We recently published an interview on the revival of Chinese brush painting featuring Beijing artist/art dealer Lydia Duanmu. We’re proud to share the follow-up, a Q&A which she conducted with artist and compatriot Wang Li as he opens up about the importance of nature, nostalgia and harmony in his paintings.
How would you describe your work as a contemporary artist who works mainly with ink painting, not to mention a professor with considerable tenure?
China has come up against many challenges in my lifetime. It seems like people’sunderstanding of life values has been impacted by minute and second. As an art professor, my experience and perception of beauty is constant. This is a characteristic common to more traditional members of my generation – we strive to maintain our curiosity, innocence and simplicity and we endeavor to live lightheartedly.
Certain figures appear in your work repeatedly, like colorful horses, men doing handstands and flying fish. What is their significance?
When we were young, all our toys came from nature. I remember when I was in primary school, my parents bought me a little bird. The bird was not only like family member to me, but also my best friend. Every morning I would talk to him and feed him, and the first thing I did after school was greet him. Every time I called his name, he would fly over and land on my head or shoulder. We built a really deep bond. However, upon his visit to our home one day, my uncle accidentally sat on the bird. Just like that, the bird died. I was sad for a long time and naturally, the sadness of a child who lost his beloved friend and longed for his company one more found its way into my paintings.
I think a lot of people from our generation share this kind of feeling – nostalgia for toys from childhood, the scent of familiar food, streets where we could never get lost- even with our eyes closed. No matter how much money we spend today, we can never retrieve those kinds of things. However, they are extremely hard to forget and seem to exist in our bones and dreams. They warm us when we close our eyes and get lost in our thoughts.
I am very fond of communing with nature and, as a matter of fact, my work directly expresses my attitude towards life. The handstand man in the paintings maybe me.
I think that we’re defined narrowly by the education model from the time of our birth, but it would be much more fun to look at the world from a different angle. Those adorable horses, flying fish and birds are all virtues in my eyes. This virtue of humankind and nature living in harmony is also the central theme in harmony is also the central theme of Chinese philosophy, and this sentiment is spans borders and cultures.
What emotions did you aim to express through your painting work on RED TIE?
Wearing red tie, the sign of the Young Pioneers of China, is what a lot of Chinese honored and yearned for when they were in primary school. Red tie left deep imprints in my childhood memories. I remember that when I was in primary school, to join the Young Pioneers as early as possible, my classmates competed to do a variety of things that were considered good to get the teacher’s appreciation. For example, handing money or objects that others lost to teacher after picking up, or helping the weak students with their lessons, even collecting horse manure and scrap iron, organizing Marxist-Leninist and Mao Zedong Thought study group and so on.
Although seems kind of absurd today, we were very serious and try to do these at that time. How proud we were when wearing a red tie which “dyed by the blood of martyrs”. Now I have entered middle age, the era and the society have completely changed, but the red tie is still alive in my memory. In this work, the one dressed in Mao suit, wearing small rounded glasses, pipe in mouth, getting an expression of a little dull is an incarnation of current me, in front of his chest still fluttering bright red tie. At present, Chinese society has undergone great changes, from social economy to social formation, people’s value system has changed profoundly. Though we are not troubled by the basic survival problems now, social problems, environmental problems, cultural ecology issues brought about by economic development put forward a new proposition to me and brought social anxiety. We deeply consider the association of social change and us with the gains and losses. Nowadays, people doubt, feeling anxious, at the meanwhile of great gratification in material life, having a strong sense of void in their hearts. Only the touch of red floating.