Art Review: Jing Liang’s Solo Exhibition “What is Not Art”

December 6, 2015 11:04 pm Published by Leave your thoughts
What a Spiritual Journey!    by Natalia S. Y. Fang (Dr. Natalia S.Y. Fang is an art historian and art critic currently residing in Edinburgh, Scotland)   Art is everywhere. This is what we learn from an exhibition in New York of pictures by the Chinese painter Liang Jing (b. 1959). His eighteen paintings in the Hwang Gallery from the 1st to the 20th of December show his thought and feeling of the last three years. The display is titled “What Is Not Art?”   Earthly Wanderings  In Liang's Existence Series (2014), the viewer immediately sees “broom” imagery, albeit of a nearly-abstract nature. In the middle of each painting, the broom stands upright. It is upside-down and dominant in its size. Its sophisticated relationship with its background has been subtly contrived. The painter has used clever painting techniques and added different unexpected elements in his brushstrokes. Finally, each work invites unusual perceptions and gives surprising visual effects. Then, why a “broom”? Talking about it, one perhaps likes to link it with witchcraft. A male witch flies around on a broom — such a myth can hark back to the middle ages. The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) also composed a ballad “Der Zauberlehrlin”, saying that a sorcerer’s apprentice abuses his power by enchanting a broom to fetch water, and finally the place is flooded. In addition to magic, there is a more direct connection, that is, as a cleaning tool for dust removal. In making art, in 2006, in front of Denver Art Museum in Colorado, a large piece of public art “Big Sweep” made by an American artist Claes Oldenburg (1929- ) was installed. This work is a combination of dust pan, broom, and rubbish paper — which is so direct, without needing any imagination. How about Liang Jing? His Existence Series alludes to sweeping. However, unlike Oldenburg’s, what Liang takes is not a real object, but one from his memory: in Mainland China, around the year 1971, during Culture Revolution, there were many publications like propaganda paintings and comic books in which the image of a “broom” was printed. At such a crucial time, also his own formative period, the image preoccupied him. It recurred to him that this memory gradually grew many years later when he started thinking about the subject matter. The 2013 “A Color Romance” (Fig.1) became his first work involving broom imagery. 【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015 圖1 〈色戀〉 “A Color Romance” 2013, oil on canvas , 35 x 24″ If you want to understand his Existence Series, it’s necessary to look at “A Color Romance” first. In this painting are scarlet red, almost burning red, and bright yellow, even brighter than gold leaf. The broom is loosened, blooming upwards, looking like an upside-down circular cone. If the whole painting is put upside-down, one is reminded of a Tower of Babel. It also resembles two paintings by the Dutch Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-69) of the “Tower of Babel”. Pieter Bruegel the Elder transformed the tower into ruins (Figs 2 & 3). True to say, when making “A Color Romance”, Liang Jing was not aware of these classical paintings. However, his painting shows that great minds think alike.
Untitled-1

圖2 老彼得•布勒哲爾 〈巴比倫塔〉 “The Tower of Babel” 約1563 oil on panel 45 x 61″ Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 
Untitled-2

圖3 老彼得•布勒哲爾 〈小巴比倫塔〉 “The Little Tower of Babel” 約1563 oil on panel 24 x 29.3″ Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The “Tower of Babel” recorded in “The Genesis” of The Bible (11:1-9) is an ethical myth, saying that human beings, while rebellious against the God, started building a tower with its top in the sky, thinking they could do anything they liked there. Liang finds the secular world full of thrones, cruelty, greed, deception and betrayal. Therefore, he wants to sweep away the vicious power. When painting an image of a broom, at the same time he also creates a form of the corrupted material world like “Tower of Babel”. What he has done is to juxtapose the two contradictory elements (a broom’s cleaning nature and the tower’s corrupted nature). The whole picture suggests an unresolved reconciliation. Once “A Color Romance” was painted, his Existence SeriesFigs 4-7came naturally. In this series, like “unity in diversity” in architectural aesthetics, all the painting are different in color tone, shape, paint density, object’s relationship with background, etc.; but all appear consistent in form — the broom, in an independent and proud posture, sticks out from a state of darkness or of confusion. An image emerges of “pure and untainted” — remaining undefiled in spite of general corruption.  
存在之一 Existence (I) 2014, oil on canvas, 47 x 31.5″

圖4〈存在之一〉 "Existence (I)" 2014, oil on canvas, 47 x 31.5″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖5〈存在之二〉 "Existence (II)" 2014, oil on canvas, 47 x 31.5″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖6〈存在之三〉 "Existence (III)" 2014, oil on canvas, 47 x 31.5″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖7〈存在之四〉 "Existence (IV)" 2014, oil on canvas, 47 x 31.5″

After this series was finished, the painter’s binding of the broom was also dramatically loosened. The broom’s twig-like brush is freely spread. From his “Solo II” (Fig.8), this change can be observed. In this painting, the upper part of the broom is spread out and flying all over whereas the lower is gradually disappearing into white mist. This is a sign of the painter’s developing toward abstraction after having spent time on a half-figurative half-abstract experiment. This work seemingly announces his stepping towards a metaphysical dimension. Liang Jing’s brooms are evolving all the time — from attacking the material world, then cleaning with vicious power, then standing out, and finally pointing to a spiritual world. I think this is the painter’s constant self-reflection. Are these brooms his self-portraits? The answer is yes! After his Solo Series, the painter would go to a wider world — Nature.  
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖8〈獨舞二〉 "Solo (II)" 2014, oil on canvas, 47 x 31.5″

  Trembling Nature In Liang’s Dream Series, the canvases are like mystic lands, dotted by wondrous, ethereal and simply stupefying sights, having red, purple and blue color tones. Although they are arranged in an abstract manner, they seem like morning mist, vast sky, seashore, glacier, rock, weathered ruins, castle, etc. — a metamorphosis of nature and geographic landscape. Standing in front of each painting of this series, the viewer cannot help himself being allured in to experience its overwhelming power. Let’s talk about “Dream I” (Fig.9) first. The lower part, around a quarter of the painting, is a territory near us which belongs to the front scene. Here are several small, erected, and ambiguous things — which I think of as simplified “human figures” with blurred outlines. This is a secular world. By contrast, the upper part is a large area of red — a mixture of burning and misty red. Its space is swelling, like expanding towards depths. It becomes a boundless universe. Let us attend to the middle upper part in which white threads with varying thickness are falling. Look at it carefully. Do these apparently leaping light beams recall the spreading twigs of his broom which in the painter’s previous series? Yes, that’s right. These threads are intertwined and flutter disorderly. The space is no longer silent. Instead, sound has been made because of the fluttering imagery (visual image making impact, generating an audio effect). Here, the painter uses a special method — Rückenfigur (figure seen from behind). In the foreground of the image, one or more persons with backs to us are painted. They are contemplating the view before them — guiding the viewer to put himself in their position and situation and then the viewer will look at everything that the painter wants to convey. No wonder why the viewer seeing “Dream I” will sense a strong presence.  
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖9 〈夢之一〉 “Dream (I)” 2014

  Trembling Nature In Liang’s Dream Series, the canvases are like mystic lands, dotted by wondrous, ethereal and simply stupefying sights, having red, purple and blue color tones. Although they are arranged in an abstract manner, they seem like morning mist, vast sky, seashore, glacier, rock, weathered ruins, castle, etc. — a metamorphosis of nature and geographic landscape. Standing in front of each painting of this series, the viewer cannot help himself being allured in to experience its overwhelming power.   Let’s talk about “Dream I” (Fig.9) first. The lower part, around a quarter of the painting, is a territory near us which belongs to the front scene. Here are several small, erected, and ambiguous things — which I think of as simplified “human figures” with blurred outlines. This is a secular world. By contrast, the upper part is a large area of red — a mixture of burning and misty red. Its space is swelling, like expanding towards depths. It becomes a boundless universe. Let us attend to the middle upper part in which white threads with varying thickness are falling. Look at it carefully. Do these apparently leaping light beams recall the spreading twigs of his broom which in the painter’s previous series? Yes, that’s right. These threads are intertwined and flutter disorderly. The space is no longer silent. Instead, sound has been made because of the fluttering imagery (visual image making impact, generating an audio effect).   Here, the painter uses a special method — Rückenfigur (figure seen from behind). In the foreground of the image, one or more persons with backs to us are painted. They are contemplating the view before them — guiding the viewer to put himself in their position and situation and then the viewer will look at everything that the painter wants to convey. No wonder why the viewer seeing “Dream I” will sense a strong presence.  
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖10 〈夢之二〉 “Dream (II)” 2014 oil on canvas 31.5 x 47″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖11 〈夢之三〉 “Dream (III)” 2015 oil on canvas 24 x 28″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖12 〈夢之四〉 “Dream (IV)” 2015 oil on canvas 24 x 28″

  Gesture of Transition Making the Dream series, Liang felt like leaving the troubled secular world and getting closer to the spiritual world. However, before his departure from the secular world, he has experienced a transition. Thus he made some transitional works. Among them are “Musical Notes” and “Untitled”. Take “Musical Notes” (Fig.13) as an example. It has four sections in which brushes with oil paint of green, yellow, red, black, etc have different shades of colors. This painting reminds me of the American poet Emily Dickinson’s (1830-86) “Mother Nature”. This poem tries to interpret nature. She writes:   She sweeps with many-colored brooms, And leaves the shreds behind; ....   I think that “Musical Notes” can be interpreted by these short words. This painting shows the sweeping traces made by colored brooms. What is left in the painting? After vicious force has been swept away, what remains are fragments of the force of nature. Looking at the painting carefully, one can find neither thickness nor heavy density in colors. I think these show the painter’s realization of simplicity and purity after having experienced darkness. It actually demonstrates living, soaring and the pure essence of the secular world. Here, can you hear music that makes your heart beat?  
音符 100x120 cm, oil on canvas, 2015

圖13 〈音符〉 “Musical Notes” 2015, oil on canvas, 47 x 157″

  How about the other painting “Untitled” (Fig.14)? This work has the bright red and yellow color tones of “A Color Romance” and the outer appearance of the Existence series that the painter had previously made. However, this time, the “broom” imagery is even more clear. This situation is rather like what American painter Mark Rothko (1903-70) said:   If a thing is worth doing once, it will be worth doing again and again — to detect it, to explore it, to carry on repeating it, until finally everyone can see its brilliance.   As Rothko’s admirer, Liang once said his work had the same structure of thinking as Rothko’s. He spent more than one year on this “Untitled” on which he had thought about and corrected over and over again. Thus, this painting has much more focus and stronger aesthetic form. As a result, it is transformed into a glittering sunflower. As a matter of fact, he may have looked back to search for brilliant colors and the broom imagery. This is not to return to the past, but to prepare to leave it. At the moment when he finished this painting, he completely distanced himself from the secular world.  
無題

圖14 〈無題〉 “Untitled” 2015, mixed media on canvas, 35 x 24″

  Meditation before Labour Delivery In Liang’s Distance series, looking at them from the beginning, one maybe imagines the painter’s departure from the earth and travel around Milky Way. Seeming as if he is looking down from space, each painting is a portrayal of details of the earth’s plates. However, looking at them carefully, especially at the spatial structure and textural display, one can see they are not geographical plates, but living beings whose bodies are wrapped, covered, stripped, growing protective layers, etc. These living beings are moving, twisting, causing movement, even transforming themselves or being in a state of total stillness.   In these paintings, each living being is alone in depth. They symbolize that the painter is entering a state of serious aesthetic thinking — like an encapsulation before labour delivery, he is experiencing a period of precious meditation and contemplation. His future art will continue developing, based on this series. Soon, this wrapping shell will be cut open. Then he will come back to art making. It is believed that it will be another wonder.  
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖15 〈遠離之一〉 “Distance (I)” 2015 oil on canvas 20 x 20″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖16 〈遠離之二〉 “Distance (II)” 2015 oil on canvas 20 x 20″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖17 〈遠離之三〉 “Distance (III)” 2015 oil on canvas 20 x 20″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖18 〈遠離之四〉 “Distance (IV)” 2015 oil on canvas 20 x 20″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖19 〈遠離之五〉 “Distance (V)” 2015 magnesium-aluminum 24 x 16″

 
【甚麼不是藝術!】梁靜 當代繪畫個展Date: December 1 - 20, 2015

圖20 〈遠離之六〉 “Distance (VI)” 2015 magnesium-aluminum 16 x 24″

  Sublimity From the painter’s using form and structure telling of a corrupted material world, through receiving the enchantment of nature, then taking essence of the secular world, to experiencing recent meditation of living beings, it seems as if I have seen a painter’s desire of transcendence — entering a pure spiritual world. It also feels as if I am by one of South America’s waterfalls, listening to a monk playing a flute. His body and mind have been purified. The waterfall’s roar can be louder than a million gunshots. Despite the dramatic impact, the monk still continues playing. In vast nature, one’s mind will encounter a sensation of fear, pain and a sense of crisis; but one knows that one won’t come to harm. Such an overwhelming state, as a matter of fact, is how the British philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-97) tried to define the “sublime” in art. Nature is the revelation of nature. Human beings cannot surmount nature. Then, a sense of awe and reverence arises. Finally, spirituality will come. Having exactly exemplified this, Liang’s works for recent three years are step by step more and more spiritual — reaching almost a religious realm!
Untitled-3

卡司巴•大衛•佛烈德利赫(Caspar David Friedrich, 1774-1840) 〈海邊的和尚〉 “The Monk by the Sea” 1808-10 oil on canvas 43 x 67.5″

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