A Corporal Metaphor of Reality
Source:Artintern Author:Huang Duo Date: 2008-12-01 Size:
I knew Tong Zhengang many years ago at which time my first impression of him was that he is a talented painter. Recently, Tong showed me his late works of oil paintings and sculptures.

I knew Tong Zhengang many years ago at which time my first impression of him was that he is a talented painter. Recently, Tong showed me his late works of oil paintings and sculptures, I was surprised! These works are executed in a new manner and Tong expresses his feeling and understanding on the value and meaning of everyday life - an unusual visual device to show the spirit of the female or things related to the female. So, how should we look at the “newness” in Tong’s art works? I think that the newness originates from the artist’s modern thinking, from his interdisciplinary participation (sculpture, woodcut, conceptive photograph).

Female figures in Tong’s works are not his invention, but are reflections of the cultural phenomena. It is only that Tong adopts a different method than the other painters. He only paints female portrait, and people that are related to the female. Such working method allows plenty of space for imagination - this is a characteristic of modern female spirit in the metropolitan. From this, we can know that art work is not only a style but a reflection of the truth hidden in style and reality, a kind of statement based on humanity, that is, a statement that based on the relationship between art work and real life.

In his oil painting series, Tong no longer adopts the grandiose manner but is interested in portraiture, a subject that shows the state of mind of human being. The focus of each portrait is on the female, or her intimate relationship with the male. Obviously, this kind of visual language directly reflects the painter’s vision on the female world. Female issues bring out the relationship between the two sexes and the various conditions of living. Reading from a feminist view point, female is a kind of object being appreciated by the male, and is also an object subordinated to the male. In fact, Tong does not attempt to express such idea in his paintings, but to use female images as a vehicle of showing the complexity of social relationship - on the female body one finds the desire for material, love and sex. The core idea is to show female spirit and body because the human body has already been strictly controlled and decoded in society today. That is to say, Tong’s works fully interpret the “exchange format” in the postmodern society. Representation of body - a healthy beautiful body, is an important feature in the rapidly growing consumption culture and popular culture in the Twentieth Century. The outlook of human body becomes secularized. Such phenomenon reflects a special modernity in China, that is, beauty is also a kind of commercial product. Beauty is found in shopping and entertainment centers, the body and the soul divorces, as do the body and morality. Under such socio-cultural environment, the painter does not create a topic by imagination but through careful observation and analysis of the livings, his painting language bears subtle social criticism, including the imbalance between the rich and the poor, the city and the village, the majority and the minority, his sympathy towards these issues is a thinking on the moral crisis in modern society. In fact, Tong questions not the body itself but the reasons of why female body is utilized as a commercial product.

Tong’s “Bliss Series” fully demonstrate his understanding on reality that hidden in style and form. His oil painting depicts the female in the appearance of a portrait, or to place the female together with the male under the same environment, to establish an interactive relationship between his personal view and the objective view of the male. That is to say, the painter adopts the device from anthropology and contacts people of different sectors, just like a traveler. This is a survey in the sociology of art. Tong finds that succinct format is the best for group portrait as it perfectly fits the language of modern painting, an integration of the traditional and the modern, of the language and the context - it borrows traditional elements and absorbs the desire of “Voyeurism” in modern world. Tong’s works are linkage to the diversified society. Indeed, our visions are brought to the real social space and daily life through the painter’s perception. The meaning of Tong’s works is that the ultimate goal of artistic creation no longer lies on the issue of harmony in aesthetics, but to convert art directly into spirit of human life, and from that into art. From this the painter enters into the space of the daily life of the others and the society. Therefore, from these pictures, we can understand and interpret the relationship between the state of mind of human being, the space of daily life and social environment.


In the series of painting, Tong Zhengang fully considers the issues of the female in Chinese consumption culture. He likes to show figures and environments that are familiar to him. For instances, female figure, portrait, object and the male. Comparing to his previous paintings, Tong’s “Bliss Series” manifest a stronger sense of modern art. He does not bind himself to traditional compositions, but, boldly, to borrow the lens effect in modern photography. This new device enables him to tackle the meaning of his works more effectively. Obviously, “Bliss Series” borrows the idea of quick shot effect from photography to capture the instant, and the works can depict and record the details of life accurately. Such method is a decisive factor to the causal and lively style of Tong’s paintings. Though Tong’s oil paintings maintain certain structures of Chinese ink painting, his works have already adopted a language different from the traditional. Women in Tong’s works look pretty and graceful, yet are sometimes in dullness or at leisure. Despite this, he does not attempt to depict the obsequiousness of the female, but through his personal and exaggerated manner in representing the female image, the male’s desire to control is reflected. In fact, some of his works do not depict any male images, but their absence or being excluded in a way suggests their presence and gaze, showing the painter’s criticism to the society.

Of course, Tong considers art as a direct media for expression, he believes that the ultimate question of art is on “human” itself, the passion, thought of human being. We can feel Tong’s sincere affection to the female in his art works. He states clearly that, “My mother is the one who I love the most in my life. My sisters who I love are female, my best lover is a female, too. I love the female for their innocence, fineness and softness, they may be ordinary yet are full of passion, they are full of hopes even corrupted. The female world represented through an art device looks like a vehicle which has summarized everything, it demonstrates the special quality of the female!”

Although Tong follows the aesthetic rules of traditional painting, his analysis and representation are based on his personal understanding. His brushworks manifest his experience and instinct, which is a reflection of the painting language and psychological state of human. Tong is not interested in the conventional artistic style, he rather selects the artistic devices from his own judgment and need. He does not handle concept and skill in a rational manner, but his sensation is the dominant in his painting due to the fact that rationality will lead to rigidity, but sensation can bring spontaneity, freedom and ingeniousness.

Through extracting and purifying, Tong’s paintings are converted to a new style. Form and content are undoubtedly allegories of leisure and happy life. He is bold enough to refuse logical thing, he does not conform to the principle that all things should be recognizable in art. Things can be imaginative, randomly organized, edited and created in his perception. His works show the differences in class, space, reality; and the concepts and contents of these things are not steady. Tong re-edits all these things in daily life subjectively and displays to us through the relaxed grey tone.

It can be said that whether the face of a female or a male is the most outstanding feature of a human being in showing identity, and is also a feature that reflects the difference between people. Any subtle facial expression - Delight, angry, sorrow, happy are reflections of inner emotion, there can be kind and friendly expression, and there are also disguise, concealment, calculation, cunning, hypocrisy. In general artists use to focus on key and complicated issue, to use the body as an agent for direct response - to study and criticize the distortion of personality. By showing the different kind of desire of human, these works explore the coding controlled by society. In his works, the artist does not refute himself, nor to refute identity, but to get rid of all logics in the perception of art and to set up the relationship between the “self” and “the other”. This relationship reveals the contrast of the uniqueness of daily life and schizophrenia in the changing society of China.

The purpose of Tong’s works is a criticism to the change of the inner mind of people. Like the eye of a human, his works continuously explore the characteristics of different female and the other. He acts like an anthropologist in entering into the social space where many other painters do not see. He re-organizes the social images. His works define the social space. His paintings show not only the difference in identity, but also criticize how people are differentiated by society. The painter needs to release his subjectiveness, but needs also to take part in the social space of the other. From this he can feel directly the anxiety and pressure of the other in different social situation. Therefore, Tong’s works express the anxiety of people under social space and daily living. That is also the reason I like Tong’s works.

If the lady in Fu Baoshi’s works is a reflection of the master “romantic ambition”, then Tong’s female paintings are depictions of human state of mind in contemporary society, through the use of interdisciplinary method that the relationship between human and social space are matched together. Such idea contains a macro view of social background and a close up observation. From this, we can know that Tong’s paintings show very unique character and artistic value.

[Editor] Zhang Shuo