The Mental Reality Substituted or Recurred
Source:Artintern Author:Feng Boyi Date: 2006-10-14 Size:
It was September of1991 when I first saw Li Tianyuan’s work. He joined group exhibition right after graduated from Central Art Academy, together with now renowned artist Zhao Bandi, in Beijing Tiandi Building (now Poly Center). He is one of the earliest artists who features idea of New Gener

It was September of1991 when I first saw Li Tianyuan’s work. He joined group exhibition right after graduated from Central Art Academy, together with now renowned artist Zhao Bandi, in Beijing Tiandi Building (now Poly Center). He is one of the earliest artists who features idea of New Generation. Instead of exploring the ebb and flow of history, the artists of New Generation use purified oil painting language to express their inner feeling to prosaic and trivial daily life, to emphasize the tendency of close up of art and life observation. It obviously keeps distance from 85 Art Movement, offering new imagination and expression for Chinese contemporary art.

More than ten years fly away. Li Tianyuan persists in his experimental art work, exploring potentials in it. Recently, some new oil paintings come into our sight. Before analysis to his work, it is important to understand the problem and dilemma of contemporary Chinese art today. After economics reform, complex and richness of Chinese situation because of social transformation provide great resource for Chinese avant-garde art; bizarre and fantasticality stemmed from Chinese situation become the most reason for its peculiar fascination. Many artists direct clearly to social and cultural reality in their work, based on their growth and life experience and current cultural situation. It is especially obvious in Chinese contemporary art in 1990s. It is also the reason of growing attention from international art field. In other words, the rich resource from contradiction, confusion and anxiety at time of social transformation in China compose the vivid and colorful reality of Chinese avant-garde art. However, this tendency brings worrying condition. Common problem is that although there are trials in material and media, but in term of concept and methodology, main thought and attitude is till confined within Realism. The one to one inspire drawing shows absence of artistic transformation and transcendent. It deteriorates into cheap re-presentation of Contemporary or expression in vulgar sociology, which cause the deluge of visuals simply mirroring the reality. Actually, the fantastic Chinese reality offers far more than visual tension expressed by artists. Nevertheless, some artists seem lack tran-experience refining from reality. The above is consensus between Li Tianyuan and I when discussing Chinese contemporary art ecology. I had a hunch that it is right because Li Tianyuan’s reflection and judgment on Chinese contemporary art that lead him to new creation in concept and language. To me, sensitiveness to contemporary cultural situation naturally leads to regenerating artistic ideology and methodology. Artists transform and present the reflection and judgment in their peculiar artic way.

Actually, There are two trails Li Tianyuan’s new oil paintings: one is the mental reality that parallels to social reality and his living condition meanwhile was Substituted or recurred by him; another is surreal expression unfolded and presented from deep memory to audience about personal and social destination. Permutation and recurrence of mental reality means he enter level of reality with reality’s reflection into people’s mind, hereby he investigate the complex humane psychological confliction. Persistent seeking Mental Reality bring his work new visual tension and beauty of trembling in humanity, for example, The Garden, Wang Shizhi, Accident etc. Realistic permutation or recurrence in his work shows its blood relationship with Realism and his academic art education background. It shows his unique attitude and position when dealing with memory and reality issues. Instead of trying to embrace the beauty of the situation, he pursue his unique judgment and reflection towards reality by transiting between concrete realistic image and unrealistic situation with metaphor of surreal impression. Meanwhile, what is interesting in his new oil paintings is that he treats time and space relationship with mental and emotional rhythm, such as Island Of Bird’s Nest, Smoke, Northern Land, Birch Forest etc. Mental and emotional flew is not just garnish but central clue. It is true that people’s realistic experience is important, but it is mental and emotional flew that stands in center of his creative mind. Here his work not only unfolds the resembled reality, but seeking reality of the world by reflecting relationship between art and reality. The pursuit right concurs with his retrospection on the ambition of Modernism. On one aspect, he investigate people’s complex destination in a grand era by carefully studying people’s psychology, thinking and questioning Chinese people’s destination in 20 Century in the context that people’s daily life is constantly disturbed by grand history; On the other aspect, he re-think the visual narration, explore fate of Reality. The complicated quality and visual tension is not from artist’s bragging on technique, but a natural selection in art.

Certainly, tension in his new oil paintings comes from the hue used for visual narration. To a painting with self-narration and personal memory, the hue and color is gloomy, blue and gentle, such as Mr. S, Green, Homeland 1 and 2, Sky Of Shangyuan. But he turns inner stressful narration to flews of pleasure or dejection with strong epic flavor – or even musical rhythm. With the language of symbol and metaphor, the narration has sense of poetic style. There forms a clear tension between subjective tone and people’s grief mood. It is right this tension that knocked the viewer and make them witness Li Tianyuan’s charm when listening to his confide. His charm comes from his close looking into reassessment and question two themes dominating Chinese contemporary art: One is that since mainstream of Chinese contemporary art persists in direct reflection from “reality” to art and they believe Modernism is insight to truth of life and body of reality, hereby art action is naturally reflection of history developing flow. The other one is that mainstream of Chinese contemporary art is obsessed to illustrate grand course of history, is obsessed to look into social situation under disturbing confliction of nation and classes, but ignore that it is right inevitable detail and trivial nature of daily life forms another side of Modernism. These two characters are connected with Chinese Modernism’s close relationship with national humiliation and social crisis. They are logical historic consequences and one of features of Chinese Modernism. But Li Tianyuan reassesses and questions these themes in his new oil paintings. Along with unfolding the illustrated narration, the “resembled reality” is reevaluated. Art is not simple reflection of reality like in mirror, but unravel of complex multi-level relations; it is not imagination of viewer’s absolute and unconditional trust and agree to visual forms, but generating new conversation and reflection, artistically distilling and transiting from appearance. Hereby, his choose to reassess this simple reality and art outlook. He arouses his own re-thinking of relationship between reality and imaginary through explore potentials in his oil painting. This is wisdom gained from his checkered life. Again, he steps into another new thinking dimension

Imagined living situation and fictitious political story are among characters of art. Without primary significance in truth, artist euphemistically embraces personal feeling of reality, leaving space of imagination to viewers, like those in Li Tianyuan’s oil paintings. His work provides sharp observation and reflection to China in the present and the past, forming unique reference to Chinese reality in mental aspect.

[Editor] Zhang Shuo