- Wang Huaiqing
- Wordless Encounter
- signed in Chinese
- oil on canvas
- 130.5 by 143.5 cm.; 51 3/8 by 56 1/2 in.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Exhibition of Wang Huaiqing's Paintings, National Museum of History, Taipei, 2008, p. 43
Wang Huaiqing: A Painter's Painter in Contemporary China, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 2010, p. 133
Wang Huaiqing's Wordless Encounter
In the development of 20th century Chinese art, Wang Huai-qing is regarded as an anti-traditionalist. In 1980, he founded the ‘Same Generation’ contemporary painting group, which rebelled against the trend of ‘red, luminous, bright’ qualities that were used to celebrate communist leaders, and advocated instead for the portrayal of ordinary characters. ‘Using the brush to extinguish the ugly, the absurd, or the deceptive, and preserve on the canvas the beautiful, the warm, and the candid’ was the group’s founding aim. In that year, Wang’s painting Bole was inducted into the collection of the highly esteemed National Art Museum of China, which represented a significant affirmation for the artist’s work. In 1982, Wang represented China at the Salon de Printemps in Paris with the work Artist’s Mother. The artist’s natural talent was recognized and affirmed by the art world early in the artist’s career.
Retooling and Reworking
Wang, however, did not cling to the formula of his success. In the mid-1980s, his creations underwent an important shift as the artist turned from figurative paintings toward abstractionism and formalism. In 1985 – on his first visit to Shaoxing city in the Jiangnan region of China – the artist encountered the black tiles and white walls of the water township, the ancient architecture rife with history and vitality, the graceful composition of the beams and columns, and he was filled with inspiration, leading him to create the Ming Style Furniture Series, a set of works that sent strong ripples into the art world. Wang had reduced his colour palette to the basic colours of black, white, and grey, as well as simplified the forms of the structures, which coalesced into an effect that stuns the eyes with the intensity in which they convey the vicissitudes of history. Considering the context of the times in which Wang’s series was created, the creative atmosphere pervasive with the trends of social realism and ‘Scar Art’, Wang’s creative path is decidedly singular, his position in Chinese history unique. Following the Ming Style Furniture Series, the artist’s antennae extended further, becoming interested with the furniture within these homes. Bestowing these inanimate objects with spirits, using a contemporary interpretation, he created the Ming-style Furniture series. At this auction, Wordless Encounter, completed in 1992, is an important representative from the series.
A Wordless Encounter Suffused with Feeling
Taking a human object to express a manifestation of life is not all that unusual, but using a chair for the expression of life – that requires a long process, one of extracting the complexities and subtleties from culture.
The first time Wang established a chair as the main subject of a painting was in his 1991 work Great Ming Manner. The ink-black armchair that dominates nearly the entire canvas is magnanimous, appearing like a monarch from a previous era, posing for a portrait. The work is breath-taking in its vivid personification. In Wordless Encounter, Wang pushes this use of personification even further. The subject of the chair has been doubled, such that two Ming-style armchairs face one another at a 45-degree angle, gazing at one another in front of the grey-white mottled background, as if speaking of inner feelings that have spanned the last millennium. The scene conjures these lines from Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi’s poem ‘Night Zither’: ‘Violet sleeves and red strings under moonlight. Moved to silence by her own playing, her head bows / The strings still, the fingers pause, the music stops. Weighty feelings hang in the air’.
In this painting, silence trumps sound. The subjects in the painting, it appears, have seen their share of the rhythms and cycles of life, and now, in the stillness, they slowly recall their days. When appreciating the painting, the grand tides of history seem to charge toward the viewer, making one pause, rapt, surrendering into the depths of one’s own thoughts. The artist has deliberately chosen the wooden armchairs as his source material; they are not only elements in the composition of the image, but they are imbued with the rich presence of Eastern aesthetics, as well as the artist’s own backward-looking gaze, his reluctance to part with traditional culture. The Chinese traditional craftsmen of the Ming dynasty were exceedingly deliberate and meticulous in their design of furniture: every straight line, every curve, every surface composed of lines – all of it was embodied with both steadiness and dynamism, rigor and elasticity, presenting an aesthetic that is subtle and reserved. As art historian Huang Miaozi said, ‘They combine lopsided-ness with balance, simplicity with complexity, dynamism with stillness, safety with danger – all of these contradictions are ingeniously united to create a calm, simple beauty’. Ming-style furniture cleverly uses the mechanism of the mortise and tenon to attach the sides to the body; with not a single screw involved in the assembly, it is indeed a manifestation of the wisdom of the scholars. And this wisdom, this simplicity and stillness, this reserved aestheticism of the ancients, through Wang’s brush, have naturally been given continuity and renewed life.
The Crisscross of the Real and the Illusory in a Boundless World
It took many years of study to learn to portray objects with strong three-dimensionality, but now I’ve expended equally great effort to ‘flatten’ the ‘surface’ of my objects. This is motivated by one idea: Objects exhibited on a flat plane possess greater intensity.
In Wordless Encounter, the artist presents a unique interpretation of space. The artist has deliberately flattened the three-dimensional chair, using the surface and lines to express its physicality, even intersecting portions of the chair’s form with the grey-white background, the blocks of brown, such that sometimes the chairs are dissolved or scattered, and other times their voluminous form is brightened and accentuated. In this crisscross between the real and the illusory, the two-dimensional and three-dimensional spaces seemingly converge, advancing and retreating in harmony without appearing abrupt.
The background is richly layered in texture, communicating the vestiges of time; thick blocks of brown are arranged upon the four corners of the canvas, establishing their own sense of rhythm. The arrangement under the artist’s brush contains the majesty and self-assuredness of Chinese stone calligraphy, as he uses the composition and basic colours to push the tension to its limits, creating an effect that appears natural, yet is full of the artist’s intention and design. As Chinese master Wu Guanzhong said, ‘Franz Kline and Pierre Soulages, and many other Western artists, have been vexing over how to utilize the black-white structure of Chinese calligraphy, yet Wang Huai-qing’s framework is not merely a single, fixed form; it contains the soul of the culture, revealing the direction of his exploration. He fully expresses the deterrent force of the colour black, emphasizing the intersection of black and white, exploring the spread of texture, creating a silent yet orderly space, replete with a childlike innocence’. These qualities are clearly manifested in Wordless Encounter, a work that is undoubtedly a legendary classic.