Essay and Interview


Energy, Vitality and Spirituality – Yang Jinsong's Oil Paintings

Dao Zi

         "But the tyrannous reality has knocked me down facilely. The pain without warmth of the moonlight, I have struggled in the iron box which is full of falsity, I have tried to convince myself to be a placid/patient, swallowed the dander to the heart of motherland." The memorial peom that is quasi-smashing crystal by Shi Tao abruptly came to my mind when I have written Yang Jinsong this article, it just like the anatomized bloody fish, shocking and evoking.
           People need spirit, the society needs morality, history needs memory, if they were all eliminated, then the civilization will be exhausted to the end. If the art ignores it, sooner or later the art will be cast aside. People haven't noticed that the causes to destruct civilization and nature in last half a century. If the spiritual sources have been cut off, there will be no zoetic rivers, the land will be no irrigation and growth? It is important: what is the contemporary spirit of art? Where is it from and where to go? The perished spirit means the end of art. Live for concerns, die of well-being? Auschwitz didn't kill art, but a complacent philistinism, was the awarded "freedom" haggling .
          Yang Jinsong's oil paintings can be divided into two parts, the former part was the subject of daily life before 2003, it had recorded the living conditions of individual surroundings on the combination of imago and calligraphic style, the works were filled with trivial and multifarious matters, the dislocation of the minute "post-modern life" was dizzying and implicative. In a particular review on his works, his intention was self-examination to listen to the clear voice of the individual, watching the arduous growing love and hope, a kind of poetic solitude resisted the noisy and uproarious voices from the outside. Recent part of his works after 2003 was a series of anatomized big fish, the use of poetic symbolic, metaphorical language brought the works a variation of new suggestion. The busy life and art practice in Beijing has produced new vitality to his painting which has been presented by the integration of imago symbol and calligraphic strain, and the accomplished hue with subtle changes, the personal style was quite outstanding. The imago in his works has become clear and introspective, and enriched by spirituality, energy and vitality.
             It can be said that Yang Jinsong's creation in recent five years, working through the declining period of superficial, fashionable and even the lack of spirituality in China's vanguard art, the response from heart evokes the inspiration of profound life, nature, culture and the reality. The rediscovering of symbolic and metaphorical, in fact keeps a relative distance from the reality, restrains the improvisational impetuousness and the untested so-called concept, that forms the aesthetic distance: the distance between painting and artist's sense and thought; the distance between painting and real life; the distance between viewer's perception and the painting per se. This distance of jumbled complex suggests the paintings a parable frame and strains. The painting extends to the inner part of heart by clear and pure manner. Painting has personal style and the consummate tendency without any influence by other artists. Since "ego" and "character" is strengthened and matured in lonely thinking. As a middle-aged artist, being stronger and distinctive.
              In his "cat" and "fish" metaphorical language, we are able to find a person's real life experience: pain, depression or yelling; frolic or spiritual quest. Their non-representation and non-target has truly implied (non-representation) the process of artist spiritual struggle and physical renewal, they are real, clear-cut, straight without artificial pretense, and expressing in a more abstract way to crack the formula hard shell. Although we can associate these "fish" with the images in art history, to explain (such as folk custom, religion, the meaning of anthropology), in which explore its particular creativity, but the importance is Yang Jinsong's expression of life, is artist's specific state of life and desire: suffering, aspiration. The artist has a deeper understanding of himself and the symptoms of the times by those imagoes of dismembered, killed and banished fish, and converts the suffering life experience to be transcendental merit. As a result, the painting precisely associates his "soul" and "flesh" or the spiritual understanding, making it an integral unity that beyond the image. Thus, Yang Jinsong was not creating the "cultural traditions" of fish, or simply entitled "anti-cultural traditions". The metaphor, suggestion or ambit is closer to the awareness and warning of people and ecological situation.
             His comprehension of classical Chinese painting, calligraphy becomes its formation of unique style, the classical Chinese painting perfectly performs the association of “form" and "concept", for example, the flowers and birds by Bada Shanren and Qing Teng, it is also the theme and manner in post-modern art. Maybe the imago group is different; or the perception and motif is different, but the works of post-modern still need "form" and "concept" to study and improve the association. The minute portrayal in classical paintings conveys the strong feelings and aesthetic impact, the core is the capability of ancient artists whose specific observation and accurate description. Jinsong has introduced the imago expression to the works with the in-depth understanding of writing flowers and birds, Such as the practice before 2003, taking lotus leaves, gourds, old bowls, ancient pottery and distorted landscapes as the metaphorical noumenon, and illustrating industrialized elements to depict the details abstractly and accurately presented, then catches the expression of reality and virtuality synchronously. His "Fish" series has presented the real existence from inside, in the moment, the lightness movement of brushstrokes, the matters turn into expression, and the minutia becomes the vehicle to pervade to the inside and outside. Perfectly conveys the spirit in association with objects. "Form" and "concept" joins and benefits each other, developing into a painting which is full of spiritual virtues.
           The poem by Zhou Lunyou "copy the painting fish of Bada Shanren": [ now I am trying to make fish out of ink and rice paper / put some salt and soil in water / fish, the half comes out, well the other half still remains in Qing Dynasty / the half is rotted in the air at once /while the remaining half fish still plays on paper / the artist's heart is forcely separated into two pieces / the fish has been cut / I have felt the tartness of the knife when I got the pain. ] Yang Jinsong's "fish" series has same critical connotation to the concerned proposition of Zhou Lunyou, which refers to the living esthetics and existence nowadays, the living difference transforms into the physical experience by adopting the poetry. The abstract thinking translates into the individual practice against the emptiness, the decadent reality and rotted body in presence, Self-consideration is a mirror which spots the real difficulties in social lives, self-education becomes the beginning to resist the emptiness.
            The advantage of Post-modernism is a painstaking victory indeed. Since the end of the twentieth century, post-modern faces a confidence crisis towards the function of art and culture, but its greatest achievement is the ability of resilience. The artists and historians had broadened their horizon to re-explore the works and techniques that had been neglected in modern era, also had re-discovered some domestic and particular works of art, showing the diversity and cultural differences. Jin-song uses the technique of metaphor and symbol, for the consciousness of theory and creation the observation on crisis in society. Obviously, he realized that the power of modernism comes from its resistant motive - some of it bases on the inherent alienation and opposition, as the art gradually intermingles with commerce in the Western culture, the rebellious nature of modern art may vanish. As a result, the strength of art and utopian concept will be disappeared.
             Post-modern art inevitably reflects the age of the consumerism society, as the mass gradually disappears, the individual dominates everything. Popular culture is becoming more magnificent to dominate the daily lives. However, very few artists could produce works except self-mocking, parody and decomposition. The contemporary art practice of Jinsong is to return to the minute observation, the minute attentiveness is the individual concern, is the resistance to the identity, collectivity and cultural despotism. No minutia means no daily life, it also loses the contemporary-art features. The further understanding of postmodern art suggests the clear association with Chinese classical art.
               In general, the minute attentiveness in Yang Jinsong's new works reached an accurate and consummate manner, if keep doing that, will follow the positivism track of realistic painting, so he pays more attention on the individual and the connection within broadness and mentality, to achieve the abstract sense and accurate accomplishment. Realism theory accentuates that the art reflects real life, while it should explain in reverse that the change of way of life and attitude can define the language, the artist could ‘'reflect the life” and touch the soul by renovating language only. Therefore, the choice of the inherent is a way of life and attitude to live an intellectual and spiritual inner life, with integrity and goodwill. The strength extends inward instead of outward; enable the life to be a poetry resistance, self-examination, confession, abandonment and renovation is a living attitude which changes the art. The works become pure and remarkable, more spiritual voice, associating with everything in the universe, vastitude, profundity and full of wisdom. The creation becomes even more vigorous and broad-minded, which has the enlightening strength of philosopher.
       Words and reality often becomes predictions. The anatomized fish is an unified symbol implies the nature and the community even the individual spirituality, which is the death of natural life and spirit. In addition, a sauntering and floundering black cat in a garbage dump is the survivor in misfortune, it is the status of the artist himself, self-mocking, self-blame and even the symbolic free specter at ease. Shocked by people's shocking, disturbed by the crying all over. Chinese people, a large number of deaths, in fact, less than the death of the emptiness. Compared with the dead, the survivors would rather bear the greater misfortune, an innocent fish only faces the moment of death. When the “hard currency”circulates in the world which is selfish, ruthless and cynical, and even the death toll can become death-maker's capital. In a decade, the dead had been thrown in the cryptic dark hole which is decorated with prismy "China myth". Looking around the world, the characteristics of the times is the shortage of social thinking, leads to saggy and apathetic situation. The spirit of the "dead fish", could we survive? and how? This is a real challenge. The so-called "poetry alienation and resistance," is a spiritual guardence in isolation. Firstly, the pure character of ethical values, just like a painting's realm and conception.
                The harsh living, the barren cultural ecology and the lack of spiritual values point out the depth of our predicament and self-conscious. Despite the "depth", is the taboo to the popular post-modern concept. Review the history, being the cultural significance is still the solemn and delicate work, but the gagging, demagogy and glib. Today's art thinking, reflecting the superstition of “newness requires newness” in 20 th century. An artist's "independence" is none other than deep and new, because the mastering connotation has to invent a new form of expression, and in between creates a sort of "necessity." Poetry and alienation all indicate refusing simplism. As a person, has a legible political status, but the perception of life. In the art, abide by the moral values, and therefore maintain the immanent richness. The situation is revealed in works completely, and our self-contradictories as well.
              It cannot define that the recent painting of Yang Jinsong has become a new paradigm, although many imitation works of "fish" have emerged in recent years, but there is no doubt that his creation has produced another contemporary art trend, that is continuing the traditional spirit, ignoring the power and fashion, not be enslaved by the market to replicate paintings. Honestly and completely speaking and paint my thinking. China needs such a group of artists with unique individual to demonstrate the energy, vitality and spirituality to art circles, and establish the fame in chaos. World's cruelty and extravagance comes from the ignorance and the loss of human consciousness. Jinsong is questionning: [does this era need arts?], He has also confirmed that by his art: the poetry alienation and resistance is straight and fierce, however, depends on the spiritual enlightening, if not, even the love and heaven could not survive; the essence of spirituality is the existence of its own, the opposite is the emptiness. To clarify the view and self-examination also a necessary method against emptiness. Life returns to the origin of life (God), and the embrace of human nature (people), an endless power transfers to the open spirit, only it happens, the spirituality can get close to the sacred spirit. As Kolakowski said: "sacred" the word is often used very seriously, but these people do not think they have a religious belief. Why is that? As the philosopher John Dewey proposes to distinguish between the noun "religion" and the adjective "religious", he rejects the former and affirms the latter. In accordance with Dewey's parlance, if a person has a sincere feeling to something, it can be manifested in the arts, science, ethics, friendship or love, such a feeling can be called religious. In other words, it's not important that people believe religion or not, the thing is to have the ultimate concern, is something beyond the value of personal life. The religious significance is not only has affirmed the value of transcendence, but also has established a well-shaped world to examine and promoted the real human world. That is why those Saints are able to adhere to the concept, suffering, isolation and ignorance. Today who has the ability to engage in spiritual art, strictly speaking, who has the spirit of Saints.
Tsinghua University
Sep. 2008
Criticism Autor:
Dao Zi
Professor of Tsinghua University