A New Lease of Life - About Wang Lifeng and His Arts
Among all the artists I’ve been acquainted with, Wang Lifeng has gone farthest in material experiments.
Wang Lifeng Works
Among all the artists I’ve been acquainted with, Wang Lifeng has gone farthest in material experiments. Some artists are interested in material out of the need for visual effects, but Wang has applied the materials more out of the rational understanding of the materials themselves. It is how Wang stands out, and why after all the contemporary artistic trends, he has kept a special position in the art world. I’ve observed works by Wang in 1980s, when he already had in-depth understanding of the materials, especially the application of Chinese stone rubbings. Different from those crazy for Western format symbols, Wang has been cool-minded to incorporate his artistic practices into the literature works. After that, Wang Lifeng has stuck to the concept: getting deeper and deeper into history, to incorporate new cultural contents from the ancient visual materials. Wang has a clear and full line for the naming of his works in different stages: his works are classified as “Warring States and Spring and Autumn Period” series, “Han Dynasty” “Tang Dynasty”, “Song Dynasty”, and “Ming Dynasty” series. Wang names his artistic works after the historic dynasties in China, to show his interest in history and his self-definition and cultural identification in an age characterized with varied concepts of values.
In recent years, China is eagerly pursuing newness and changes. The coming of Western culture has broken the original cultural harmony, so that China, as indicated in the modern history, has to learn from the Westerners and bid farewell to the traditional customs. In fact, against the background of cultural reconstructions, China’s contemporary arts are borne. The Western cultures have stimulated us to reflect on ourselves and to create new cultures. Wang is undoubtedly benefiting from such an age. All his artistic works are concentrated on the desire to rebuild the culture. In the 1980s, Wang was admitted to a university in Beijing after the examinations. It was the turning point of his life, giving him more opportunities to experience the values of this cultural center. During the four years in his university, Wang caught the “swelling rush” of the Trendy Arts. New ideas were mushrooming in the open society, and a new revolution in the visual field was started.
Wang, in such a cultural atmosphere, was influenced by different new ideas and new concepts. He gave up the traditional easel painting, and chose multiple materials.
His sensitivity to materials is the sensitivity to cultural derivatives. Different from other artists busy making experiments with multiple materials, Wang chose the paper pulp and Chinese characters that could best convey the Chinese culture right from the start. According to Wang, he’s inspired from a trip to the Forrest of Steles in Xi’an in 1985. From this trip into ancient times, Wang Lifeng was enlightened and started to develop a new direction for artistic explorations, thus distancing himself from the Trendy Arts.
In the recent 30 years, two lines have gone through the development of China’s contemporary culture: learning from the West the format language, and sourcing from our own history. Chen Danqing is the earliest to learn from classic oil paintings in the West, and Yuan Yunsheng is the first to encourage the artists to source from China’s traditional spirits. The two lines were intersected in the 1980s, injecting two dynamic forces into the Trendy Arts. Wang Lifeng and Yuan Yunsheng have the same experiences, having paid visits to the ancient relics in Northwestern China. Probably, he has acknowledged Yuan’s concepts in some degree and tries to seek the cultural root. However, Wang is different from Yuan. Yuan tries to retrieve the traditions of the prime times from an ideological level, while Wang is more interested in the cultural qualities, by excavating the format languages with a down-to-earth attitude. Being hard working, Wang has left us the traces to seek the cultural root, and to add some steadiness to the days in which people are busy seeking newness and changes.
In the 1990s, Wang entered into his artistic maturity. From that time, his materials were getting varied: those symbols related to Chinese culture, such as the Chinese characters, silk, stamps, fine powders, thread-bound rare Chinese books and ancient furniture were all being applied as elements of his. Meanwhile, his works were arranged in a chronological order, and named after Chinese dynasties. I’ve observed his works in different stages, and have the feeling that Wang’s application of materials is not simply for the pictures’ visual demands, but to showcase the materials’ qualities, so that materials can speak for themselves in the historical context. In the works of the “Warring States and Spring and Autumn Period” series, “Han Dynasty” series, and “Tang Dynasty” series, he has widely applied paper pulp, to create a colorful and dusky effect. Together with the embellishment of dark colors and stamping, we feel a return to the age of greatness. In the works of “Song Dynasty” and “Ming Dynasty”, he leveraged the structures of silk and thread-bound rare Chinese books to create an air of literature with the simple furniture, which was consistent with the prevalent aesthetic flavor. The recent “Dark Mount” series, based on the green and dark paintings of mountains and waters popular in the Qing Dynasty, he has intricately combined the paper pulp, characters, golden powder and colors to reproduce the style of ancient paintings of the mountain and waters, and to convey to us the humanitarian spirits between the mountains and waters…
All the above is the unique creations of Wang. The uniqueness lies in his application of materials, not to simply serve the visual demands, but to showcase his desire to seek the cultural root. It reminds me of a cultural slogan “revive tradition”. If it is just a “slogan” spread through mouths, then less people will have the idea of what tradition is, let alone the understanding of “reviving”. Actually, tradition is not a dead concept, but alive in our bodies and bloods. Therefore, we cannot take is as something passed away, but a live process. All Wang’s artistic works have been intended to prove that innovations are part of the tradition, even if a small part. Innovations inject new life into the tradition. Although few have practiced this small part, it gives Wang the opportunity to avoid the agitated life and gain enlightenment from the depth of history.
[Editor] Mark Lee