Linda Gallery | Beijing
Linda Gallery | Beijing
Mar. 11, 2023 - May. 7, 2023
Creation is to make something out of nothing. Those who specialise in “creating” can especially appreciate this feeling. Painter Paul Klee (1879-1940) described his creative process as “taking a line for a walk,” a vivid and evocative description: artistic language and the mental state are drawn out intertwined in this process…
In 2019, Xiao Hong began creating paintings with abstract shapes. Unlike his figurative paintings with pre-set images and built-up layer by layer, these abstract works have no reference points or blueprints and mainly grow and spread under the impetus of instinct. This painting style allows the artist’s spiritual state to be more authentic and fully expressed and more opened to encounters with the unknown in terms of self-awareness and aesthetic transformation. For Xiao Hong, this radical change is unprecedented, breaking free from years of inertia, and will inevitably involve trial and error, scribbling, and even abandonment. But looking back a few years later, the new series of works has already taken shape.
Most of these paintings have a light grey background, with sharp and hard black lines full of speed crossing the canvas, interspersed with various curves, forming a chaotic and cluttered space. Cold, hard, messy, and fast become the obvious features of the paintings. Occasionally, pink, blue-purple, turquoise, orange, and dark-red lines, and dots added interest to the grey tone.
Once completed, the works have nothing to do with the author. Compared with figurative art, abstract art allows people to imagine more freely. The essential visual impression of these paintings is: a cold and desolate tone, with rough and dry lines quickly swift, chop, cut, and hock on the canvas, like whipping and knifelike, and the space filled with disorder, fragmentation, abruptness, and astonishment. The pleasingly harmonious, warm, and soft elements are absent, replaced by a sense of emptiness, even absurdity, and confusion; occasionally, bright colours appear, brightening people’s eyes and spirits refreshed.
Regarding the origin of this series of abstract paintings, Xiao Hong described it: “It comes from my dreams. I had such a dream for several months: the tangible figures in the dream gradually turned into kind of abstract symbols. At first, the figures were the children playing together on their way to school and back, then they dissipated, and gradually transformed into stick-like abstract symbols that writhed in the dream. The earliest thing that appeared in my dream was an exact figure, but I felt something was wrong: he was not the person I was looking for, and I couldn’t identify him. Later, the figure turned into sticks, into a structure made up of dots, lines, and planes, and finally, it seemed to become a painting.”
Dreams are transcendent, immeasurable, and difficult to understand. But Xiao Hong’s dream description is related to his growth experience. He frequently moved when he was young, left his hometown, and then returned when he grew up as an adult. Surprisingly, when he reunited with his childhood friends in middle age and talked about the past, they all lost the memories, as if they had a fool’s talk. After repeatedly confirming this, Xiao Hong was bewildered and stunned. This deeply touched reunion with similar memories and regrets ended with him crying out loud alone after the end…
Just how complex, specific, and subtle the human life experience is! In the hustle and bustle of the world, it is difficult for anyone to care about what others have been through. Painting is the method for Xiao Hong to sort out his soul, is the channel for release and the mirror for examination. In his previous figurative paintings, he gathered various life experiences from the perspective of social changes to illustrate the question of “Where do I come from?” As he continued to question the soul’s truth, he moved beyond the realm of sociology, directly touching the spirit and the soul, and involuntarily turned to abstract painting - abstract art can more fully expose the soul.
People in action are often lost in it. What Xiao Hong expresses in his abstract paintings is inevitably related to his life experiences and unconsciously connected to his previous figurative paintings. Born in northern China in 1966, he experienced various upheavals in the tide of the times, feeling both involuntarily and willing, both insincere and sincere. After much difficulty, when he attempted to quiet his mind away from the hustle and bustle, he unexpectedly encountered confusion, bewilderment, pain, sadness, anger, depression, cruelty, coldness, and emptiness in his dream and deep mind... these states of mind and soul images are mapped, reflected, and refracted from his paintings. The sharp and hard, messy and tangled, cold and bewildered images seem to be cursed: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you...” (Genesis 3:17-18)
In terms of visual charm, Xiao Hong continues to extend his talent: juxtaposing warm and cool colours, contrasting solid and void spaces, and combining lines and surfaces to create a tightly controlled whole after free play. Some of these elements and techniques, which he observed in the Dunhuang murals, have been transformed into visual sighs - sighs for the state of the soul.
Are Xiao Hong’s life experiences and soul images unique, or do they have a certain commonality? Since the 1960s, when Xiao Hong was born, what significant changes in China have occurred in the global order? What has remained unchanged? More than a decade ago, Xiao Hong left Beijing and has been self-cultivation in Hohhot since then. What was the situation and trend of the international and local circumstances in these years, mainly when he painted this series of abstract paintings? And from a more macro perspective, what is humanity’s destiny? “Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble. They spring up like flowers and wither away; like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.” (Job 14:1-2) However, even the wild goose left traces while fleeting. Xiao Hong continuously paints, smears, carves, and draws dots, lines, shapes, and colours on the two-dimensional canvas. These sharp-edged and desolate images provide viewers with novel visual and open imaginative spaces.
The decision to turn to abstraction to examine the state of the soul/the essence of the world, and to seek a spiritual home/path to redemption, is a faithful expression of Xiao Hong’s personal experiences and impulses. From Kandinsky’s Small Worlds in 1910, abstract art had already become a grand spectacle by the 1960s and 70s and was fully mature. After minimalism, contemporary art with completely open boundaries no longer focuses primarily on original aesthetics language. In this context, what can the Chinese contribute to abstract art?
The soulful state and spiritual destination revealed in Xiao Hong’s paintings are still closely related to the perennial questions humans cannot escape: Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? “All phenomena are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble and a shadow, Like dew and lightning. Thus should you meditate upon them.” That is one answer. “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV) That is another answer.