Su Xinping and the Inner Spirit
Source:The Red Gate Gallery Author:Nicky Combs Date: 2008-08-26 Size:
The mysticism of Qigong, shadows revealing individual desires, and travels through a dreamland, these esoteric elements populate the recent lithographs by Su Xinping. Providing the viewer with an observation of China's social conditioning, Su's works express with a skilled hand his personal experience with life at a particular moment.

Su Xinping's work

The mysticism of Qigong, shadows revealing individual desires, and travels through a dreamland, these esoteric elements populate the recent lithographs by Su Xinping. Providing the viewer with an observation of China's social conditioning, Su's works express with a skilled hand his personal experience with life at a particular moment. For anyone interested in modern China, economics, culture, or politics, we know the past two decades have brought dramatic changes. It is these changes in China's realities, on a social and historical level, that have played a substantial role in the evolution of Su Xinping's work. He refuses to follow official or avant-garde trends, and instead creates works marked with a reserved introspection unique to the contemporary Chinese and international art scene.

Su humbly admires his graduate works, not only for their superior technique, but also in their ability to express a special feeling of a specific time. He explained that in the early 1980s his instructors began teaching him to be in touch with his life, dramatically different than what he had been taught as a young boy. As Su was growing up official art was still commissioned as propaganda aiming to create particular feelings. He was aware that this was false and observed that the propaganda posters were depicting scenes that were not true to the feelings of common people. With the encouragement of his instructors, he ignored the desire for art as propaganda, and instead extracted themes directly from life, from his life.

His earliest series was therefore inspired by his time spent in Inner Mongolia, with scenes of vast grasslands and timeless people. While the theme and content may not produce an immediate connection with viewers, the controlled technique portrayed in the movement of the figures who blend smoothly with the simple landscape and its rolling hills supply a feeling of innocence. Su Xinping's ability to create facial expressions, individually calm and quiet, are executed with a skill that increases the peacefulness of the sincere scenes. There is no subjective meaning, just the expression of a true moment.

Moving away from nostalgic scenes to issues more shared, in 1990 Su completed Dialogue, a theme he repeated in 1998. In the first version he has placed two figures facing one another in a mirrored exchange. At the time he created the work Su Xinping felt that people were isolated from one another and could not communicate in a deep way, so the figure is seen in a dialogue with himself. By opposing these figures, one negative and the other positive, he admits it is a sobering scene of one's meditation. He believes there is a sort of balance and harmony, a Daoist yin/yang complementary. Contrasting this to the 1998 print, also entitled Dialogue, the feeling is quite different. In the more recent work, Su has applied color to the originally black and white print. The sky is now a vibrant red, and the figures are smiling with rosy cheeks and red lips in a manner reminiscent of posters of peasants during the 1960s and 70s. Satire and humor have replaced the feelings of spirituality and loneliness that saturate the earlier work. The clothing has changed from a Mongolian robe to the androgynous suit worn by China's past officials, the so-called "Mao suit." The horizon has been reshaped, softened and blurred, lending the feel of spontaneity and lightness.

While wanting to interpret the '98 work as an expression of cynicism toward a past era, Su Xinping admits that is true, but for the most part this work is an exploration of a new approach to lithography applying the technique of ink and wash painting. Although he is still expressing the situation of one communicating with oneself, he has lifted some of the seriousness that marked many of his earlier works. By repeating the theme, in a different manner, it is visibly apparent that Su is feeling more free and jovial, able to find humor in the past.

It was during the early 1990s that Chinese artists recognized that the idealism, freedom and enthusiasm experienced within the 1980s began facing restrictions. Su acknowledges that these feelings invaded his works. The spiritualism within his work, clearly challenged by the societal conditions, present a man who was struggling with his identity in an inconstant environment. With Su Xinping, rather than creating something kitsch, shocking, or commercial, he created works that explore his personal, individual reactions to China, such as the earlier Dialogue.

The Rising Sun was part of a new series created in 1991 symbolic of something more hopeful. Su admits that he "came out from under a dark shadow," which corresponds to China's international re-emergence in the early 1990s. "My work and the development of my artistic career are really connected with China's contemporary social issues. Rising Sun is the best example of this, as I, the artist, was predicting China still has hope." Su has remained with the image of a Mongolian figure, but the warmth and optimism symbolized by the light of the sun hints at the change once again occurring within Su's personal emotions as well as the livelihood of the Chinese people.

During the mid-1990s Su Xinping graduated to new themes relating more directly to social issues and concerns. In one of his most expressive series, Sea of Desire, Su alludes to the pressure that rapid economic development places on individuals. On the whole, individual Chinese were becoming richer and material desire resulted. In 1994 he was aware of the hectic emotions involved in this exceptional circumstance. In this series of 20 works he has exaggerated the unsatisfied desire experienced by himself and others. The first works in the series portray the most hectic aspect of this feeling, with images of people diving into and swimming in waves of hands. Su also portrays the unsatisfied desire causing sorrow or pain. In a self-portrait, he holds his head in his hands as the sea of unattainable desires surrounds him. Su objectifies this feeling within this series supplying a progression of emotions toward the societal transformations during the 1990s. He begins with a chaotic representation that gives way to a portrait of himself in a state of depression, and finally ends with figures running lightly through the hands, which are fewer in number.

Today Su Xinping believes that a social reconfiguration has been completed and people are more happy and stable. He has and continues to eloquently provide visual portrayals of the social changes occurring within the past two decades in China. His personal interpretations beg the viewer to understand his individual suffering or joy of experiences in contemporary China.

Su Xinping's latest works are once again black and white and continue to explore a new language of printmaking. He is finding more inspiration from ink and wash technique infusing his works with a simplicity, which in turn, increases the depth of his work. Each work of this new series is thought provoking, still communicating on a personal level. Su Xinping's works provide an intimate language marked by his inner spirit, affording a look into his spirit and a path to consider our own.

[Editor] Zhang Shuo