Wang Yin, Qin Qi, and Song Yuanyuan are three painters from Beijing. Each of them has their personal pictorial style and skillset, but they are united in their thoughtful engagement with the language of painting itself and with painting as a means of narrative. In spite of their different educational backgrounds and concerns, they all create from their personal experiences and observations, and they all reflect on their chosen mediums of painting and thereby give it intellectual gravity and a new vitality. Consequently, their works are distinct from their predecessors’. The three lots on offer represent the artists’ respective oeuvres and creative universes.

Born in 1964, Wang Yin graduated from the Central Academy of Drama. In 1990, he began working as an artist at Yuanmingyuan, and in 1998 he established a studio in Songzhuang, where he has continued his practice and research to this today. His foundational training was in the Soviet painting tradition. The Western humanism and various experimental art movements arising in China since the 1980s have given him additional stimulation.

Wang Yin’s own practice has always been outside the discourse of contemporary Chinese painting. He has forged his own path, posing the question of whether the modernisation narrative of Chinese painting can accommodate a “personal language.” More than other contemporary artists, Wang is interested in how this question was tackled by earlier generations of modern painters. He often revisits the works of Gao Jianfu, Xu Beihong, Wu Zuoren, Zhang Meisun, Yan Wenliang, and others in order to locate, in an earlier episode of painting’s modernisation, “a modernism that is truly related to me” and thus to engage with it. Wang Yin thus emphasises the shaping of personal experience and memory, and his constantly-deepening subjective consciousness makes him very wary of unreflective digestions of past art as history and memory. At first glance, his important works from post-2000 such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Lu Xun Park, with their depiction of tree shadows and wind-blown grasses and branches, are simply landscapes. Superficially, they are without history, and yet they do lead you deeply into history in the sense of the artist’s own meditations on the past and the resonances between the past and his personal experience. “In [Wang Yin’s] works, the ‘personal’ is always-already the ‘historical,’ and the ‘language’ of painting is always already a ‘culture’ unto itself.”

Although Untitled (Lot 915) from 2008 is covered with flowers, Wang Yin does not accentuate their colours. Rather, he adheres to a nostalgic, muted palette that evokes the sepia photography of the Republican Period. The protagonist, a girl in a green dress, lies on the grassy ground, next to which is a body of water and whose contours is exactly China’s eastern coastline. Even Japan and Korea are represented. This painting with such an explicit thematisation of nationhood is unusual in Wang Yin’s oeuvre, but it is nonetheless unsurprising given his intellectual engagement with history and painting. He excavates painting from memory to make us face our history and cultural past, to take it seriously, to respond to it. At the same time, painting for Wang is an endless process of excavation, and of repeatedly painting the same figures and subjects from different perspectives and with different expressive means. Wang Yin painted the girl in Untitled four times between 2006 and 2007—in two Untitled works, Olympics, and Four Seasons No. 6. The last painting, created in 2007, is compositionally the closest to the lot on offer and also features a girl lying on a piece of land shaped like China, but has an overall green palette and even more muted colours than Untitled, documenting Wang’s exploration of expressive possibilities within essentially the same image.

When Qin Qi graduated from the Lu Xun Academy of Fine arts in 2002, he already received attention for the unusual sensitivity, courage, and technical sophistication demonstrated in his graduation thesis The Horse that Fell in Love with Performing. As an important representative of a younger generation of artists, Qin Qi in his early works showed a dramatic flair, a humour of the commonplace, and a deep embodiment of the ethos of the times, and captured perfectly the aimlessness and rootlessness felt by the Chinese youths. Later, Qin began to experiment with a different pictorial language and to create a subtle connection between the narrative “text” and the image. The Chair series, such as Even a Chair Saves Lives, explores the various visualisations of “chair” to exhaust the expressive potential of a single word. Paintings like Captain and Crippled Immortal Crane become internally coherent texts through inventive orderings of pictorial and linguistic elements. Narrative is an important consideration for Qin Qi, who refuses to allow painting to be mere illustrations or descriptions of experiences, but rather to analyse and even counteract the multiple facets of experience in painting. His narratives are of reconstructed experiences and uncanny realities. Through renaming and reframing concepts, recombinations, and pastiches from an otherworldly vantage, Qin frees things
from their everyday contexts and allows their concealed significances and feelings to shine forth. Thus he makes “impossible realities” sensible and manifest. Refusing any pre-given spatial order or perspective, Qin consistently conjoins things that are otherwise logically disparate and impossible to connect: a crane and an advertisement, a white elephant and frozen Houhai Lake, a bicycle and a pile of bricks, a basketball hoop in a living room, a paintbrush embedded in a cactus, Tibetan monks skating on ice… These juxtapositions do not only have a psychological “reality,” but also articulate higher truths. So, too, does A Beautiful Ride No. 1 from 2006 (Lot 916) in the present sale, featuring a model of a woman’s head attached to the “head” of a bicycle. In both figurative realism and rational grammar, Qin Qi translates merely linguistic relations into complexly suggestive pictorial relations.

Song Yuanyuan, born after 1980, graduated from the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in 2005. Basing his compositions on photographs of Baroque interior spaces from the internet, he adds other objects and makes them seem unreal and disorderly. Song’s brushwork and palette recall Cézanne, but the Baroque interiors and sculptures he paints have a ruinous quality that is ambiguous between elegant and common. For Song, painting is incapable of helping anyone else but a source of his own feeling of freedom. Cement (Lot 917) from 2011 is on a canvas mounted on a frame composed of multiple smaller frames. The canvas shows signs of tearing at the bottom, its roughness contrasting with the gold-coloured frame. The subject is a concrete staircase, next to which stands a metal scaffolding. In its combination and juxtaposition of different materials, Cement reflects the fragmentation of values and experience that characterises contemporary Chinese society. 

1 Interview with Wang Yin, Lifeweek, issue 563
2 Here, Recent Paintings from Wang Yin, Wang Jiaxin, 2007

Contemporary Asian Art

6 October 2013 | HONG KONG