A small crescent-shaped tea table is close to a rather trendy round sofa at a narrow corner, and the bright pure light shines through the thin curtain, bringing in slight poetic sentiment, which is quite normal in the era of the ubiquitous camera lens.
Liu Weijian’s The Corner We Have Stayed Together is easily reminds people of the “classic” master painters like Cezanne. The rustic modeling, sensitive light and shadow, sparse but well-coordinated “line-shaped” strokes, and his persistent attitude towards old “daily scenes” all seem to be far away from contemporary visual that advocates “cold”, “cool”, “dazzling” and “weird” “heterogeneous elements”. But with a little bit of appreciation, it’s not difficult to find the differences between this painting and those emphasizing the exquisite real views. Instead of vigorously creating the “real and objective” visual atmosphere, it brings us the “visual of machinery” through photography-like pictures modified by painting language.
From the 90s of the last century, photographic realism is quite popular in the Chinese art field. And at the beginning of the 21st century, a very interesting phenomenon appeared in the oil painting circle. Everybody was learning from Richter- at that time, the German painter Gerhard Richter’s “obscure photo effect” seemed to be the standard model of contemporary paintings. Behind the rise of “photography” and the sink of “realism” are the endeavors artists made to seek the “contemporary visual” corresponded with the society, where “images” and “concept” were overflowing, individuals were increasing estrangement from real “daily experience”. The pregnant part of The Corner We Have Stayed Together is the utilization of impressionism techniques emphatic in “daily experience” to mock the “visual of machinery” alienated from real daily experience. In other words, while creating a poetic daily scene, it says in an indifferent “image” tone: the poetic sentiment is negligible in our times.
There’s another reason why this painting deserves to be tasted is that it seemingly presents fresh youthful vigor and anxious but bitter simplicity at the same time: on the one side, there’re delicate and apparent changes in light and shadow, with strong and neat strokes; on the other side, the solid and heavy image always contains a plain and rustic flavor, and the bright colors and smart strokes imply the sense of dull and hasty anxiety. The former one absolutely reveals the artist’s vigorous vitality and his straightforward and simple personality without strain, but the latter one originates from his sensitive feelings about the quietly spreading anxiety of “post-contemporary”. In China, the word “contemporary” stands for the absurd social experience inspired by western avant-garde culture, and the enthusiasm to criticize, to decompose the various “orthodox” social ideas; however, “post-contemporary” symbolizes the nihility of value and confusion of spirit, after the collapse of its idol “western contemporary culture”- the deep tone, interacted with relaxed vitality and anxious spiritual experience, makes obscure spiritual struggles emerge from the normal “ daily poetic sentiment”.
The Corner We Have Stayed Together is one of the Love Series created by Liu Weijian from 2014 to 2015. Love Series is composed of 8 pictures. Interestingly, It’s difficult to connect the pictures with “love” without titles like love poems. The audience might faintly see nebulous love experiences with the help of titles: Peach Blossoms Bloom Brightly in That Year implies the germination of love; The School probably hints the place love emerges; The Corner We Have Stayed Together is recalling sweet memories; Running Away is Just on Impulse, Letters are Hidden in the Box and Tears are A Good Choice to Solve Complicated Emotional Problems can be associated with complex emotional conflicts; The Reality and the Ideal and Beautiful Things are All Left in the Memories indicate love once passionate is fading and disappearing.
Practically, this series of works is setting a melancholy tone for “love stories” at the beginning. Peach Blossoms Bloom Brightly in That Year takes peach flowers as the prelude to love, whereas the picture doesn’t concentrate on displaying its delicacy and tenderness, just like what he presents in his The Affair in That Spring painted in 2013. With the scrawled strokes, the peach flowers weaving in the wind are falling from the pinnacle of its beauty. They are more like maudlin fading flowers and time than youthful vigor.
Sad memories are becoming more obscure and depressed in The School and The Corner We Have Stayed Together. The empty and vacant “school” is surrounded by the breath of nightmare, sunny or cloudy, and much like an old happy place in the eyes of a disappointed lover. The little humble “corner” is more easily to remind people of once warm affections and touching moments. But now, the breeze, the whirling shadow and light, and the sofa, the tea table, and the cushion, which snuggles with each other, only reflect the sadness and loneliness of the reminiscent.
Running Away is Just on Impulse, Letters are Hidden in the Box and Tears are A Good Choice to Solve Complicated Emotional Problems are changed into the exceedingly sorrowful inner struggles between lovers. The expressions of the former two works are very subtle. Does the floating skiff incite the depressed lovers to run away? Are the sceneries of the sky with dark clouds and rosy clouds intertwined, and blocks tedious and gloomy seen by the lovers while murmuring? The scenario of the latter picture complements the anxious and helpless emotional experience hinted at by the title. Obscure or conspicuous, once pure and warm “delight of love” has apparently been transformed into lingering or excruciating emotional struggles.
Another two works, suggesting “the end of love”, are in big contrast. Beautiful Things are All Left in the Memories is readily comprehensible: the lonely absentminded shadow of the girl unequivocally points out the theme “heartbreak”, although the flicking water waves and galloping look-like stone are expressing the fierce visceral reaction. However, The Reality and the Ideal is a little bit confusing: a swimming pool is beneath the balcony, and two persons standing near the swimming pool see the sea (seem to be an old couple); we can hardly find any elements about love in this ridiculous circumstance. But from another perspective, the wealthy but hallowed life described in the work is just a vivid portrayal of losing purity in the materialistic society: pure “love” has been annihilated by the grim and unpleasant reality.
The other two group paintings, My Sky and Some Time, A Sofa and Some People don’t have euphemistically “scenarios” as in Love Series.
Six pieces of 2.5mx3m “sky fragments” paintings imprecisely constitute the “sky segment” in the work My Sky. People would conjure up the famous “sketches of the sky” drawn by Constable in the 1820s through each fragment. My Sky is obviously not concerned about the “real and natural” changes of light in the sky, which differentiates from the magnificent sky of typical impressionistic style in Constable’s pre-impressionism period, but strenuously exaggerates the alarmingly magic and romantic ambiance. With flirtatious gestures, depressing but anxious strokes, and charming dreamlike colors, these fragments compose a bigger “sky segment”, as if repeatedly intoning romantic poems in a sensitive and gloomy tone.
In Some Time, A Sofa and Some People, the entire sofa is divided into several pieces and then rearranges into a preposterously long sofa. This would possibly let people think of Hockney’s photo collages created in the 1980s. Nevertheless, Liu has no intention to analyze cubist visual experiment, as the title of the work implies, but in essence, the loose, empty and the absurdly long sofa is indelible “contemporary loneliness” Behind the warmth of “some time” of “some people” is prolonged silence of solitude. Furthermore, loneliness easily felt by everyone is extending and superposing, along with each fragment, until its appearance is too absurd and weird.
The first time I saw Liu Weijian’s works was in 2009. A friend introduced him as a “conceptual painting” artist. I didn’t take it seriously because in my opinion “concept” was an inevitable element in contemporary paintings, and those dramatically emphasize their “concept” degenerated more easily into visual tricks with the mask of “concept”. When I saw his works I found he was indeed this kind of artist with the least “interest of trick”.
For Liu Weijian, “concept” means his interest in the “bad painting”. He uses acrylic to paint but with the most unadorned “technique of gouache”, so as to be called the best “gouache painter” in China. He drew the European-style lamps alongside the road, the crumbling town factory, the empty village houses, the abandoned railway platform, the stockpile mantled with striped waterproof cloth and rusty iron gate…all about these common “real scenes”. Each painting sharply grasps the mind-blowing sense of shot, although the painting is not delicate but rustic and firm, the colors are not realistic but bright and gloomy. Under the inspiration of those intelligent titles- some of which are frank, like SARS Hospital, Cow Dung on the Road, Street Light and so on; some of which are very sad, like Dying Product, Expectation, Getting Divorced after Snow Melts and so on; some of which are pretending to be profound, like The Birth of Theorems, Unrelated with Metal, The House before Definition and etc.- these “real scenes” have strongly expressed the sympathies for the “trifling and arduous existence” in the modern society. The cold “concept”, at this moment, is set off by contrast to reflect the firm and stubborn social concern.
Liu Weijian’s art theme has a significant change in 2013. Distinct from his former creation of purposely looking for the “trifling and stubborn existence” against the modern society and glamorous appearance, works like This Summer, Under Another Sky, The Affair in That Spring and My Sofa created in this year depict the “everyday scenes”, which could hardly arouse social pities. However, the beautiful scenery is full of frightening depression, the vibrant peach blossom likes dreams in the mist, fantastic romance is indeed the helpless plant for the predestination, and the subtle yet ubiquitous loneliness hovers in the warm sofa. Compared with the conspicuous society compassion in “trifling and arduous existence”, these common “everyday scenes” obviously express the more gloomy and stealthy “daily experience”.
The recent three groups of works are the extension of recondite daily narration: the recalling of pure love in The Affair in That Spring evolves into the deep sign in Love Series; romantic feelings and gloomy spiritual experience in the Under Another Sky are turned into the struggle of the mind which spans the time and space, weaved by passion and vicissitudes, dreams and fears; Some Time, A Sofa and Some People uses the absurdly long sofa to strengthen the weird sense of dim loneliness in My Sofa.
Although the recent three groups of works are created at roughly the same period, they seem to have different styles: some are close to delicate impressionism, some tend to be frank expressionism, some are influenced by simple Les Nabis, while the most are of an indescribable painting style that generates naturally between photographic visions and paint strokes. Liu Weijian’s pragmatic attitude towards his style—the various tastes in Love Series are not an aesthetic pursuit for a specific painting style but originate from the complicated “love experience”. The style differences of My Sky and Some Time, A Sofa, and Some People primarily come from the distinctions of their own inner emotional experiences. Compared to some external style features, the recondite narration and the stern, deep but passion-filled visual language are more worthwhile to savor: each style is the combination of deep and strong spiritual experience and indifferent graphic languages; no matter how themes and emotional experience change, we can still see the blend of life’s simple but strong enthusiasm, stern social experience and the vicissitudes of life. All these common “daily scenes” are transformed into the profound life experience in a certain social and historical context. And a variety of expressions emit captivating glamour.
There was a time when people frequently associated Liu Weijian with the American artist Hopper. Later on, his artistic features changed quietly, and the audience seemed to see the influence of Hockney, Cezanne, Gauguin, Munch and even Freud in his paintings. He is noncommittal on this question, for he indeed has studied some of them but knows nearly nothing about the rest. He himself is not sure about their similarities.
As a matter of fact, it’s a prerequisite to study with greater scope and depth. while asked about the artists who had an influence on him, Auerbach came up with a long list—the sticking points are whether you have an independent art field, and in this field how profound and expressive your works are. Liu Weijian has defined his cold and recondite way of “social narration” through his works created since 2004, such as Might be An Accident and Unfamiliar Event: a young country boy measures the changing weird “modern world” with curious eyes. Liu Weijian realizes clearly there lies a big gap between his perspective and those popular “contemporary visuals”, which is totally different from the realism that can straightforwardly express his sharp affective attitude on the description of “onsite vision”. Hence, he always wears a cold neutral “image” mask and takes it as the root of his “conceptual painting”. The ever-changeful themes and painting styles are the self-evolution with the increase of ages, expansion of horizons and the changes of social experiences of the “young boy”. As for the person he studies at or similar with may catalyze him in his own evolutionary history, but would not thoroughly change his unique art field and developing way.
However, I also think Liu Weijian is especially “like” Hopper. The similarities may not be the theme of art or external painting form, but their sensitive feelings towards the secret “daily” suffering of modern society, the simple and obscure visual language while depicting it, and their persistence on the plain “daily” perspective in the blatant art trends. I consider the similarity may also be the recognition of plain but profound “art of narration” when the “busy contemporary mist” clears off. The art, which can keenly and deeply touch the dull suffering of society, will last forever.
20th, Sep. 2015