We Live in Illusions Genuinely – Fu, Bi and Xing in Wang Xiaosong’s works
Fan Dian

It’s not the problem whether WangXiaosong’s paintings are abstract or concrete. Wang Xiaosong’s art philosophyis neither to improve his abstract style nor to perfect his concrete style.Instead, through almost thirty years, Wang has been continuously discoveringand looking for his own language, and merging visual experiences from the Westand the East, to restore the nature of society and humanity in his ownnarrative way, which is easy yet paradoxical.

Wang is like many Chinese artists born in1960s, who cannot forget the frenzied age (referring to 1960s to 1970s whileChina’s Cultural Revolution took place), because the age carries their purestchildhood and juvenile period, yet also leaves them the memory interweaved withbenighted craziness and coldness that devastated the lives. They can neither forget 1980s, the age of idealsand dream, and the age that helps them get rid of confusions while start tothink about establishing the future. Also, they can not separate themselves apart from the period of twentyyears ago, the age when economy developed while morality faded (Wang calls itPost-Mao age).

For always Wang has sentiment to societyand life, while as an artist, he has responsibility to culture also. Tointellectuals of today’s China, the contradiction between art creating andsocial involvement has never been that sharp, helpless and sad. China’s societyhas and combines the main nature and features of two large social formationssince 20th century – totalitarianism and capitalism. It is a social structurewhere characteristics, uniqueness and complex coexist, which can not be copiedor imitated by any existing social practice models in the world.

So is the culture in the country. The agethat Wang lives in is experiencing the transformation and transition ofculture. For thousands of years, Chinese people emphasizes the character Wen(文), which literallymeans character, knowledge, and culture. This phenomenon is particularlyreflected in the Chinese character culture. Chinese characters are not simplysymbols in semiotics, rather, they are a kind of comprehensive cultural type.Words and picture, vision and logics, feelings and concept, morality andaesthetics, the relations among them are not separate, but interacting andinvolving with each other. And all the traditional culture features mentionedabove remain in artistic language of Chinese modern artists, including Wang.

Chinese modern culture has experienced aprocess of hybridization that little other culture has experienced, and Wanghas experienced part of the process – the process in 1980s when intellectualsin China took introspection to traditional Chinese culture and accepted andstudied western civilization actively. Wang studied in Germany in 1980s, andreturned to China in recent years to teach and create art. His experience andknowledge contributed to the hybridization of his artistic philosophy andmethodology. Therefore, we cannot define his paintings as of Western kindabstract art concept, neither of traditional Chinese style. Wang combines theboth.

This combination does not come from simpleexperiment impulse, instead, from Wang’s impulse to criticize the society. Hetries to restore the nature of corruption of the society as well as desire topower in his works, however, he does not operate a concept or a direct style,rather he managers his own way, which, in my eyes, is quite like the beautifulallegorical methods in  Chinese ancientpoems called Fu, Bi and Xing. Fu means the straightforward narrative, Bi meansexplicit metaphor, and Xing means implied comparisons. In ancient poems thethree ways are mostly for positive description, yet Wang uses it as a seriouswhile absurd way for description. His works seem telling a story “we live inillusions genuinely”.

However, works of Wang do not have realstories. Wang repeatedly draws similar depictive methods, which just likestraightforward narrative and parallelism. Every piece of Wang’s work has atheme, yet has no story or plot. He spends time to repeat and repeat imagesthat look similar to symbols, for examples, ants and human bodies, and thenexcavates the theme deeply.  To stackthose human bodies or ants on canvas is meaningless in itself, but what ismeaningful is the lengthy process of repeating. In my book “Chinese Maximalism”I have discussed this kind of repeat, which is similar to practice andmeditation, quoting examples like artist Li Huasheng from central SichuanProvince who repeatedly draws lines, and artist Zhang Yu from north TianjinCity who continuously prints handprint onto rice paper. This is theintrospection of Fu (straightforward narrative). Obviously Wang’s repeatinvolves his personal daily experiences. “A piece of literature is meant for the millennium, but its ups anddowns are known already in the author’s heart.” (A well-known verse of greatChinese poet Du Fu) – via this it’s not hard to understand the aftertaste ofcontrolling every brush can only be experienced by Wang himself. Nevertheless,Fu (straightforward narrative) has another kind of infection. When taking aclose look to Wang’s works, one can find those overspread “human bodies”,“ants” and “messy codes” are like terribly crowded and pervasive viruses, yetwhen one takes a further look, those shapes in order comprise pleasing abstractpaintings. Wang’s works are illusions.

If those outspread “shapes” do not make aniconology, but are arranged pointlessly, a danger will be resulted, which is,those paintings are to be decorative only. On the other side, too much practiceand mediation lead to retreat and seclusion. To avoid these, Wang adds coresymbols onto the background consisting of repeated shapes, which is metaphor(Bi) for social reality. In his early period, Wang made naive children’spaintings as core symbols, later the face or figure of Mao (Mao Zedong), andthen irregular square or triangle that frame symbols such as ants. It is also ametaphor (Bi). Today “Mao” has been melted into the lives covered bymaterialism, and what the Post-Mao time is doing is only continuing the kitschsoul of Mao’s time in Cultural Revolution. Thereupon, the metaphors of thosecore symbols are eyes of Fu (referring to the background), or say, a blow tothe practice and meditation.

Core symbol, coupled with abundant shapeslike ants and human bodies, consist of artworks’ content and thought. But Wangis a passionate artist who is not satisfied with a balanced picture seeminglyperfect – those needs to be destroyed. Xing (implied comparisons) is acharacter also means passion. In many of Wang’s works, he cuts a hole in thecenter, a black hole similar to woman’s vagina. The secret black hole thatbreeds all the things, on one hand shows Wang’s understanding to incompletelife, on the other hand is a destroy to a the plane world in pieces ofpaintings. From the mangled hole, visitors can explore the reality covered byappearance – the photos of history and reality under canvas.

Wang’s art is social criticism, but anaesthetic and cultural criticism. From this angle, the style of Wang does notlack of classical Chinese implication. Because it does not resort to conceptualart, neither borrows un-painting elements like behavior or ready-made.

Meanwhile, he seldom uses symbolic waysthat other modern artists like. Fu, Bi and Xing are not symbolization.Symbolization features related or substitute graphic language function, whileFu, Bi and Xing is a poetic way that merges all, which seemingly is primitiveand direct, yet triggers complicated narrative full of non-monotonicassociation. Wang’s works are graceful and peaceful, but revealing ugliness anddarkness. Wang, with a way “YES involving actually NO” equips us mirrors, whichreflect our identity, survival and reality.