- Jia Aili
- Silent Echo
- signed and dated 2010
- oil on canvas
Jia Aili in conversation with Zhu Zhu, ‘To the Chaos of Reality: An Interview with Jia Aili’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Singapore, Singapore Art Museum, Seeker of Hope: Works by Jia Aili, 2012, p. 26.
Set against the rise of a dramatic mountain landscape, Jia Aili’s work Silent Echo contextualises the continual struggle of mankind against nature and quintessentially poses the question of control and hegemony within this systemic balance. The human figures in the lower half of the painting appear to be almost overwhelmed by the sheer force of nature, a subject that echoes the thought and artistic practice of Romantic nineteenth-century paintings such as Théodore Géricault’s seminal The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19). At the same time Jia Aili skilfully translates these ideas into a critical and relevant contemporary discourse. The figures in the present work deftly oscillate between abstract and figurative elements, a blending that has come to define Jia Aili’s idiosyncratic painterly style. While the silhouettes are still discernible, the faces remain ultimately anonymous and disclosed to the viewer. The absence of any facial expressions leaves open the physical and psychological status of each individual and the viewer adopts a perspective through which we witness a theatrical vista of rich colour spectrums ranging from nocturnal black to light white with a variety of grey nuances. This affluent palette of colours is mirrored in the depiction of the figures, further alluding to the coherence of nature and mankind.
The powerlessness and complete frailty of the individual when confronted with the raw powers of nature is a recurrent motif in Jia Aili’s oeuvre and recalls some of his most acclaimed works such as Old Painter I (2009), which is part of the Singapore Art Museum Collection, and The Wasteland (2007). Positioning itself within a long-ranging tradition of landscape painting, Jia Aili combines his masterful painting technique with references towards the Romanticist ideal of the Nineteenth Century as well as the development of modern-day China. The Romantic movement emerged as a response to the Age of Enlightenment and the advancement of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Consumed by a utopian ideology under the primacy of intuition, emotion, heroism, and liberalism, this movement aimed to recreate an age of harmony between man and nature with reference to ideas of philosophers such as Kant, Plato, and Plotinus. Caspar David Friedrich’s famous work Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) epitomises the contemplation and self-reflection that eventually leads to the comprehension of an individual’s insignificance when facing the beauty and vastness of nature. This ultimate belief in modesty within an age of advanced mechanisation and rationality is also reflected in the present painting. Furthermore, the work shares some compositional elements with Friedrich’s masterpiece, in particular the balance of various triangular shapes and the disguise of the protagonists faces.
There is a subtle yet powerful social commentary at work with Jia Aili’s Silent Echo that is indicative of the artist’s own biography. China’s massive transformation from Socialism to Capitalism – of which Jia Aili’s parents were first-hand witnesses – resulted in an influx of Western ideologies including the belief in technological supremacy over natural forces. As a result, a conscious balance between man and nature has often been neglected in favour of fuelling China’s unparalleled ascendency to power. In all its climactic tragedy and compositional rigour, Silent Echo depicts the disorientation and solitude of individuals facing the destruction of what they initially believed to control. By redefining the realm of painting and constantly pushing its boundaries, Jia Aili spearheads a new generation of contemporary Chinese artists who actively reflect on the effects of socio-economic change to human life.