Wang Xiaosong: Cultural Fusion in the Information Age
Gao Minglu

Post in: Unruly Ants | July, 2012

Wang Xiaosong’s latest paintings make people feel as if they were standing in front of many large walls covered with mysterious symbols and codes. These paintings, overwhelmed in their entirety with religious simplicity, solemnity and tranquility as well as sensual details, have aroused people’s impulses to read and decode. This kind of experience, in association with a common one brought about by classic painting, embodies universal visual experience of the information age. The visual world created by an artist, when overlapping with such visual experience, could be called a visual text in an era of information.

Wang Xiaosong’s past experiences perhaps have played a crucial role in the formation of his artistic conception. The 1980s, when Wang began to study art, is a vibrant age in China’s art circles. Social circumstances, opening to the outside world, saw various trends of thought in art swarming into China from the West. The young generation of Chinese artists of that time lived in a space where tradition was juxtaposed with modernity and native culture collided with foreign culture. This atmosphere bestowed on Wang’s artistic foundation a kind of “integrated” nourishment from the very beginning. Then, his studies and engagement in art in Germany offered him an opportunity to have a deeper understanding of the contemporary development of western art. From the very start, his thought in art, expectedly, encountered a shocking contradiction between eastern and western cultures. Therefore, he dwelt more on how to absorb the strengths of contemporary Western art, shaping his own way of perception into modern culture. At the same time, to overcome the anxiety of cultural collision, psychologically, he needed to appeal to his native cultural tradition, from which he drew a lot of nourishment. As soon as he found from the culture of Chinese characters the elements that can be transformed into contemporary informative symbols and codes, he immediately made his choice. Interestingly, he hasn’t simply taken advantage of the images of Chinese characters. Instead, he has abstracted two factors, the information of Chinese characters and their visual structures, and then strengthened their significance. By dismissing the practicability of Chinese characters, namely, the “narrativity” in their content, Wang has foregrounded the images of these characters, that is, the “narrativity” of characters as visual symbols. This conceptual transformation of characters’ narrativity makes his work a maze, visually and culturally, where Chinese characters are transformed from their reading forms into visual ones. Thus, an impulse of reading is aroused, but the possibility to understand is denied. The “abstraction” of the characters parallels the perceiving experience of the information age. Consequently, Wang’s art has gone beyond the existing figurative expression as well as the traditional “abstract” expression, becoming a type of brand-new visual text. Meanwhile, an artist with gifted sensibility, Wang has paid full attention to the “materiality” in Western culture, especially German artistic tradition, in which “jostled” and “arranged” colors fashion the “material” texture of the painting’s surface, foregrounding the materials he used in the painting, thus giving modern forms to the painting’s characters and codes on a more visual level. It may be said that his works have become a type of visual symbol lessening the contradictions between eastern and western cultures, and may be taken as a kind of cultural fusion in the postindustrial age.

One thing is worthy mentioning that Wang Xiaosong is an outstanding artist in terms of design and plastic arts. His exploration and studies in the two fields equipped him with a complex artistic background. He has a special love for the traditional expressive language in plastic arts, and extends the linguistic expression into other media, such as performance, installation and image. Furthermore, he attaches importance to the sensibility of the painting process. Though the process of his creation is full of temporal dimension, his outstanding ability in plastic arts enables him to permeate the expressive sensibility from beginning to end of the creation. The result is that the expressive rhythm abounds in his works, whether as a whole or in fine details. His understanding of “simplicity” in the design art enables him to stress purity, a feature of abstract art. The “crossover” and “fusion” in his works are features of the whole academic world of the times. Breaking down the traditional boundaries of disciplines has opened up unexpectedly rich possibilities to the new “academic fields”. In addition to the cultural fusion in terms of notions, Wang has also achieved a new innovation by fusing artistic language and visual modes.    

As far as China’s contemporary art that started in the 1980s is concerned, a shift from cultural missions of the 1980s to the expansion of media in the 1990s, together with responses to urbanization, manifests an unprecedented vibrancy in the contemporary art. However, there arise presently in contemporary art some “popular trends” and “tendencies of discourse” which take images as their major way of expression. Pursuing popular trends not only weakens some artists’ works, but also makes the artists lack the vigor and resolution, indispensable for an artist. Accordingly, as for contemporary art, the pursuit of images is not likely to change the machine-made monotony; what matters is the uniqueness of the mind. Wang’s fusion of eastern and western cultures in the art of his paintings, his perseverance in maintaining his artistic concepts and his in-depth pursuit of art forms have given rise to a unique value of his artistic expression.