"Ink and Color:Brushing Illusion" Feng Bin Solo Exhibiion
A Persistent Exploration – Feng Bin’s Painting
We might notice that almost the artist in this exhibition uses the language of painting to express his concepts and demands. In the postmodern art world, with conceptual art dominant, the traditional artistic language of painting faces an unprecedented challenge. The appearance of various new mediums provides a wide range of choice for artistic expression. Many artists and theorists claim that painting already died. But some artists continue to use painting as their artistic language, which itself is a kind of manifesto. This kind of insistence in the present day is not easy. They realize that this declaration of “the death of painting” is just one form of discourse. “But this, in fact, was a liberating idea…It liberated artists from the task of making more history…It is a moment…when perfect artistic freedom had become real.”[i] “What may be of sharpest critical interest about the legacy of the genre……. both to the continuing practice of painting and in the continuing practice of painting, lies not in the intentional forms of picturing by which it has been defined. It lies rather in the precedents that the genre provides for a continued engagement, in the context of the visible, with that which is contingently excluded from possibility of being seen and represented.”[ii] Actually, the choice of medium and method of expression are never the final goal of art. In recent years, we can see artists using different media and artistic forms, from traditional painting to installations, video, and photography, from detailed and realistic to distorted or abstract, to confidently display their visual experience, describe their personal perceptions, express their concerns in life, explore their spiritual aspirations, and raise questions about both tradition and modernity. These artists’ work has already become an important component in the process of constructing contemporary Chinese culture. They are clearly affected both in concept and attitude by contemporary society. As with other forms of Chinese art today, their work expresses the contemporary spirit of society and culture. Feng Bin is one of the representative artists among them.
Feng Bin graduated from the Chinese Painting Department of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 1985. He has taught at the SCFAI since then, and subsequently went to Europe several times to study and lecture. He received solid training in traditional painting techniques and retained an enthusiastic commitment to two-dimensional expression, but was not satisfied with just maintaining traditional styles and conventions. Since the 1990s, he has tried to make innovations in the use of materials, techniques, and composition to create a more modern feeling. He believes that the development of Chinese painting must break through the isolated self-satisfaction to which traditional artists can be subject and must fill Chinese painting with contemporary meaning. Taking an open-minded and all-embracing attitude, Chinese painting must become a constructive participant and actively contribute to the discourse of the current cultural world. After a long career on the front lines of art education, Feng Bin seems to have more concern for the language of painting. Over many years he has conducted a full range of artistic experiments, from medium and techniques to imagery, to create a new ink art with a strong sense of contemporaneity.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, he has produced a series of paintings of Tibetan temples and Buddhist lamas. The theme of Tibet has been for many years a favorite subject for Chinese artists. Feng Bin’s series, however, did not merely seek exoticism, but the images of architecture and priests are vehicles for the artist’s interpretation of the history of religion and culture. In his painting, the blurry moving forms of the Tibetan lamas strongly contrast with the stillness of the clearly contoured and brightly colored temples. He uses the motion and stillness, emptiness and substance, as a metaphor for the contrast between the moment and eternity. These characteristics make Feng Bin one of the most original artists of the many who focus on Tibetan subject matter.
Feng Bin is a very thoughtful artist, and his constant engagement with the international art community leads him to incessantly reflect upon and reevaluate China’s painting traditions.
His recent work has turned to the representation of the urban scenes and individuals. The Dancing Series conveys the life experiences and attitudes of a younger generation, and also gives ink painting itself a new means of expression. He used photographic figurative images, their obscurity contrasting with the large white space of the background, to emphasize an emptiness, a detachment from reality. In the painting the blurred faces and constantly moving bodies of the dancers prevent direct contact and exchange between the dancers and the viewers, which suggests the difficulty of communication and the loneliness among people in the impulsive and superficial contemporary society. Feng Bin’s work represents a concern for people in the present day, extending to their living environment and psychological worlds, using language of ink art to represent a sense of contemporaneity.
As we may see in his work, Feng Bin finds the limitation of two-dimensionality a source of creative tension and stubbornly insists on the picture plane as the focus of his art. The power and appeal of his works may, in fact, be partially based on this firm determination. Challenging both old and new, Feng Bin uses traditional and non-traditional materials in innovative ways to push the boundaries of Chinese painting conventions and at the same time to shed critical light on contemporary cultural phenomena. This exhibition demonstrates the great potential of the new direction he has chosen.
[i] Danto, Arthur C. Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992. p. 9.
[ii] Charles Harrison, “The Effects of Landscape,” in Landscape and Power, ed. W.J.T. Mitchell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994, p.234.
Kuiyi Shen,Director of Chinese Studies Program; Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at University of California, San Diego