A World of Subversion: Reading of Xu Cheng’s Work
Source:Artintern Author:Zhang Li Date: 2008-08-05 Size:
The appearance of Xu Cheng’s work always makes one felt the contradiction and conflict among its scene and the intention of the artist, despite the various skills it takes.


The appearance of Xu Cheng’s work always makes one felt the contradiction and conflict among its scene and the intention of the artist, despite the various skills it takes. Which story the artist is trying to express is often unpredictable, or to say, yet the substance and style have not wholly fused as a ritual art form until it comes up to effective expression. It is more like using the musical quality of heavy metal for string quartet, or like having sprightly rhythm to sing a sad song. The in-context and skill have done wanders from the path of contents and scenes which produce a sense of absurdness. In this aspect, the formal method itself and planned details appear independently to have changed its meaning, in which compose the artistic quality of the day.

This contrapuntal base of reverse and backward has become an often used creating method by a great many artists in recent years. But the difference between Xu Cheng and other artists is that he has not developed and put such skill to use deliberately, nor he tries to find the logical relation in his works, thus this request has not ruled his creation as the main factor. The paintings of Xu Cheng express the result of visual perception in the rough and ungroomed of his own free will. In terms of technique language and graphic formula what Xu Cheng bases on, neither is the way that he has been trained, nor is he an artist with professional quality. He follows his inborn thought which he has gone through the mill from the whole outside world and then, to capture the beauty of his own enlightenment. From his recent work which shows that there is a growing tendency for Xu Cheng not to explore a distinguished style of himself as a professional artist. The original perception of an artist is that how to apply expression with the approach of spontaneous overflow and show oneself creatively and freely, and plays a key role in his painting. What is attractive and imaginative to him the most has become his style of remark, by drawing freely in the way he used to and preference.

Xu Cheng comes from a family of painter, and graduated from the most orthodox fine arts academy in both China and Russia. The art education he has received under academic system, such as the training of artistic skill and the method and attitude of creation, all have restrained him in different extents and aspects of which the contradiction embodies in him prominently. It is his nature to fight against collegiate system and, start from this point, Xu Cheng’s artistic experience spontaneously comes in forms of laissez-faire in expression and randomness in technique skill. Therefore, as a consequence there is the variable interactive relation between the both above.

As an artist who tries drawing freely and with no bound by fashion and style, Xu Cheng reveals unreservedly about his feeling toward society and his own life. From late 1980s, last century, to 1990s, China underwent huge changes which had a great influence on everyone, including Xu Cheng along with the experience of studying in Russia. All of these factors shaped the thinking of him. In his early works, there were themes and symbols he had put into use continuously, such as the weird figure with an official hat, then big beard Marx who also symbolized academic authority in the duration of his study and pretty woman dressed erotically, and so on. In addition, shattered wine bottle, leopard skin and sunglasses, burnt heaps of wood, violent behaviour in scenic spot, a horse toppled over and human body, and all the etceteras as well, in which matched along with a lot of elements in his painting - power, desire, violence and individual will, for example. They all appeared in different artistic form so as to cause various visual stimulus come into being to present several aspects in an overthrown system. In point of fact, the artist’s intention and framed episode are reversible and ambiguous, also indifferent without direct valuation most of all, of which is both an allegory of reality and an self-analysis and catharsis, hence to make audience’s thought into a rich vision impact, symbol corresponding and mental analysis.

The contents of Xu Cheng’s painting are, most of them appeared in early stage of his work, part of transcendental actuality imagination, as the monster of half man half beast, uncanny props and anamorphic figures and animals that occasionally can be found in his recent works. It’s worth noting that a piece of painting named ‘Untitled p14’, in which represents a man covered with writing all over his body in a look from ancient times, whom is also holding a paintbrush while reclining on a long, narrow Chinese table of a figmentary old-fashioned wooden armchair. It can be seen as a sort of portrait of the artist himself. Another kind of work of his is about real scene with the characteristic of the diagram type, such as events in open field and road, or domesticity. Some of them are like stories from novels, others like anatomize self-activity., there are four works named My Happy life Files out Every Single Day, and the time across from 1999 to 2007, in which repeatedly turns up the images of sunglasses, domestic installation and women in different situations, etc. Totting up these figures creates a new self whom is restless, possesses dread power but being disorientated which is differ from the imaginary self like ancients. He also utilizes the written words in his painting so as to make it such initiative as falls within its frame from having been watched.

When we look at Xu Cheng’s work, due to our habits and inertia of thinking model, we frequently lose the chance of seeing more substance in it. In accordance with his belief the artist only chooses the subject and the turn of expression he fancies, though the both sometimes become one. If audience follow their usual visual experiences and reasoning skills and try to find the logical relationship out of the image and meaningfulness, it will not go into effect. Xu Cheng is the creator whom is more liberal than most of painters, because he has not drowned by numerous and complicated knowledge and theories but following what is natural led him and only draw when he has the thoughts on something, and never to uphold so-called individual style for frame and wealth. In a sense, among our social lives, art truly can be regarded as a form of joking and Xu Cheng may consider it the same way as well, but it does not interfere with the matter he undertakes the work heartily.

[Editor] Mark Lee