Lead A Limited Life with Thorough Understanding
Chen Shuxia’s paintings are neither big nor small. There is a triptich taking up the whole wall.
I was told by Chen Shuxia that I should stick to the original if appreciating her paintings. So I went to her works exhibited in National Art Museum of China. Before that I only saw her painting album. In the museum, I was surprised by the number of works she exhibited that she was quite a diligent painter though a low-pitched with little words as she was. A diligent painter means that he or she has the impulse to express, means that he or she is confident in his or her creativity.
Viewing the original works is really different from viewing the prints. First difference is the size. Chen Shuxia’s paintings are neither big nor small. There is a triptich taking up the whole wall. Also another series of head portraits of girls named Fashion Faces covers also the whole wall in width if hanged horizontally. The size of paintings (as well as flat smearing and accumulating of paints) affects our understanding of the painting works. So what does this indicate?
Since Walter Benjamin on The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility in 1936, there have been two groups of artists stressing up the difference between original works and prints and artists regardless of the difference of the original works and prints against each other. The former defends for the craft and style. For craft new ideas are always emerging and style can be distinctive as well, but their unwavering concept of craft and style can last for ever.
However, we can not define what kind of artist Chen Shuxia is simply by the some existing concepts. In painting, she cares about the girls’ faces, pears on the desk, clouds, lake water, mountains surrounding the water, boat on the lake, fisherman in suit in the boat, as well as one or two birds in the water. Usually, those objects take up the center of the canvas, while the vast world they are replying on is omited into just solid color, strikingly covering the huge canvas.
As far as we know, oil painting is something easily to be“ grand”, which is related to the brush, kife, canvas, paints and frame used. Meanwhile, the concept basis supporting oil painting as a kind of painting category is also “grand”. However,
Chen Shuxia has no interest in the grand effect of traditional oil painting. Her randomicity helps to“find” her own oil painting. Then the randomicity and delicacy meet the word “orient”, but never intentionally.
If there must be a word to describe Chen Shuxia’s painting, it is “poetic”. She makes this word self-update to accommodate her paintings. The viewers on the site may easily feel something beautiful, quiet, self-sufficient and free. Among those painters of t he new generation with works commonly flaunted as cynical, intranquil, dangerous, angry, satiric, bad and ugly, there is no place for Chen Shuxia. She just shows off nothing, nor intentionally.
The Monkey King (Sun Wukong) made a circle to protect Monk Tang, Piggy and Monk Sha. So does Chen Shuxia, but the difference is that she makes the circle for herself to jump into. Unless she walks herself out, otherwise, all evils can never break into it. She is not an iconic painter (though she has her own icons), neither a language painter (though she uses her own language), it seems that we can say her an emotional painter, owning a set of place.
It is easy to catch her paintings at the first sight, which is right her success. Relying on a kind of mild stubbornness--- toughly caring about subtle things, surrounding things and daily things---she makes her paintings stand out of people independently. Her care for daily things is the trend of the times, but what she cares for are smaller, which only the fairly confident people can make.
Generally speaking, daily lif e is something repetitive. Romantic and passionate life is first to fight against frightening and repetitive one. But it seems that Chen Shuxia found her way to overcome such kind of fright. She made herself focus on the repetiveness of life, which reflecting in the paintings is that she gained the single repetition of the decorated objects. She entered into this kind of repetitiveness and then represented it interestingly. There are two points to be noted here. First, in her“repetition” there is a small variation, appearing like the repetitive objects, but still something different, seemingly repeting every second and every minute before, but different. There is a subtle view of time contained here. Second, Chen Shuxia’s life details shown are replaced by painting details, that is to say, life details are altered to serve the painting itself in the painting.
It seems to be a little different from her own point of view. The Art Circles magazine ever published her talks with novelist Zhu Wenying in March and April issue of 2004, in which Chen Shuxia said:“ In my opinion, ‘painting’ and ‘living’ are synonym, the line between them either clear or vague. ” Fortunately, the difference is not so significant. She can rather say that painting is a kind of life style, in which painting and living co-exist with each other, compromising to each other, also opposite to each other. But actually she is not a person fancy of opposite.
Her care for subtlety and limited things is based on her understanding of the fundamental issue“existence”. In the ar ticle The Existence of the Pear, she said: “No matter how nonsense it exists, it does exist. Therefore, except the passive meanings, there is still another meaning, that is the existence.” I was a little surprised to read such words. You can say that she tried to make a big deal out of, you can also apply it to any unconspicuous things and people.
I am not sure whether her care for limited things is out of consciousness or nature. Maybe something began first with nature, but then with a kind of consciousness. Some people are eager to locate themselves into infinite life, while Chen Shuxia seems to lead thoroughly the limited life. In another word, she unconsciously denies the credo of“ life elsewhere”, or she leads her life“ here” as life“ elsewhere”.
Either “here” or “elsewhere”, life represented by Chen Shuxia seems to be either now and here, or far way. Just like her painting language, either representational or abstract; also her quietness shown in the paintings, either surrounding us or without our reach. It is the life between reality and irreality that leads to the painting between reality and irreality.
Therefore, in Chen Shuxia’s paintings, there is no specific theme, just as there is no need of theme for tiny existence. In this aspect, Chen Shuxia’s paintings are non-historic. She removes expressions of people, landscape, plant and animals. Though it was also practical to remove expressions in ancient Chinese painting to realize the dream of “surpassing”, Chen Shuxia still secretly keep her own joyance while removing those expressions.
Chen Shuxia removes her own “expressions” while removing the expressions of objects, which makes here different from other artists also caring for daily life. Normally when one uses daily life as art materials, he or she may follow a route of“autobiographical writing”. But Chen Shuxia shows another kind of attitude towards daily life. She refuses that kind of “autobiographical writing”. She shows that “I” through a kind of “anti-autobiography” demonstration before us.
Does this imply a kind of dissatisfaction with the cultural environment and art context? If does, then Chen Shuxia’s dissatisfaction is shown in an extremely restricted way. In an article named Care for Life, Chen Shuxia said: “My work and enjoyment is that part of life I deserve”, which shown a little sweet flavor of predestination (which is normally from feeling bitter and pained towards giving up ). Maybe this kind of sweet predestination just balances her secret dissatisfaction.
[Editor] Mark Lee