Signed in Chinese and dated 87, framed
Chinese Century, Paris
Mao Xuhui was born in Chongqing in 1956 and eventually settled in Kunming. Affectionately addressed by many as Da Mao, the artist has resided in the Yunnan city for almost half a century. The distinct geography and climate of Kunming have somewhat shaped his personal and professional development as an artist. Over the years, his art has managed to retain a certain naiveté—while influences of Western modernism on his work are evident, they have preserved the primal energy of the native and the traditional.
Early Mao Xuhui works reveal a heavy Expressionist flavour. Subdued colours were matched with vehement brushwork, a technique that echoed his psychological condition. Beset with extreme pessimism, his spirit was in desperate search for a sanctuary in the drone of daily life. Life as an artist was not easy then, but Mao Xuhui detected hope in the increasingly heightened activity in the art scene. The disappointment with the failure of the "1984 National Art Exhibition" morphed into an unwavering determination to mount a show of their own— Mao and fellow artists opened "New Figurative Exhibition" in Shanghai in 1985, which then travelled to Yunnan and Sichuan. In 1986, he accepted an invitation to represent the Southwestern region at a Zhuhai conference. Upon his return to Yunnan, he formed the "Southwest Art Research Group" with Zhang Xiaogang, Pan Dehai and Ye Yongqing. A trailblazing agent of change and progress in the mid-1980s, Mao Xuhui catalyzed and witnessed the subsequent evolution of Chinese contemporary art.
After 1985, prospects have improved dramatically for Chinese contemporary artists. Mao Xuhui, as a result, veered away from a fixation on the self and onto an investigation on the self in the context of a citizenry fraught with oppression and suffering. The cumulative autocracy, aggression and tyranny continued to loom over the nation, much like an exacting father figure, politically and spiritually directing his subjects. In the feudal arrangement of a traditional Chinese family hierarchy, the patriarch rests on the very top. Capitalizing on this structure, Mao Xuhui engages in a philosophical discourse on the macroscopic issues of society. Paternalism Series No. 3 (Lot 829) was completed in 1986. The painting a classic specimen and negative views of an enigmatic figure. On the left is the front, its pictorial content resembling a portrait of the patriarch often found hanging on the walls of a typical Chinese household. The upper half of the body dangles gloomily on the wall, its face pale and emaciated, its expression stern and austere and its head rendered in the shape of a rhombus. The back is on the right. Perceived as a deconstruction of representation into abstraction, this half of the painting features an imposing rhombus that emanates status and power. This work was shown at the exhibition "'85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art" in 2007. '85 New Wave was one of the most important art movements in the 20th century. Not only did it shape the development of contemporary Chinese art in subsequent decades, it also marked the beginning of a new chapter in the writing of contemporary Chinese art history. Many masterpieces of timeless significance were created during this time. Paternalism Series No. 3 is one of these, confirming the place Mao Xuhui occupies in the pantheon of pioneers who first conceived of the Chinese avant-garde and leaving his Paternalism Series an irrefutable visual testament to its evolution.
Mao Xuhui's paternalist presentation was originally derived from the framework of a family portrait. The notion of familial bonds, or rather, the system of familial politics, was inherited from the elder generations. It asserts the following: to enter into the position of a patriarch is to assume all power within a family. Upon magnification, this unchallenged supremacy is found to exist on the level of the society as well. The paternalist figure has since evolved from the rhombus into a figure seated against a chair. The chair, the silk banner, the antique clock, the arch—these motifs recur again and again in his Paternalism Series. Together they build and buttress, yet also satirize, the authoritative and imposing aura of the Francis Bacon-esque protagonist, the paternal figure. An expressionism permeates the series, yet the contours are few, silhouettes simple and message extremely clear, rendering the final visual impact of the picture all the more powerful and infectious. One may call Mao Xuhui's style a distilled expressionism, perhaps even a nascent rationalism.
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