critic's comments about Jiang Heng's works Date: 2012-08-30 Size:
Jiang Heng is one of the important representative artists of China’s “Cartoon Generation”, he is no longer concerned with the so-called depth of the image; in his artistic language, he has dispelled with the homogenous language of oil painting and the characteristics of academic

Jiang Heng is one of the important representative artists of China’s “Cartoon Generation”, he is no longer concerned with the so-called depth of the image; in his artistic language, he has dispelled with the homogenous language of oil painting and the characteristics of academic painting. He has purposefully intervened in social life with his visual representations in advertisement and cartoon style. Jiang Heng primarily makes intersections into popular trends through the “dreams” and expectations of young people.

Hypothetically speaking, before mass media, popular trends, and urban fashion entered the home, people’s knowledge and beliefs were related to profound culture and the heroic undertakings of historical figures. However, when mass media commercialized entertainment, made interests into entrepreneurial opportunities, and turned people’s enjoyment into business resources with its scientific and artistic approach, people’s dreams underwent a fundamental change. The idols they looked up to were now the “pioneers” of popular trends. Private lives or even the ideal life began to be “cartoon-ized”.

This is what Jiang Heng’s works focus on.

――Ma qinzhong(1997)

Albeit the different appearances shown throughtout Jiang Heng’s artistic career from different periods, one thing has been constant is his entry to artistic creativity through popular culture and consumer culture, in with which to convey relevant concepts. Using his own words, he likes to highlight the irresistible lure and various kinds of phenomenon from popular and consumer culture.

The early work Beauty-Fish created in the mid - 90’s, was Jiang Heng’s earliest signature piece. In this series of paintings, he granted the “beautiful city girls” – the protagonists in this series, with flirtatious facial expressions and standardized styles, in attempt to convey the fashionable and fictional lifestyle from a pop art approach. As a result, not only has it underscored the self-centered and self-reverent lifestyle of the young generation, but also thoroughly underlined the great impact of western culture, popular culture and consumer culture on this generation. The works are coded with the beautiful girls’ hairstyle, attire, body language and make-up. Moreover, the red fish circling around the girl conveys the traditional idea of “niannianyouyu” (eternal prosperity) transformed into a fashionable element with humor and satire.


Today, Jiang Heng’s art people are familiar with is his repetitive symbolized beautiful women gazing with flirtatious eyes, they smile innocently, posing in various flirtatious poses and expressions that satisfies the secular standard. They display this kind of so-called “naïve” and “beautiful” gendered information. To a certain extent, I think Jiang Heng’s women with flirtatious looks is a repetitive statement of sarcasm, it conveys information contrasting with its superficial appearance, or even of opposing and conflicting content.

―――Yang xiaoyan(2007)

As is widely known, Jiang Heng is a leading player of the Guangzhou-based Cartoon Generation that dominated the Chinese art world in the late 1990s. It was a rare phenomenon not just in China but the entire world that cartoon or animation emerged as a major artistic movement in painting. The movement began in Guangzhou, a city of southern China, by the time when the Cynical Realism and Political Pop in Beijing were nearing the end of their success. These two art movements were running for different goals. The first was, for instance, a powerful message for the outer worlds, social and political worlds, whereas the second, Cartoon Generation, was a journey in which artists were seeking after a question of identity concerning the questions, what affected us and how we grow.

―― Lee Jin-myung(Korea,2007)

Jiang Heng’s Femme Fatale series, or what we might call Jiang Heng’s sensitivity to and elevation of the cultural sphere, takes the Femme Fatale as its point of entry. “Fashion” is becoming the symbol and the face of this era, and Femme Fatale is just like the expression of this symbolic face. He uses the simplicity and glamorous color of advertisements, and also appropriates the flat smearing techniques of traditional Chinese nianhua and the old Shanghai Calendar posters. He directly showcases the affected posture of the “fashionable women” and their illicit psychological state under the influence of commercial culture. He attempts to stereotype the fashion and fictional life of the consumer society that is swinging into action in China, or presented in the style of pop art. Jiang applies an exaggerated painting style to concretely outline the vivid and absurd sphere of the material and spiritual obsession of this era. However, behind the satirical language, we uncover his serious concern for and meticulous contemplation of our present lives. However, he does not return to the traditional path of criticism, but applies a postmodern satirical approach in order to ridicule and mimic. His intentional mimicking of current popular culture reveals his critique and the uncertain stance of over-inflated consumption and trendy culture in China today. His appropriation of auspicious motifs from traditional nianhua and Chinese paintings as the background for his works forces together illustrative symbols of the post-modern and pre-modern, allowing his works to be elevated to another level – from the present realistic level to a historical level. Therefore, a post-modern consuming society shifts to a pre-modern folk Chinese style. As a result, the huge disparity in Chinese culture today is captured, and it is precisely this disparity that offers Jiang Heng a system of reference in his contemplation of the consumption of popular trends in Chinese culture. The central idea he attempts is to focus on the reflection of post-modern consumption of popular culture, and the confusion and absurdity of this time.

――Feng Boyi(2003)

Jiang Heng’s visual works have a sort of mysterious character, his images appear like an extreme capitalism transformed into utopia – pure freedom and bliss, the goal capitalist utopia longs for is realized in the new generation in Asia – like the flexibility of electronics in using a computer and emails.

Jiang Heng has portrayed a profound experience graphically without any historical reference: a kind of happiness and beauty in absence or emptiness. Those plump, happy, liberal, and unconventional new Asian girls make you feel uncertain about which city or street they are from. They are educated with the popular media of global capitalism; they use products from the popular culture industry, and move in the same cyberspace.

Jiang Heng’s paintings are like expressions of the new calendar experience of the “beautiful society”, he attempts to use a kind of beautiful image of social involvement to demonstrate a pleasurable yet simple way of existence, what is more important is not that you have over analyzed it, but that you have already been assimilated into that kind of happiness without being aware of it.

――Zhu Qi(2001)

Jiang Heng is the old member of “Cartoon Generation”, and “Old” here does not mean his age but his qualification.

His art work “The Beauty.Fish” created in mid 90s last century brought him a lot of Praise and made him flash into fame. In the art piece”Open Herding”, the beautiful girls disappeared, replaced by images of substantial goods; in the newly created work “Scattering Articles “,the charming cosmopolitan beauties come back to the picture, surrounded by pistols, flowers and pills previously presented in “Open Herding” with some indications, Critics lay stress on his”New Calendar Image Experience”, skillfully avoiding the absoluteness and academism of oil painting language and drawing in an advertisement way which he is good at..Through this, the concept expression of art manner and the reflection on popular and consumer culture effectively achieve the perfect harmony of thoughts and unification of art in the pictures. However, this is so difficult for many contemporary emerging artists to achieve, and is definitely what Jiang Heng’s unique art value lies in..

------ Tan Tian(2007)

Shanghai Art fair Emerging Artists Exhibition(Asia)

It is easy to be reminded of the opening words in Charles Dicken’s Tales of Two Cities when looking at Jiang Heng’s paintings, “IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

In the 60’s and 70’s, thinkers showed great interesting in Western life, and have raised classic criticisms. And now it’s China’s turn, as it surges towards modern industrialization, in the process of fervent urbanization, the visual sounds emit by the artist are response and echoes to such progress in China.

It is predictable that, post-2008, it will still be a time of consumerism and sense driven, would the femme fatales still be what Jiang Heng has portrayed, timid and flirtatious, perhaps that would be a question to keep in mind.

Visual sounds emitted like a sociologist

------Cao Zengjie

Precisely, Jiang Heng’s femme fatales are samples of our time, the body sample of a material era. The focus on the body in contemporary culture has reached an unprecedented height, body and class, body and power, the meaning of the body and strategy have always been the points of focus, but the physicality of the body and its social implications have been generalized as the materialized consumption society and our desire for it. For this reason, the decorative, physical, and details of visual characteristics are enforced.

----------Jiao Yuhong

Modern Transformation of the Oriental Painting on Courtesans – On Jiang Heng’s Paintings

Jiang Heng’s work focuses on today’s consumption culture. From a broader perspective, both these approaches provide multiple theoretical interpretations on China’s social transition, all of which offer rooms for interpretation. Art historically, it is the beginning of artistic representation, reflection, and criticism on the current consumer culture in China. Jiang Heng’s symbols of femme fatale push forward artistic cultural representation in terms of artistic expression and cultural content.

Zhang Fa (People’s University of China)

The Femme Fatale as the Symbols of Chinese Consumer Society and the Chinese Consumer Society Symbolized by Femme Fatale

---Interpreting Jiang Heng’s Femme Fatale Series

The phenomenon of “aesthetic insensitization” of art in the 20th century was not only reflected through ugliness, but also on inhumanness. As early as 1913, G. Apolinare has once said, “Primarily, artists are a group of people who want to become inhumane. They are persistently pursuing traces of inhumanity.” In 1925, O. Gasset has made such diagnosis: the typical characteristic of contemporary art is to “make art inhumane”. M. Merleau-Ponty had pointed out in 1948 in a criticism on Cezanne’s painting that it has revealed, “the inhumane natural foundation where humans dwell.” Theodore Adorno use his dialectical style in Aesthetic Theory, published before his death, “Only when art resorts to the pursuit of inhumanity would it obey human nature.” [1]

The reason why art of the 20th century rejected beauty resides in its revelation of inhumanity, and the reason accounts for that is in hoping to make men more humane. Just as Xunzi’s theory of the sinful nature in human, its goal was not to exemplify the perniciousness in human nature, but to ameliorate it. Perhaps Danto’s worry of allowing art to pursue beauty, it might not be effective in its critical or didactic functions, because people would be attracted by the beauty and the pleasant emotions evoked, by which its critical strength would be diminished.

Yet, Jiang Heng’s art tells us, one does not necessarily have to resort to ugliness in revealing inhumanity; through beauty, it is also possible. Jiang Heng’s art portrays mostly femme fatale, yet all of them are transformed into inhumane comic figures. The characteristics such as complexity, depth, and eternity of human nature can no longer be found in Jiang Heng’s comic figures of femme fatale, what is left are the inhumane characteristics of superficiality, ephemeralty and fragility. The femme fatales in Jiang Heng’s art is not those of everyday life, but the spirits or ghosts of beauty.

The Restoration of Beauty or its Abuse? – Thoughts provoked by Jiang Heng’s works

Peng Feng

The American writer Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, believed by some critics as written for children, that could also evoke the adult’s wonderful memories of their childhood. The British writer J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan depicts Peter Pan’s refusal to grow up that allows the reader to forger about all the worldly noise and disputes in exchange for a moment of tranquility and innocence.

Looking at Jiang Heng’s paintings once having read these children’s stories, one’s impression of it would be unique. Those novels are written for children, yet looking at them from the adult’s perspective at children, we receive the innocent facet of life. Jiang Heng’s paintings are of the contrary. They are paintings of youthful enlightenment for adults. Here, there are childish characteristics, and the children’s pursuit for innocence, but also one’s deep understanding of life that is absent for children, as well as one’s profound anxiety of the world.

From “Visionary Emptiness” to “Lost Paradise” – A look into Jiang Heng’s work

Gao Jianping (Ph.D candidate of Uppsala University of Sweden)

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[Editor] 马西