Views of Life: Commentary on Liang Weizhou’s Painting

Jiang Mei

Having been observing Liang Weizhou’s painting process for more than two decades, we may conclude that he is a greatly talented painter with vehement passion in exploring art mainly for the following two points. Firstly, Liang has skillfully mastered the painting language of realism in the past and the language of expressionism at present; secondly, he is bold enough to break through himself, only creating persistently for his real inner requirement instead of stubbornly insisting on the already successful styles and patterns.

The first point surely depends on the artist’s talent, however under the increasingly more commercial circumstances, it’s really difficult to fulfill the second point. Today, actually many artists have such a tendency, that is, once he forms a certain individual style or pattern and receives the affirmation in the academic and business circles, he would restrain himself and fear to advance, gradually reproducing himself in creation and consuming the vitality of his works. The absolute reason for this situation is he worries the change in style would result in the market’s denial and further abandonment.

Liang is a painter comparatively precocious in art, as he formed his own unique painting language early in his twenties and was recognized quite well in the circles. However, he is also very natural in art pursuit, disliking restricting himself with a certain pattern, daring and also being able to carefreely experiment with new methods of expression. Therefore, on his painting path, we may see his incessant explorations in art languages and styles. Also, as his explorations sometimes agree with and sometimes deviate from the developing trends of Chinese contemporary painting since the middle of the 1980s, his case especially has the individual value.

I. Early Ink Painting with Characteristics of Surrealism

I was really surprised to see Liang’s ink paintings created in the beginning and middle of the 1980s for the first time. Though those works seem a bit immature in the aspects of brushwork and techniques, the patterns are fascinatingly full of the spirit of experimentation and exploration. The figures, landscapes, flowers, birds and some unknown symbols are composed in a two-dimensional way, exaggerated or transformed. Eyes, cobwebs, weird elves, and etc, the images appearing in the paintings seem to be taken from the painting worlds of Max Ernst, Paul Klee and Joan Miro. These works marked with the characteristics of western surrealism could be regarded as the beginning of Liang’s engagement in modern art creation during the full swing of Chinese new wave movement in the 1980s. The fundamental feature of this ideology-liberation movement in the art circles was to use various western modern art forms to defy and overthrow the old art system of single doctrine. The young Liang also passionately devoted himself into the modern art wave, trying to borrow the introduced western modern art forms to reform Chinese painting. Though Liang didn’t insist on the creation of ink painting with a certain sense of modern exploration and actually turned into the creation of oil painting in 1987, the experience of practicing ink painting influenced his later oil painting style more or less all the while.

II. Alternative Realistic Oil Painting

Since 1987, Liang turned into the creation of oil painting. For his diligence plus talent, Liang’s oil painting was quite presentable from the beginning. After the brief style of two-dimensional decoration, Liang’s oil painting began to present an exquisite and realistic style since 1988. Then, with the techniques gradually maturing, his oil painting creation also steadily manifested some relatively definite individual characteristics. He calmly created the figures, still lives and landscapes in a very realistic way, whereas bestowed the surrealistic dreamy atmosphere to the colors, the backgrounds and certain details. The painter frankly admitted, his painting was deeply influenced by American photo-realism and European surrealism in concept and affected by European tempera painting skills and American artist Andrew Wyeth. However, through his own comprehension, digestion and integration, Liang’s super-realistic painting presented very unique interests. Especially in his daily still lives, such as melons, fruits, shells, dead fish, and etc, the precise and exquisite portraiture and the calm and rational emotion, plus the grayish color with a bit yellowish hue, add a tincture of alternative aesthetic interest of declination, isolation and remoteness to the paintings. In the domestic field of realistic oil painting at that time, this could be called a kind of alternative realism.

III. The Expressionistic Series of Facing the Reflection

The series of Facing the Reflection is the symbol of the formation of Liang’s individual painting style. This series was conceived in 1991, lasting and developing for one decade.

At the beginning of the 1990s, great changes happened in the environment of Chinese modern art. The artists walked out of the revolutionary passion in the 1980s, and turned to pay attention to and represent the experiences of self-existence. Then, Liang’s personal living environment also changed greatly. He moved from the rural and natural suburbs to the crowded and noisy downtown. The new living environment brought him new living experiences. In the series of Facing the reflection firstly appeared the painter’s self image and the related living properties, such as the camera with the connotation of spying and reconnoitering. The aesthetic, poetic and idealistic conception appearing in the paintings in the 1980s was replaced by the images of self-inspection, doubt, probing and even pretended boredom, and the carefree, unrestrained and intense European new realistic style turned into the new language borrowed and absorbed by Liang during this stage. Therefore, the grayish colors of declination disappeared, replaced by strong and restless colors; the rational and exquisite portraiture disappeared, replaced by perceptual and passionate exertion; the calm and collected figures disappeared, replaced by the impatient and aggressive self-image or symbolic images. No matter in the spiritual tendency or the image expression, Liang’s works during this stage had much in common with the “new generation” and “cynical realism” emerging in Beijing at the same time, while the biggest difference was that Liang’s works presented less in social contents and more in the aspects of individual emotion and psychology in a stronger way.

Individuality’s coincidence with the times and the emphasis of tension and expression in the painting made Liang’s paintings in the beginning and middle of the 1990s quite conspicuous, which could be partially proved by the facts that he was frequently invited to the international exhibitions of Chinese contemporary art then. Liang’s participating works, the series of Facing the reflection, represented the scenes of individual’s spiritual depression even variation caused by modern city life, paying attention to the both private and common problems of reality. These are actually different from the popular works of exotic contents of political conception, national cultural symbols and etc in the international art circles then. Now, when reviewing the reason why his works could obtain recognition then, besides his works involved the global problems including the city personality psychology typical in the modern societies, another important point was his outstanding painting expression: the bright and exciting colors, the skillful and straightforward brushstrokes, his diversified techniques of symbolization, metaphor, comparison and etc, and his solid modeling ability made the visual intensity of his painting language and pattern unforgettable.

However, since the later stage of the 1990s, Liang’s painting creation seemed to enter a status of sedimentation. He not only participated in fewer exhibitions, and his painting style also changed. Though it was still the series of Facing the Reflection, the painting’s atmosphere turned from expansion into constriction, the restless and relieving emotion gradually receded, the figures and the related images shrank more and more, the space in painting incessantly extended, and a void, floating, melancholy and lonely emotion permeated inside. Accordingly, the painting techniques began to be exquisite and cautious, not bold or carefree any more; the colors also changed, as the strong and aggressive red and orange colors turned into gloomy blue, green and gray colors. According to what Liang said, the change of style during this stage was directly connected with his family life full of various changes and stresses.

As a matter of fact, though this stage was a valley in Liang’s life, it was also the preparatory period when he was seeking for new breakthrough and expression in painting creation.

IV. The Expressionistic Series of Indoors

In 2001, the series of Facing the Reflection last for about one decade ended, and Liang started the creation of a new painting series, which was apparently influenced by photography, his another way of creation for many years. No matter the colors, the compositions or the presented objects were quite similar to the photographic series of Recording Scenery during the same period, as the colors mainly focused on black, white and gray, the skills returned to the creation in the early and middle stages of the 1990s, the tones of freedom and expression increased, meanwhile the element of impressionism was added.

If the series of Facing the Reflection emphasizes the revelation and discussion of human being’s psychology and spirit, then the series of Indoors reflects Liang’s concern turning from the portraiture of self spiritual image to the ordinary level of daily life. In a seemingly casual way of finding a view, the paintings present various common objects and life’s fragments indoors, the playing kids, the dolls, a hand flicking the ash off a cigarette, feet wearing slippers, a broom in the corner, a woman standing on a stool and changing a bulb, a fruit bowl on the corner of a table, a corner in the toilet…… Apparently, from these scenes, we could not only discern the painter’s intention to look for a new breakthrough point in painting, but also perceive the difficulties, confusions, hopes and warmth in his real living status.

The oil painting series of Indoors may be regarded as the integration between Liang’s painting creation and photographic creation in art concept.

Besides, there is another point about the oil painting series of Indoors for us to notice, that is, Liang seemed to intentionally give up his skilled techniques in realistic modeling to pursue a more relaxed and unrestrained way of expression in painting’s representation.

V. The Expressionistic Painting Series with Realistic Characteristic in Recent Time

The year of 2005 seemed extraordinary for Liang, as his personal emotional life entered a new phase, and also such a change in life apparently brought him more sense of reality. Reflected in Liang’s paintings, there were the realistic characteristics of sociality, profusion and intensity in contents. The series of Indoors was the beginning for the painter to walk out of the isolated inner world to look directly at his personal life. Since 2006, he further got out of the indoor of his personal life, facing the more extensive and immense social space. Like going on excursions, meeting friends, sightseeing, and etc, almost all the interesting scenes and details in life are carefully recorded by Liang. The new painting works reflect that Liang has transformed from a lonely introspector into a life observer, comprehender and recorder.

Perhaps to manifest the sense of reality at that moment, Liang applies a more swift way of using paintbrush in creation, and the bold and willful brushstrokes enable the scenes to stay in a transient time flow. When appreciating Liang’s recent works, I feel like reviewing these common but unforgettable moments in his life. To preserve these ordinary but pleasant moments, the painter records with his paintbrush. As the audience, we taste another sort of flavor from these: it’s the forever elapsing time behind the recorded scenes, and we inside the river of time are always reminiscing the days flowing like water.

These works remind me of Liang’s photographic series of Recording Scenes Outdoors, as those illusionary images in life also make the audience feel life is like a dream with the time incessantly flowing away. Photography is an art about time with the lens to freeze the moments of the life and world. Because of photography, human being’s cognition of time becomes more direct and lively. As an artist in both painting and photography, Liang incorporates his comprehension and disposal of photography into the presentation of painting, constructing his new interpretation about the relation between time and life. Thus, Liang’s recent painting and his photography coincide internally with each other in the level of spiritual orientation.

Are all these done intentionally or accidentally? We have no idea. Maybe this is not important. What’s important is that we witness an art life continuously renewing itself and creating among Liang Weizhou’s Works.


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