wallis eds., Antiquaries & Archaists: the Past in the Past, the Past in the Present (Reading, UK: Spire Books Ltd 2009), pp. 122-140, 162-167.)
The style of emerging Chinese artist Kecheng Zhu’s portfolio of stone lithograph prints is unmistakeable. Not long ago completing an MA in Visual Art Printmaking at Camberwell College of Arts in London following her undergraduate studies at the Xian Academy of Fine Arts, Shanxi, in China, she has already carved out a strong artistic voice.
Overall, her work explores how body language reveals hidden truths and how unconscious body behaviours greatly affect our daily lives. Having lived and worked between cultures, Kecheng is also able to explore the different nuances of Eastern and Western body language through her art.
Among other exhibitions, Kecheng’s work has recently been on display with ArtChina at the Royal Academy of Arts during the 2018 London Original Printmaking Fair and will be included in our booth at Asian Art in London at the Design Centre Chelsea Harbour in November 2018.
Below, in her own words, Kecheng talks more about what she hopes to communicate through her work:
“Intertwined, touched, detached hands and feet speak about the relationships that I encounter in daily life, how conscious and unconscious bodily behaviours greatly affect our daily lives and affect how we really get to know a person, including ourselves. These specific human actions very much bring me into the sense of particular areas of bodies. It’s not a body as a whole, it’s a fragmentation.
Freud said: “He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.”
It seems only body language can tell the truth about people’s thoughts. The stability and level of tone do not make us distinguish between true and false. We are not polygraph instruments. Is he/she is shy? Is he/she pretending to be calm? Has he/she escaped something? Does the environment make him/her insecure? Whether we are close or not, a fingertip’s action, gives you insight.
We all have our own answers, and the importance of physical contact can not be ignored. Bones, organs, and Central Nervous System, our so-called command centre; these are all under our skin, but what is beyond the skin?
When we plan our actions, the brain gives clear instructions, but the subconscious may make the body react in advance. To me, the surface is a blurred boundary; I can’t clearly separated inside and outside. The figures that I create are based on my own reactions and the reactions of the people that I observe. The conscious and unconscious bodily reactions are the most important part in my works.
The different communication style between East and West also gives me inspiration. In my eyes, the way the East communicates with the West gives me different experiences and plays an important role in my observation.
All the prints are printed by stone lithographs. Feet and hands are the symbol I use all the time to represent the whole body. They became my own language. My own hands and feet will become the main actors to tell the story. I found my own symbols to explain the inside and outside.”
Visit the ArtChina booth at Asian Art in London at the Design Centre Chelsea Harbour, November 5-9 2018 to see Kecheng’s work. Art is available for sale. Please contact us for details.