Fang Lijun's work is a visual allegorical key to the contemporary Chinese psyche in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. As one of the most important representatives of the Post '89 'avant-garde' movement, Lijun developed a pictorial language emblematic of the reform era during which the masses were endowed with new freedoms, although the turmoil experienced during the swell of consumerism endowed many with a sense of helplessness and a lack of meaning.
The present work is from the artist's swimming series, which by many critical accounts marks the key moment in his mature oeuvre. The political subtext of this series is inseparable from the subject matter, as the image of a swimmer directly correlates to Mao Zedong, who was notorious for swimming in the ocean, rather than taking a bath for personal hygiene. Painted in early 1997, the paintings within this series were deliberately vertically oriented paintings in order to feature the sun as key compositional element. At the lower register, Lijun's iconic bald headed male protagonist is rendered in a disconcerting manner where it is not entirely clear whether his facial expression is one that reflects a painful struggle or a vigorous resilience. This emotional paradox, enveloped by deep umber hue of the scorching sun, evokes a feeling of being abandoned in a void without normative orientation and interpersonal interaction. However, in contrast to this pessimistic outlook, Fang Lijun's dependence of the symbolism of the sun speaks to the hope that the struggle of China will ultimately lead to a brighter future.
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