Addicted to Painting -- An interview with Mr. Wang Xiaosong
Ma Yan

Career Development

Ma Yan (shortened as MA): Were you born to be a painter?
Wang Xiaosong (shortened as WANG): I don’t think that there was any talent for drawing and painting in my childhood. I suppose my interest in painting came from family backgrounds. I was born in 1964. After the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, my father was involved and I had to come back to my hometown in Dalian, Liaoning Province, in 1969. My grandfather was a craftsman and my grandmother a housewife. They knew nothing about drawing or painting. In my childhood, I was fond of producing clay figures. But I benefited a lot from my parents. My mother was a singer with great reputation in Wuhan, capital city of Hubei province. She has two brothers and a sister. One of my uncles played the piano very well and the other was good at playing the flute. My aunt was a good dancer. So my living environment was full of the arts.

MA: Did you begin to draw or paint in junior middle school?
WANG: Right. I began to learn drawing in my teens. When I was 14, due to the death of my father, I come back to Wuhan from Dalian. Due to the unstable life and different education systems in the North and South parts of China, my grades were not very good. Besides, to the sadness of my mother, I used to fight with other children after school. As a result, my mother and I moved to Hanyang from Hankou, two different towns in Wuhan, and she began to work in the Working People’s Palace of Culture where I met one of her colleagues named Yang Shengping who was good at calligraphy and now is living in the United States. I began to learn calligraphy from him. It is strange that the minute I held the writing brush I would calm down. And I could spend twelve hours a day on calligraphy. At this moment, my talent emerged.
MA: And then you began to learn sketching systematically?
WANG: In Wuhan, I learnt sketching with Mr. Huang and went to Wuhan Experimental School. I practiced sketching and colours and made many friends in this circle, including Leng Jun, Wang Yongjia, Wang Xiaobao who are now enjoying a bit of reputation.

MA: Which major did you like best at your graduation in middle school?
WANG: I was also learning from Mr. Cao Li’an, who was good at calligraphy as well as landscape painting. That’s why I applied for Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts to learn traditional Chinese painting. But I failed in the first application. I love painting, so I applied for China Central Academy of Fine Arts in the following year to design layouts for books which I was interested in. 

MA: You were admitted by the Academy in 1983, majoring in decoration for books. Did you choose the major by yourself?
WANG: Yes, it was my own decision. There are many other majors like industrial design and interior design, which I felt very far from me. I preferred the integration of people and books. And it is a glorious and noble thing to design illustrations, the front and back cover and the layout for books. 

MA: Which course influenced you most in college? 
WANG: The Composition of Imagination, also known as Figure of Imagination influenced me a lot in my painting today. As to this course, I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Liu Jude and his wife Ms. Zhong Shuyan, who was our headmaster and good at oil painting. The high taste, great personality, and lofty morality received respect and love from the whole class. 

MA: I know it was in 1990 that you went to Germany. So what were you doing before going abroad?
WANG: Before my graduation from college, or as early as in 1986 or 1987, I was trying all my best to go to the United States, for I blindly followed what books said and believed that all are the best abroad. But I failed the TOEFL. Then I went to Shenzhen so as to get closer to capitalism where I was engaged in interior decoration and did business. However, due to my shock over the June 4th incident in 1989, I was more eager to go abroad. I spent a lot of money going to New Zealand. During my visit to Beijing to apply for a visa, I paid my teacher Mr. Yu Bingnan a visit. He recommended me to go to Germany which he thought is better than New Zealand in terms of culture. His words changed my destiny. Mr. Yu sent a recommendation letter to Mr. Spohn, a visiting professor in China Central Academy of Fine Arts at that time. The letter helped me to be admitted by the German college where Mr. Spohn became my master. It is a pity that Mr. Spohn passed away in his prime. I always cherish the memories with him. It took seven days and nights for the train to reach Germany on October 2, 1990. I remembered the exact date because it was the new National Day of Germany after its reunification. Nobody came to pick me up at the station. Since I had no accommodation arrangement, I had to share with Liu Ye his little apartment for my first night in Germany.

MA: What was your major in Berlin University of Fine Arts?
WANG: I was admitted by the studio of professor Spohn and professor Boës, Department of Visual Expression and Design, Berlin University of Fine Arts, where I spent most of my glorious youth from 1990 to 1998.

Children's Paintings and Installation

MA: Now let’s come to your paintings. Looking through all your works, it is easy to notice the great changes in your style. In fact, your paintings before going to Germany were so realistic that it is said that you could show a strand of hair in three dimensions. But after your arrival in Germany, you initiated a transition from realistic to abstract style. Does this transition have much to do with the atmosphere in Germany?
WANG: At the end of 1986, I attended a course on superrealism delivered by Professor Gao Yan in China Central Academy of Fine Arts. However, it should be added that it was an American Chinese named Yao Qingzhang who brought superrealism into China before Gao’s course. We tried to draw as Yao did because we all showed great respect to him. We would take a photo and tried to draw a posture. I remember that it took as long as two months to complete a picture of 30 cm by 40 cm. My works were regarded as the best ones among all my fellow classmates. I felt very excited about my capacity in drawing realistic works. The secret for my success lies in my good grasp of the skills. I would rather put it as the integration of skills and arts. Panting not only needs skills but also inspiration and sensitiveness for the arts. When this painting was later taken to Germany to my instructors and classmates, they were very excited that I had a very good tradition of realism, but also shared their comments: “Is this a kind of expression or innovation? This painting is really very good, but little belongs to you. We can’t see your personality and originality. You are just making repetition of what your predecessors have done.” Although my German was very poor then, I began to understand their points gradually, which left me with a long-lasting impression.

MA: Do these so-called paintings for children belong to your experiment of shifting to abstract drawing? 
WANG: It is because of the above conversations that my views on the arts witnessed serious confusion and shuffling. I was doing realistic drawing, but I would like to have a try in expressive oil painting at the spur of the moment when appreciating the works of some masters. However, I was not ready at that moment. My mentor Mr. Spohn was well-known for his excellence in children’s painting in Germany, and I attended his course but didn’t approach that branch of painting seriously. But at the first stroke, I immediately found that I have a talent for it. From then on, I have become addicted to such a style which brought me comfort and a sense of freedom beyond any restriction. My painting about children is essentially beyond any school of arts with no concern for financial returns. Nobody could force me to make a choice. I needed a transition. I treat modern art with aversion. So I never give up oil painting. Besides, strictly speaking, my paintings should not be called children’s paintings, for they are to be appreciated by adults. Why? Firstly, these paintings have to be enjoyed by adults. Only when adults are moved can the children be moved. Paintings that cannot move adults cannot be loved by children, who do not know how to appreciate art. They are only interested in colour and graphics. To improve the appreciation capacity of adults will help to enhance children’s education in aesthetic appreciation. 

MA: How long did you keep drawing such cartoons? I learnt from some later works that you have shifted into a more abstract style.
WANG: During those years, I visited a lot of art galleries in many countries. Each visit would inspire me to paint on the spur of the moment. I also kept drawing children’s pictures. There was a big classroom which was used only by me most of the time. I divided the room into two studios, one for children’s pictures, the other one for oil painting. I had been drawing in that room for years. It was as if I were painting with my left hand and drawing children’s pictures with my right hand. I was prolific in 1994 and 1995. What always occupied my mind was how to integrate children’s picture and oil painting. I have been seeking for a balance between them. That’s why there were a few semi-abstract children’s pictures. In this process, I explored many new skills. I also made some experiments in oil painting by combining abstract and concrete skills. At that time, such a combination was indeed a big challenge for me, though today it can’t be more common. Moreover, I am always interested in materials on which I draw or paint. The German painters attach great importance to various new materials, to different feelings on different materials, which I appreciate very much. During this period, I painted on Xuan paper, cloth, wall, cups, etc. Thanks to the skills I learnt through drawing children’s pictures, I experienced a Blue Period around 1999, when I was mad about the colour blue and chose no other colours than blue in painting. Of course, I still made some oil painting in this period because I loved it. Since 1996, I have tried making fitting installation devices.

MA: Do you remember the first successful piece of works of combining abstract and concrete ideas?
WANG: It was a day in 1995 when I made one picture on the spur of a moment. It was the pink body of a woman. I was in the mood and thus painted very fast, almost at one go. I never expected my works to be thought highly of by others. It is from inspiration and wild willing that these works come into being. 

MA: You really did a good job in making installations at that time. Take the "Fish Eye" as an example. There is a flavour of Chinese ink and wash in it. How do you like the installations made at that time? 
WANG: When I first thought about installations, I just wanted to make some preparation for my graduation design. At that time, I had cultivated a pure understanding of arts. The materials would talk. Narration is unnecessary in art. The materials and installations are the expression of the language of arts. Art is not narration of a story but works of nervous people. For example, I made a lot of balls by pasting sheets of newspaper for half a year. I was mad then. Every day, I tore and pasted one sheet of newspaper on another. I repeated it dozens of times a day. While pasting, many things were going on in my mind, most of which I cannot remember. Anyway, gradually I calmed down to consider how to paste. This meditation really did much good. Then the ball was completed. I held an exhibition of the ball at the C4 Gallery. It seemed that I was that ball, which reminded me of the universe and the relations between abstract and concrete things. In fact, according to my understanding, truth doesn’t have forms. Many things have the tendency to evolve from being concrete to being abstract. Like architecture does not exist in the entities of buildings.
MA: So we can conclude that you make installations to explore the relationship between the works and space.
WANG: Space and time. For example, I could put into the ball a candle and a lot of larvae, which cost two marks in Germany. I would buy some on my way to go fishing. With the changes in the temperature of the candle, there would be changes in the larvae. But what are the changes? 

MA: The installation is really impressive. Do you continue to make other installations?
WANG: Well, I made a boat later, called the Red Temptation, which was stored as a collection in the Greek Larish Contemporary Art Galleries. It is a boat which has much to do with many children’s pictures. It is a boat in the sky, floating and flying. I later on found myself rather romantic.

Symbols and Citations

MA: After 13 years’ stay in Germany, you went to teach in Zhejiang University. Why did you make such a decision?
WANG: Many of my Chinese classmates studying overseas went back to China. I was the last one of them. I had become accustomed to the German culture and way of life, but there was always a lack of something. Let me make an analogy. I was a flower, temporarily put in a vase without taking roots. Then I want to be moved into the cement ground. I tried my best to set my roots into it. Without much soil or abundant nutrition, this flower would not be able to grow bigger. I don’t think I belong to the German culture. After years of reconsideration, I decided to go back home finally. I had two choices, one is Tsinghua University in Beijing and the other is Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. Since my wife preferred to live in Hangzhou, I chose to teach in Zhejiang University where I established the Design Department by combining German concepts and approaches to art education and my own understanding.

MA: The works completed in Germany and after coming back are remarkably different in style. Those works accomplished in Germany are very pure, almost without any Chinese flavor. They seem to belong to the minimalism. Comparatively, the works after your return to China contain some conceptual ideas as well as abstract expression. For example, there are some Chinese symbols, including the image of Chairman Mao Zedong. Is this your original intention?
WANG: I have been engaged in a long-term training of making pure materials and purifying my soul. This is also a kind of development in perseverance. It is really difficult to keep perseverance within your hand. Besides, every stroke is very abstract. When you paint a cross or a line, it makes great difference when you do it with a trembling hand. Before every stroke, I would think twice. Every stroke is full of my conscious control. But it is very pure. It is easy to follow the trace of each stroke. After my return to China, I was angry at the poor colour here. When in Germany, I drew many minus signs as the background. I liked scraping most. Many of my works were the results of scraping. To me, the works are tracks, representing the restless heart. It is no explanation. For example, if there is a hole in a desk, many people would reach their fingers into the hole to explore. This is my concept of painting. First of all, I would set the background on which I would then put thick and heavy colours. The next step is to scrape with the back side of the paintbrush. I would sharpen the brush all by myself because I am the only person who knows my need for the shape of the brush. Every scraping counts. It is a cultivation of human perseverance. I am seeking for the spiritual comfort rather than the release of tolerance.
MA: But some symbolic elements indeed appeared. What are they used to express?

WANG: Now we come back to the topic of the arts. You are right. Many works accomplished in Germany by other people are full of Chinese elements, while others accomplished in China are rich in German flavour. During my stay in Germany, Germany is the only object of my painting. If you want to integrate completely into the German society, you should spend much time observing them. It takes a long time to do so. But later after my return to China, I always wonder where the destination is for the integration of arts, politics and society. To tell the truth, it is hard for the Western world to believe that such a fast rate of development and earth-shaking changes could occur in China between 1979 to 2009. Yet what seemed impossible turned out to be real story of our life. That’s the reason for the birth of a subversive system, which grew out of literary theories. What are the reasons for these phenomena? According to my understanding, the three decades from 1979 to 2009 is the flashback of the post-Mao era. What has really taken place in this period of time? You are right. I should not have chosen Mao Zedong as the object of my drawings and paintings. To do so or otherwise has no practical significance for me. The structure of Mao is the symbol that cannot be avoided but must be tackled. It is the sensitivity that forced us to tackle it. My original purpose was to express another surprise, i.e. the virtual world of the internet. Let’s do an analysis of the spiritual world. The spiritual world sometimes needs feedback from the expressions in real objects. The internet makes the virtual world, but it is also true that the internet is in a virtual world. For example, I drew a picture of Mao Zendong, an upside down image, with many symbols of games.

In this virtual world, you can be the emperor or the monarchy. The world of the internet can realize your ambition to control the whole world. The internet makes the era become virtual. The internet fills the vacuum in people’s heart. I would like to express such an idea. This is the object of some of my works. Secondly, I want to be the spreader of virus. Why is it called Post-Mao Weddings and Funerals? The spread of virus in fact could be called the flow of garbled codes. The makers of codes are actually their own expectations and it is a way for them to give vent to their discontent. Then it would not merely virtual virus. This has resulted in attacks on our real life, a variety of attacks. The virtual nature of the post-Mao era has changed our way of life. This era brings a lot of inspiration. Instead of comments, we will make judgements through deconstruction and interpretation. On one plane, everyone has to view the development of things with a critical thinking. Thirdly, the life of ordinary people is also the object of my painting. I raised the question of belief through the discussion of reality and intangibility. The biggest problem of the post-Mao era is the lack of belief. Here I want to present two points. One is the attack of the virus, the other is the outburst of the virus. The virus is spreading throughout the whole world and paralyses  organizations and institutions. The illusion of self-satisfaction thus finds a way to pursue rights. It is the subversion of what is real and what is virtual. The deep problem reflected from the two ideas is the loss of faith. So how can we make a breakthrough? False faith, pseudo-faith, and faith without existence. Extreme sexual differentiation leads to the birth of sincerity. I believe the Chinese elements reflected in my works are the result of my retrospective view of China after my thirteen years’ study in Germany where I developed my own language of ideas. But now that I am in China, I cannot just blindly reflect my feeling in Germany any more.

MA: Maybe you don’t think it is of great significance. But as an outsider, can the audience tell from your works your deliberate purpose?
WANG: You are right, even a little sharp. I really did so deliberately. Nobody will follow such a style of painting and making installations unless he or she is backed by a strong faith as well as financial support. Of course, I am not a rich man. At present, in addition to meeting the most basic needs of life, I would spend all the rest of my financial savings on the arts I pursue. I have no other hobbies. To be honest, what I am doing is “unprecedented” and nobody will follow me in the future. It would be failure in the arts. Since Mao has been explored again and again from many aspects, it is really a big challenge to present Mao. First, I like challenges. Second, I love the topic. The post-Mao Era is actually the co-existence of internet and decadent things. I want to express the virus of the internet, the virtual space, tackling the relationship between concreteness and abstractness. The philosophy of Mao Zedong is that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. They dreamed to liberate and save all humanity. Yet their generation could not make it. But the virtual world of internet has realized the co-existence of their ideals bound with the utopian spirit.

Garbled codes

MA: Where do the garbled codes in your works come from?
WANG: When you turn on the computer, you will always run into some garbled codes. And this is no coincidence. These codes appear randomly, but they happen to also be the carrier of programs. So the co-existence of program and garbled codes is actually a contradiction. The views on these garbled codes differ from person to person. These codes which are regarded as garbled will contain a lot of meaning in the eye of another person. When I look at the garbled codes, there will be a disorder in culture or the dislocation of your thoughts, which is the innermost part of things, the normalisation and abnormalisation of ideals. These codes are not the abstruse English-Chinese characters created by Xu Bing, but are symbols that can be interpreted.

MA: Have you ever attempted to make the rubbings from Xuan paper and compare it with the original work?
WANG: Yes, I have, but the effect is not very satisfactory.

MA: And where did the image of “little man” come from?
WANG: Garbled codes leads to the division of people.

MA: Is it the follow-up to the series of garbled codes?
WANG: Right. It will be more direct to express the relationship between people and society by using people. When painting a person, my mind was full of Rodin's The Gates of Hell. Three museums impressed me most when I visited Paris: the Musée Picasso, Musée Rodin and Musée d’Orsay for impressionist works. The most exciting one is the Musée d’Orsay. But I was an outsider to the contemporary arts. Seventeen years have passed since 1982. My memory becomes vague. When realizing that your memory is vague, people will try to change it through innovation. Duplication is impossible. The only way is to make innovation. Time is a strict ruler.

New Works and Media

MA: How long does it take to complete a piece of oil painting works? It seems that your oil painting works are very complicated.
WANG: A lot of time. It usually takes 10 to 20 days. I spend much of the time thinking. My mind is filled with nothing but drawing and painting. If I can think of one place where I can forget about the sundry matters of daily life and be restricted, then jail is the best place. 

MA: Now let’s talk about your latest works.
WANG: My latest work is a large one, six meters by three meters. It is full of abstract symbols, which make me feel marvellous. I think I am very romantic, but on the other hand, I am opposed to being romantic. I am a contradiction. Besides, I always try to create solemn and heroic forms of arts. Though my study in Germany lasted a dozen years, what is left in my mind are just two expressions, one is to be solemn and heroic and the other is to create tension. To put it in Chinese, it goes like this – “if you choose to be intense, you should make sure that even the needle can’t penetrate; if you choose to be loose, you should make sure that a horse could run through”. This is the concept of extremeness. It is better to reach the greatest extent. The solemn things contain heroic elements. The latest works are the expression of Islamic symbols I saw in Spain. I read the book by Paul Klee. After his journey to Tunisia where he witnessed the greatness of Muslim culture, his art changed sharply, with abstract symbols becoming the major elements in his work. Klee is one of my most respected artists. He makes you excited, but you are not affected by the subject matter and the contents of the object. Romanticism can affect people’s feeling, but it cannot capture people’s heart. But the sense of being solemn and heroic will scratch your heart, hurt it and push you to think hard. 

MA: It seems you have never had any work of such a big size. Are these works targeted directly for this exhibition?
WANG: Not exactly. The size is not the point. I was thinking about the forms of space. The solemn and heroic momentum and inner power need the mixture of greater space and smaller images of objects. My works are very simple. There is nothing special on the surface, but it seeks for mutual reinforcement from the inner rather than the external strength. It is to express the conflict of inner emotion and the gap between human beings and things.    

MA: Don’t you want to see your works as a kind of narration?
WANG: I used to draw children’s pictures, including the Blue period, during which I have drawn too many such pictures. That’s why I now want to focus on the fuzzy feeling, the feeling of distance. The greatest similarity results in loss of appearance. But what is loss of appearance? It is the relation of concreteness and abstractness. And I prefer to express the latter one. The highest level of arts is mental virtualness, rather than concrete works. I also criticize myself for drawing Mao, which is not really my spiritual pursuit, nor my original purpose. But the mere red or white colour is not enough to represent the Post-Mao era. I need the reappearance of some objects. Narration is not art, but interpretation. Art cannot be described in words. 

MA: This abstract art has had a significant impact on design in the West. What do you think is the relationship between your designs and paintings?
WANG: I am mainly engaged in two major fields, i.e. design and the arts. I am engaged in the design industry, and occasionally make architectural design. It is easy to see that I am on the front of the waves. Designers have cultivated strong sensitivity. Creativity cannot be better understood than via designers, for they are providing a service. In terms of the development of the arts, we can say that without the super realistic painting there would be no super realistic design or montage, or other means. Without pop art, there would be no pop design. Pop design can not appear before pop art. To this extent, design is a small branch of arts. Design cannot dominate art but is dominated by art. 

MA: You are engaged in oil painting, children’s pictures, design, making installations. You once did some behaviour art. How do you understand media?
WANG: I never bother to think about the importance of media. In my opinion, painters should not be interrupted too much by external factors. And I don’t think that the artist's creation is combined with money. If you want to sell your creation, you will certainly fail to produce good painting because of pressure. On the contrary, painting needs intoxication. It is a pleasure for you, just as journals do to express oneself, which are the reinterpretation and representation of people’s emotion. They have nothing to do with business.

MA: Then it seems that you don’t think media is important for you and the point is to express your ideas on art. Am I right?
WANG: I think the most important thing is that you should follow your heart. The mind of an artist should be pure. I never think it is wrong for artists to earn money. It depends on whether you want to be a first-class artist with great reputation or just an ordinary artist. I was born to be an artist. That is why I switch among children’s pictures, Blue period, making installations, being engaged in behaviour art and oil painting. I just want to find something for myself, without any concern for the market. I have no concept of economic profits. I paint as I wish; paying no attention to others’ comments, for it is my work. I am addicted to painting. I have tried to leave it, but I failed. If I had really given up painting, I would have gone mad. Painting brings me great joy. It makes me excited, and intoxicated. Before every stroke, it takes a long time for me to think hard. But during the process of painting, I am quiet and careful, and experience great joy.

Exhibition and Review

MA: After you came back to China, you made your first exhibition in Sanshang Art in Shanghai, entitled Return, which exhibited a lot of new works accomplished after your return. The exhibition in preparation is a kind of review. Would you please tell us more about it?
WANG: Well, at the end of 2005, Sanshang Art got some Chinese and German artists together to have a workshop at Mount Wuyi. We did enjoy our time there, with so many famous domestic and international artists. I made several abstract paintings, which they thought interesting. It happened that Sanshang Art in Shanghai was just established at that time, and my personal exhibition there was also their first exhibition. The exhibition was entitled Return, which also contains the Chinese character “reverse”, meaning that many things are reversed, or have returned, showing their nature of being revolutionary and retrogressive. The review exhibition in preparation is not what I intended, because I prefer to see what’s ahead rather than what’s left behind. Startled by the financial crisis, the whole world was withdrawing, but I did the “reverse” and staged my own exhibition. At present, I am travelling between Beijing and Hangzhou, collecting documents for the brochure and engaging in some new paintings.

MA: Besides the works in your early career, you also made some new works targeted for the exhibition?
WANG: I produced some new works in Beijing, which return to codification, a style during the period of “digging a hole”— I dig holes in the grounding of the painting, symbolizing ants and garbled code.

MA: Why ants? How did you come across this idea?
WANG: I think that this creature is very interesting. Their body is divided into three sections: head, thorax and abdomen, with many legs, a good expression for my garbled code. Besides, I think ants look magnificent in masses. Small as they are, they possess enormous power, capable of producing overwhelming force. Is there still a personal character in the mass? Are there some ants with distinguished character in the mass? We are not ants, but we are people in the mass. When you have only half your character, how is your personality, recognition and existence?

MA: I was told that video work will also be presented in your exhibition. Are they still in preparation?
WANG: Yes. In video arts, I return my focus from ants. But the image of people is kind of abstract, like the maggot squirming its way. I made some paintings of the Trojan virus, which seems to me a squirming worm, such as a maggot. I would like to present the image of people and square. What does that mean? From the sacrifice in ancient times to the assembly of today, they all represent the notion of space and man. Square is the coexistence of space and man in vicissitude, which stands as a witness to language in this society, as well as the emergence and disappearance of culture.
MA: What does a square stand for?
WANG: A square produces a batch of people and culture, laying bare the issues listed in the documents. A clear square and lonely people are very superficial images, and we have to explore their deeper implications. 

MA: Is it an independent work or one which is interactive with the other works?
WANG: A square is a theme, such as Tian’anmen Square, The Potala Palace, The Red Square in Russia, The White House, and The Triumphal Arch of Paris. At certain time every year, people, like ants, are drawn to the square. This represents the historical and cultural tragedy of falling.

MA: What is the relationship between the video and your painting? Is it an independent video piece, or is it connected to your paintings? What do you want to express in it?
WANG: You may understand it in this way. A painting is expressive in its own way, so is a video piece. They are two expressions for one subject.

MA: Do they have different medium?
WANG: Yes, different medium. Painting is static, while video is dynamic for its adaptation to time and space. Painting sets you thinking with its expression, and video leads us to communication in the tunnel of time through music, time and space, velocity and action.

MA: Besides oil painting and video, you also made some installations for this exhibition?
WANG: My philosophy goes like this: the highest moral is intangible. Wherever it is, people would aspire to intangibility. What does it mean? Everything is intangible, not realistic, and it moves from reality to intangibility, from material to spiritual. Take our last generation for example, Mr Li Shutong. He has been a dramatist, a painter, and he finally converted to being a monk, who pursues spiritual morality. Likewise, the body of everything will turn empty. Reality and intangibility is in fact the transition from material to spiritual existence.
MA: I think that’s something on paper, and still a theory.
WANG: I think that’s something we can realize. I went to the site and made a draft, and I would use transparent ice as the media.

MA: How do you express that?
WANG: I’d like to place two tons of ice at the gate to block it. Through the crystal ice, you can see what’s inside but you cannot enter. That’s something really intangible. With time passing by, the ice gradually melts and leaves nothing finally. As Laozi said, the highest kindness is like water. That’s something I have been working hard at. As an artist and human being, if you can improve yourself to be like water, then you are somewhat a saint. The water is clear, deep, wide, soft, hard, intangible and boundless, but you can also interpret water from the opposite side. The transition from ice, through water to air is a transition from reality to intangibility, and finally to void, isn’t it?

MA: I think there is also some expression of action in your works.
WANG: Both the fitting and action are used to express one’s thinking. I try to express it with the changes in site, time and place. If I make the works in Harbin in winter, ice won’t work because it does not melt. I want it to disappear, to specify the abstract thing. When the ice melts, the image could be 90% concrete, 70% concrete and 50% concrete, or in other words, 10% abstract, 30% abstract and 50% abstract, then develops into 100% abstract or 100% concrete, so that nothing remains to the last minute.

MA: At present, the works is still in planning and preparation. In my opinion, if I have made concrete steps in the collection of documents and presentation of works in the review, I should try to avoid some textual or procedural thing. The medium itself is indeed very rich, and action art can easily be sensational. In that case, the exhibition and my works would be reduced to nothing but decoration. I’m afraid that would mislead the media to focus on the action art, which would then “put the cart before the horse”.
WANG: I think you have made a good point here. I did not intend for an event in any sense, but the staff in the gallery advised me to do one. So I haven’t made up my mind yet, and the decision will be made until I have seen the sketch. 

MA: I know that you are also doing architectural design. Do you have any consideration for that in your exhibition?
WANG: Actually, I am in a dilemma at the moment. Thanks to my acquaintance with architecture, I know how to make my exhibition design interesting. But I don’t want to follow that style, because it is against the nature of art. If you depend on the position of painting rather than the painting itself for expression, that would demonstrate the emptiness of your mind. You have to rely on the outer space for compensation in that way. I admit that space can elevate art to some extent, but it can not change the nature of art. Besides some necessary changes of light and space, I do not want my exhibition to be special in its display. It should be very pure.

MA: I understand that you will make a thick brochure for the exhibition. So documents are important, right?
WANG: Yes, almost four hundred pages. I think it’s time for me to work hard on it. I began learning calligraphy at the age of 13, went to college at 19. Now over two decades have passed. I would like to make a summary of the past years and present myself to the whole world. I hope that you try to understand me in a critical way. We all know what are the good elements, but I may not be clear about everything. So I hope they can approach it in a critical way. For a modern artist, it is natural that someone would think positive, while others think otherwise. I am glad to welcome all kinds of criticisms.
MA: Do you have any expectation for the current exhibition?
WANG: To be happy, and no more expectations.

MA: What’s your next step after reviewing and collecting? You are interested in many media, but are you going to focus on some particular “point” as you wish?
WANG: To be frank, I am happy and free. The biggest struggle for me was when I could not rid myself of romanticism, abstractness or specification. When I was in Germany, I struggled with Kandinsky’s theory on point, line and plane as well as expressionism. I made my recovery in modernism, and re-engaged myself with traditional Chinese culture. Now I think that I am free, but maybe more sad things are going to come. For the moment, I can make whatever paintings I like and I do not see any particular “point” ahead. It’s difficult for me to find my orientation. If I have to find that point, I think it’s better to return to the “point” inside. The first exhibition after I returned home was named Return, and that returning point was certainly not the original point. Through a dozen years in Germany, the words I like most are “heroic tragedy, tension, mastery and purity”. Of course, the most important thing for an artist is the state of mind. When you forget yourself and are free of any disturbance, good works are around the corner.

MA: Looking forward to see your “point” in the near future.