Painting Lesson I: Illusion or Delusion Author:Bao Dong Date: 2011-04-29 Size:
Needless to say, painting is the maturest field that draws most attention in Chinese contemporary art practices. However, in-depth researches into painting are rare.

Needless to say, painting is the maturest field that draws most attention in Chinese contemporary art practices. However, in-depth researches into painting are rare. Most of the discussions, which dwell on the abstract and avoid real issues, are full of parrot-learned knowledge. With some invalidated aesthetic concepts such as "expression" and "abstract", people seek to judge vaguely whether the work is good or bad, or (even worse) discuss the so-called underlying meaning that the painting expresses.

In this case, on one hand, it is needed to go back to specific issues of painting per se, such as "representation", "interest", "subject", "narrative" and among other facets, as well as technical details like frame, canvas and color. We should even put the seemingly unambiguous concept of "painting" out of mind and survey those particular paintings again with a fresh and inquisitive look. In this way, paintings are deconstructed into a series of open topics for discussion. One the other hand, it is required to evaluate these issues in artistic practices of various medium and types rather than the specific context of painting. Therefore we can understand more clearly the meaning and value of painting as it is. "Painting Lesson" is aimed to urge the audience to appreciate those artworks entitled "painting" (or not) with a sense of openness and reflection.

In Painting Lesson I, we focus on the way how the artists mobilize our visual experiences and lead us to some specific topics, such as the relationship between illusion and "real" delusion. In the history of art, when painting was free of the historical goal of "representation", optical illusion gimmick could be used in a new way and therefore would become an alternative mean - rather than the only mean as before - of visual rhetoric. In this exhibition, the audience will see the way not only how the artists create the illusions, but also how they remove the illusions by utilizing the contexts / conditions, such as the cases in Qiu Xiaofei, Feng Zhengquan, Jiang Ji'an, Liang Yuanwei, Guo Hongwei and Shang Yixin's works.

Feng Zhengquan paints pigment with pigment. The painting is juxtaposed by the original source, so as to form a dialectical relationship based on the difference of viewing. Jiang Ji'an, Liang Yuanwei and Chen Weiqun impose a set of visual order of realistic paintings in reality, and therefore uncover the order. Shang Yixin conducts optical illusion gimmick in his works. Experimentalism is self-sufficient for him. Experiment per se is the purpose. Qiu Xiaofei's use of optical illusion gimmick has a strong implication of psychoanalysis and presents the underlying philosophy of "reality / illusion". Li Qing's works can be examined for comparative study. Citing a metaphor of "window", his work directly points out the "reproduction" of painting as a topic worth of discussion.

Artists play optical illusion gimmicks and intentionally give the show away, just like one shouting "It is fake" or "It is just a movie" when the audience are immersed in the movie. In that case, the audience suddenly flee out of the shelter of certain ideology and begin to reflect on the past experiences under that ideology, the innate legitimacy of which no longer existed. The artists' disclosure of optical illusion gimmicks may arouse the audience's reflection on their own visual experiences. Only through constant self-reflection (ie, self-critism) could art obtain the kind of energy that we expect. Meanwhile, the audience put effort too - as one might say, it is a meaning underlying the subject "Painting Lesson".

In fact, if we explore further, the illusion is not only related to the sense of space or the sense of volume. For instance, Hu Xiaoyuan's work discusses the illusion of texture. She covered the wood with white fabric and painstakingly repaint the texture of wood on top, in an effort to replace the original wood with an exact "copy". Her work presents an allusion to Minimalism, especially in an exhibition with a context of "painting". Guo Hongwei is the same when dealing with the surface. In the exhibition, he "sculptures" a sea with pigment, color, light and shadow. We become suspicious of the materiality of painting itself and its representation. Actually, Wang Guangle and Song Yuanyuan's works on show are the same way. Through trivial subversion of our familiar way of viewing - for instance, turning two-dimensional painting into three dimensional - they liberate the verb "paint" from the gradually enervated concept of "painting" .

I choose the works based on my familiarity and understanding of these artists. In other words, the list of participating artists can be expanded. In current art community, artistic practice based on illusion yet aimed at removing the illusion has become a kind of phenomenon. Regarding this, it should be a "lesson" of painting. However, again, a mature artist would not be confined into certain phenomenon. In this sense, Ernst Gombrich's saying that "there really is no such thing as art - there are only artists" should be reviewed again and again.

[Editor] Elemy Liu