Giant Illustration of Contemporary Crisis of Mind and Soul Author:Deng Pingxiang Date: 2010-08-25 Size:
Way of Liberation towards the Nether World, a large-scale oil painting (300cm×1600cm) that Liu Yaming has conceived for years and created in two years, is magnificent with epic composition, showing more than 160 characters on it. With amazing talent and great mental power, the artist has creat

Way of Liberation towards the Nether World, a large-scale oil painting (300cm×1600cm) that Liu Yaming has conceived for years and created in two years, is magnificent with epic composition, showing more than 160 characters on it. With amazing talent and great mental power, the artist has created a symbolic and surrealistic fable painting: numerous men and women are horrified or frightened or desperate in the space that the artist creates. But it’s not all what the artist wants to express. In the dominant tone of tragedy and gloom, we can still see the foreshadowing: some of the people are showing dignity, ease and resolution, which are power from the human nature and mind, freeing us from extreme pessimistic despair and showing us hope and sunbeam. In this way, we could consider Liu Yaming as an optimistic pessimist. His optimism is so heavy and hesitant, yet it’s just the heaviness and hesitation that show the deep concern of the artist like the thinker by Rodin towards the destiny of human – mental suffering and soul crisis.

No doubt, Way of Liberation towards the Nether World is extremely pessimistic, which is totally different from the optimism in age of enlightenment and cultural optimism (pointed out by Li Zehou) of traditional China. Look at the exciting words like science, rationality, knowledge, noumenon, progress, cultivating morality, regulating a family, managing state affairs and making all peaceful, which have encouraged millions of ardent youths to contribute their lives. It requires idealism and optimism and nothing pessimistic and hesitant. But what did it bring to us looking back the 200-300 years of history after the age of enlightenment and the over one hundred years of history after Revolution of 1911 and May Fourth Movement in China? Take the 20th century for example: the two world wars, the slaughter in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the Soviet Union’s Great Purges and the ten years of Cultural Revolution in China are human catastrophe under the circumstances that nationalism, ethos, revolutionary movement, progress and liberation were deified and idolized. No wonder some one concludes as follows:

The predestination of materialism is nihility!

Nationalism is the final refuge for all tyrants!

It’ll be depravation if there comes any poem after Auschwitz Concentration Camp!

This is only one part of man-made evil. For the other, it’s the calamitous consequence to human’s living environment under the flag of industrial revolution and flourishing science and technology. The cautionary words might alert human a little bit: “Human will dig its own grave in endless robbery of the nature!”

The title of the painting and the large reclining Buddha in it seemingly show that the artist is calling for a supernatural power for salvation. Though we can’t assume from the title and signs in the painting that there is a supernatural power in Liu Yaming’s mind which he expects it to realize the human’s salvation, we know that Liu Yaming’s focus of thought in the painting is about the soul, religion, life and death and those about ultimacy and mystique. However, this doesn’t mean that he is theist. As far as I know about him and his art, I would say that he is a pantheist, since his God is in the nature (the Natural God). Meanwhile, as an artist deeply doubting the values of the material and secular world, Liu Yaming is at a crossroads of soul and mind: I guess he’s responding to the unapproved and inexperienced spirit world with reverence and sense of sincerity. What he could do as an artist is just to create aesthetic salvation to human’s suffering and mental crisis, which is his duty.

From the interpretation of his artworks, I think Liu Yaming is some kind of like Nietzsche in tragic spirit. What is tragic spirit? – A powerful pessimism, happy wisdom based on pessimism. Thus I guess Liu Yaming might appreciate the saying of Nietzsche very much:

“to look at science from the perspective of the artist, but to look at art from the perspective of life.”

Liu Yaming has indeed taken the perspective of the artist, since the traditional epistemology to observe things and people has already been replaced by a spiritual way of psychology and science of human nature. The spirit of life is the combination of tragic and salvation spirits, only with which could fully express human’s power and dignity.

A new generation of religious philosophers in Europe points out that, there is an isolated and alienated process in the mental and soul world of the modern people, which is the isolation and alienation between man and nature, man and man, and man and the God. Though it’s from the European ideologists, it applies to Chinese people to some extent, because human would have similar reaction in mind and soul towards modernization, which could be proved in Liu Yaming’s painting of Way of Liberation towards the Nether World. In this case, Liu Yaming is not just showing a theme about China, but the whole human being.

In recent years, Liu Yaming has been getting his artworks symbolic, and he has made it a style through Way of Liberation towards the Nether World. The French symbolism started in 19th century originated in poetry and was extended to painting art as an independent school. From the aspect of spiritual law of art, it is conducted to discover the unique reality with rational feelings from the comparison of the inner world and superficial world. As to expression, it breaks up the traditional pattern of realism and applies symbol and metaphor as its major ways, which are the ideas and inner feelings corresponding to some kind of images. It’s appropriate to tell that Liu Yaming’s artworks in inner spirits are in accordance with the definitions above.

What’s more, Liu Yaming’s works is with aesthetics of Neo-historicism as to the aesthetic ideology. The aesthetics of Neo-historicism generated in 1980s in the western world comes to the stage as a power to challenge constructivism and formalism. It pays much attention to art and life, as well as files and history, re-conforms the form with the traditional motif of history, and combines the diachronism and synchronicity, thus turning art to the return of potential meaning-construction from the discrepancy games of deconstructing for things new and original. Coming out of the Chinese discrepancy games as art of modernism, Liu Yaming’s painting, especially one with such epic theme and huge size, shows that another power of Chinese modernism arises. It’s not only about style, but more importantly, the art of modernism in China should not only express the feelings but the spirit, one that helps to establish the mental culture.

I’m not intended to analyze the artist’s way of expression and his language style with this article, but it still seems necessary to talk about the noumenon of art. Liu Yaming is an oil painter with good mastery of realistic language and expression, and has some thoughtful ideas to the destiny of classical painting and realism in China, “After seeing many original works abroad, I think there is great room to improve, especially in the special circumstance of China. It has only about 100-years history of Chinese oil painting, and it has various possibilities for future development. It requires many people to do it and do something different from the European” – This is insightful, and maybe he’s talking about his artistic mission.

As to exploration of oil painting, Liu Yaming has been focusing on the difficulty coefficient and scale, which would be easy to get him into the huge and strict traditional trap of classical oil painting. At this critical juncture, the next task in expression for Liu Yaming will be how to establish a private (personalized) language formula. As long as one has established the personalized language formula, the others can’t judge him with classical rules, because since he’s got his own measurement, only with his measurement could people get into his field.

Deng Pingxiang, a renowned art critic

[Editor] Elemy Liu