Transcending Form and Concept
Created during the second year of Wang Guangle's renowned Terrazzo series, Terrazzo No.9, 2003 is an important early work from the series. In 2003 Wang released the series for the first time and hosted an exhibition at the One Moon Art Gallery in Beijing. In what is now considered something of a legendary exhibition, Terrazzo No.9, 2003 was unique amongst the twelve piece series: in comparison with the other slightly cramped works, in Terrazzo No.9, 2003 Wang primarily used shades of black for the background, then filling the space with one slender line of terrazzo extending out from the centre, towards the edges of the canvas.
When we consider the development of contemporary art in China, Wang Guangle is an artist we must recognise. He represents the new generation of Chinese artists' exploration of form in the 21st century; their subversion of traditional realism; their nihilism and pessimism towards the politics of old; even their rejection socially conscious subject matter. This new aesthetic is evident in the two-dimensional works of this new generation, and Wang Guangle is undoubtedly a pioneer among them. Academically trained in realist techniques, he uses realistic details, unemotional yet expressive brushwork, and a calm and rational treatment of colour and form to create a radically new kind of abstraction. Wang’s visual language, infused with a poetic sensibility, and his creative process both embody the special characteristics of his milieu, making him a unique figure in both East and West.
In a series of works dominated by greys and dark greens, Terrazzo No.9, 2003 instead relies mainly on shades of white and black, capturing the inherent appeal of ink. In terms of form and composition the work is unrivalled. The terrazzo itself appears to both rest upon the surface of the black background, and also immerse itself behind the black arches. Moreover, the meticulous brushwork of the terrazzo section exceed the suggestive strokes of the black background in their intensity. Though concept and from constitute the very basis of Wang’s works, in his earlier days the conceptual certainly took precedence. In this sense, Terrazzo No.9, 2003 is a unique example of the series. The artist himself recalls that; “whilst I was creating the Terrazzo series, I often told myself not to trust my eyes, and to paint it once more, so as to extend the painting process. This piece alone could not be completed after each new attempt, the canvas could not be completely filled. As a medium, oil painting is such that, once seen, it gives me an immediate, powerful sense of its form, dominating my thoughts.” Clearly, during the creative process Wang was deeply moved by this particular work, giving him the impetus to paint in an almost subconscious manner. The work’s independence of form evidently had a profound impact on his later series Coffin Paint and Untitled, and this unforeseen aspect of the creative process seemingly helped the artist put his faith in the aesthetic beauty of the materials themselves.
Graduating from the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2000, Wang Guangle is an important member of N12, a collective of young artists at the Academy. N12 represents the new generation’s attempt to explore “all possibilities beyond the rules of the Academy” and counts among its members the young independent artists such as Song Kun, Qiu Xiaofei, Hu Xiaoyuan, Xu Hualing, and Wen Ling. Compared with the other artists born in the 70s, Wang has not chosen an easy path. While they opted to create market favourites such as illustrations, cartoons and caricatures, Wang spent almost half a year on a single set of five paintings, 3pm – 5pm. He chose red and yellow hues for these works, emblematic of late-afternoon warmth. In repeating the motif of a beam of light in a dark corner of the studio, the works showcase Wang’s quest for classical aestheticism, winning him the Academy President’s Award. More importantly, art education under the doctrine of realism in Chinese society has always emphasized the functionality of art, but 3pm – 5pm totally reversed the expectation of art as a tool of expression. It returned art instead to pure graphic rendition, and in so doing opened up a new generation of painting concepts. As Wang’s first series after graduation, 3pm – 5pm’s success had a huge impact on the artist’s future works. Gradually, terrazzo began to appear in the 3pm – 5pm series, taking up the floor of the paintings’ interior space.
Terrazzo was in fact a very common construction material in the 70s and 80s. Wang Guangle’s uncle was a cement worker and he frequently polished terrazzo. This exposure in the artist’s formative years facilitated his recognition of the material’s innate beauty; the terrazzo’s placement in the 3pm – 5pm series is a reminiscence of this beauty. Gradually, the artist hoped that his tableau could become even purer; so he simply removed the beams of light, and further manifested the texture of terrazzo, thereby creating the Terrazzo series.