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Wang Niandong (王念东油画)
Wong has participated in many exhibitions in China as a painter, sculptor, and photographer. He has contributed public works, and is a well- respected member of the Asian art community.
Between Pursuit and Escape
Source: http://arts.tom.com December 27, 2006 by Wang Lin
Walking into Wang Niandong's studio, you may feel like being surrounded by all the "girls". Be it the finished product or a sketch, or a piece of work reserved as record, all are depictions of pretty ladies. Extremely interested in young women, undoubtedly the painter is a man, to be exact, an oil painter portraying the female body from a man's perspective. A painter introduced in such a way might be misunderstood in the Chinese painting circle where feminism is on the upswing, as in the eyes of many other people, "a man's perspective" indicates a historical mistake, connected with the prejudice and discrimination against women and things like that. It is not necessarily right. The man's perspective does not always equal to the centrality view, but sometimes comes from the escape from habitual consciousness. The right way to understand artistic works is not collectively pronouncing a final verdict, but analyzing the unique and proper mode of existence through the concrete images created by the artist. This is the value of artistic works as the object for phenomenology.
What caught my attention first is a piece of work featuring a man, which is the only one among Wang's paintings. It is an incomplete head portrait enlarged to the frame, with the lower part of the face showing depression, frustration and worries. Behind the head a young woman is making a phone call. The woman is slim with frowned eyebrows, angry but confident. The portrait is named "Don't Call Me", as if a cry from the man who paints himself. Why does he want to escape from her? To escape from his desire for her, or to escape from the life in which he and she is combined? The portrait is overwhelmingly psychologically symbolic, nevertheless provides us with an opening to look for the ideological and mental traits of the work from other invisible images.
1. Aestheticism and Affectation
At the first sight, Wang Niandong`s works deliver aesthetic features, because he always portraits pretty ladies of gorgeous faces and charming bodies in bright colors. He gives delicate depictions of the very feminist movements and gestures, or in the words of critics, the works are "vivid" and "true to life". Originally, locating on ontology and formalism, aestheticism comes from care for the form, and stresses the self-discipline in drawing. However, the elite pursuit for aestheticism is gradually exploited by the populace and commercial culture, becoming the major target for the advertising images and market consumptions, thanks to its special interest in "beauty is harmony" and based on the common interest of nature and traditional aesthetics. In contemporary times, the aestheticism and consumption culture is notably incorporated into each other. In the surrounding visual environment, the aesthetic female images come into your eyes everywhere. The world we live in is actually a world for "man to see woman, and women to see themselves". The female body, as a commercial brand and consumption symbol, meets the demands of the man`s eyes and the demands of the men`s center that is recognized by both man and woman. The feminism artists have reason for getting angry, but might get lost in the modern dualism featuring the opposition between man and woman. A male artist, if standing on the presumed feminist point, will be unnatural, awkward and suspicious.
Wang Niandong holds different ideas. Instead of opposing the aesthetic preferences shown among the populace, he has pushed the aesthetic female images to the extremes, delivering them into affected images. Under his paint brush, the young girls are posing like models for show, with stylish hair cuts, delicate faces, stable and mature expressions, and stretched bodies, even if the works are intended to express depression or happiness, like the works Distressed Violin and Drift Bottle, and I Can Fly. In spite of the dancing beauty and melody-like bodies, there are no details about thier lives. The painter has purposely ignored the individual characteristics, so as to highlight the non-agent features. Thus, the images for show, like case-hardened products, become the objects for public consumption. It is wrong to believe that the commercialized cultural consumptions provide merely visual delight but no psychological significance, and the commercial concept is slighted. The female stars in the commodities and advertisements are expert at guiding the viewers` thoughts, activating the libido, and arousing the actions of hormones, making people readily make choices in homogeneous competitions. The public choices are always in line with the advertising effects. Wang Niandong well understands the role of sexual suggestions in the consumption culture. The women under his paint brush will present due seductions amid reserved air, through the raised skirts, loosened waistbands, or opened tops. The viewers will be attracted by sensitive parts like the naked breasts, hips, or those parts vaguely concealed by the thin clothing. The affection of sex images are highlighted by the delicate depictions of clothes, props and utensils in Wang`s works. The painter`s decorativeness is self-assured, putting the engraved patterns, colorful butterflies and flatfishes into his props.
Through diversified treatments that go extreme, Wang Niandong has realized effects in the aesthetic expressions, and the heterogeneity in the affected effects. He aims to highlight the heterogeneity and reveal the sophistry in the consumption culture through the fake consumption culture. The changes from the extremity to heterogeneity, when displayed in the female images, are their psychological contradictions between the truth and the unreal, between the seductions and the avoidance. The contrast between the strong subconscious desire and the public target for sex consumption has removed the truth of life and truth of desires, to the extent that the imaged cultural consumption has no relation with the physical existence of the human being, but turning into the virtual symbolized way for existence. From this point, Wang Niandong sees from a man`s perspective through life`s presentations and touches the individual secrets, the secrets of the time, in the psychological reflections.
2. Realism and Hyper-realism
Wang has a set of strict procedures for his paintings, from the sketches, to coloring, to the finished product. The whole process is classical and academic. It is fair to say that he is a painter of high skills for realistic presentations.
The realistic paintings are notably challenged in modern artistic works. From the presence of popular arts, non-technical or low-technical skills like copying and graffiti have been employed in the paintings, signifying that the skills are not the natural grounds for judging the value of paintings any more. As the technical demand for popular arts as well as for realistic paintings, the concept has provided the basis for the statement that paintings are modern. The conceptualization of the realistic paintings indicates the response painters made to the contemporary social, cultural and psychological problems, and also their sensual intelligence displayed through the appropriate skills. From this point, the realistic painting is a means for an individual creation, rather than the difference of style in the collective system.
Wang Niandong shows uniqueness in the creation of figures. In his delicate sketches, the veins of the skin are highlighted like simulated sculptures, showing correct body structure and fine physical qualities. The next step is coloring, to restore the luster, quality, body temperature and scent of the female bodies. To stress the charms of the body, the painter has intentionally concealed the strokes. The "stroke concealing" style is apparent to the viewers. Because of this, the images of the paintings are generated from personal styles, not merely "realistic" products of the objects in real life. Wang Niandong`s difference from other painters is that he delivers delicate images of the figures, so that they look like encaustic paintings, vivid but real. The instant when the dynamic figures are fixed, does not intend to make viewers connect them to the movements, like general realistic paintings have done. The dynamics are fixed through the arrangements, to the modeling effect realized by the painter for his figures. We shall not take no consideration of the painters real feelings for the women in his works. Concepts in the paintings include some obscure elements, to prove the complexity and comprehensiveness of the sensual intelligence. To endure and to be helpless, to suspect and to have deep affections, most of the girls in the paintings show the loneliness in time of contemplation. We have no need to cut off the appreciation of painting works from the connections to life experience, as sometimes those connections have enriched our visual feelings. However, the connection has to go back to the images, as the expression in thought is only one element of the integral atmosphere, even if it is the most attractive element.
From a more important aspect, Wang Niandong tries to create a super-realistic scene for his paintings, to emphasize the un-realistic features of the real figures so as to highlight the problems he intends to reflect.
From the beginning, he puts the lovely girls into the water, delivering the heterogenic effect of the objects with the use of the flowing light and water. Of course, it is on a superficial level. In fact, no matter whether the figures or the props are flowing or not, whether the human bodies are decorated with the glistening lights or not, the placement has some fantasy elements. According to Chinese cultural psychology, water is connected to females. Jia Baoyu in the 'A Dream of the Red Mansion` believes that "woman is made of water, and man of mud." The flowing water helps the presentation of female bodies, and the creation of an atmosphere for day dreaming. Thanks to the conceptualized presumptions, the painter is free in organizing the images. He may draw the linear segmentation and location of the water bottom, delivering the clues for connection to city life while improving the structure. He even draws out the architecture, streets, and symbols for the identification of cities. He pictures the props, apples, chessboards, watches, sofas, beds, sport objects and ships. The delicately pictured articles are extremely clear, like delicately made toys, delivering the sense of heterogeneity and suggests with the effect of passing off the fake as the real thing: such as the image of fishes connected to reproductive nature, the appearance of watches to the solidification of the time.
Through the underwater scene, Wang Niandong has changed the fixed spatial relationship constant to realistic drawing, creating a way for the presence of heterogeneity among the objects, since realistic drawings are always creating images in the spatial relationships in compliance with perspective drawing or by changing the perspective in accord with the logic. To Wang Niandong, the relationship between the figures and the environment or the background might be connected or disconnected, thus intends to deliver some hyper-realistic feature to the images but not those preposterous wonderlands as created in Dali`s works. The proper hyper-realistic feelings are in line with the idea that Wang Niandong tries to display the unreal in the real, and disclose the real from the unreal. Therefore, the conceptualization of the contemporary drawings shall be manifested in the way of the existence of the drawings, but not as the denial of the realistic drawings. To be correct, it is the individual creation`s image result in the intentional deviation of the collective system. The image result of the contemporary painting is the rectification of the overwhelming emphasis on elitism by modernism.
Now, back to the question put forward at the initial part, if "she" is the object that he is pursuing but cannot cast off, the life, or the painting. In the pursuit of the realistic drawings, the painter might be bothered by the habits in the same as those being bothered by the love. "He" wants to escape but finds it hard to leave. This is the attitude of the painter toward the modern culture and modern life, but he can only live in it while showing the difference from it. Between the pursuit and the escape, Wang Niandong tries to find the individual way of existence, and then the images are created. He has his own orientation, but can`t stop it. Therefore, if asked to offer some suggestions, I only want to say that to continue the artistic creation, one cannot choose to escape. Only those in love with the life are qualified to reflect the life. If necessary, just to say "Call Me again".
November 6th 2006 At the Foot of Pearl Blossom Mount in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute