Thursday 12. December 2019

Foreword to Wang Xu's paintings

Wang Xu was so kind to ask me for a foreword to his current art book. My text was translated and edited into Chinese. Below you'll find my (semi-)edited version in English:

“How is it possible for me as an European to look at a Chinese painting and say something of substance without ridiculing myself (and the artwork!) through my inherited western arrogance?” ...this question, not so in detail, but clouded in an uncomfortable feeling, haunted my mind when I was contemplating and preparing this few introductory words.
I’m not an art-illiterate, due to my masters degree at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, however my historical knowledge on especially Chinese Art History is limited. In order to sustain dignity and respect for Wang Xu’s vast oeuvre, the only way for me to write this introduction is through my personal experience. Justified by my interest in art and Chinese culture. 

I start with how Wang Xu and I have met, because it was "one of those Parisan stories" we know from movies. A rainy summer day in Paris and I had obviously no umbrella with me. When passing the gallery Emmanuel Perrotin I saw people in there and was convinced it’s open. I went in to find shelter from the rain. A small crowd in the back was being sucked into their mobile phones, leaving the large gallery space empty. One guy was fixing a light bulb. I realized the gallery was still closed and the owner was standing on a chair trying to fix the light. I apologized for coming in and was about to leave when I was asked if I’m a technician. The curator seemed to be overwhelmed by the problem. I have a habit to pretend that I know “how things work” so I came closer and said that I can offer some common sense. The moment I said that, the light went on. A miracle! A miracle!  …we all laughed about this coincidence.

The interesting part was that the spotlight illuminated a painting on the wall. It was Wang Xu’s incredible flower painting. Next to his work was Wang Xu, standing with a grin. He recognized instantly that I liked his artwork. He introduced himself to me, maybe already expecting a good client. We exchanged some politeness and talked about his individual techniques, but this was only to fill the gaps of social conformity. Despite translating errors by Google, we managed to have a fruitful exchange. It was clear to us both that we two had instantly something in common: a shared understanding and appreciation for art. And based on that, most likely similar wounds collected throughout life.

What fascinates me about still-life and nature painting in general, is not so much the accuracy of reproduction, but the metaphorical language. It reveals to me states of consciousness, imposed by the flow of nature. Wang Xu has a skill to create such blueprints. His attentiveness for detail and a surprisingly vivid use of color charmed me right away.
We in the west like to think that “we’re born INTO this world”. This gives us unconsciously a feeling we’re somewhat disconnected from our environment. That we need to control it. Like space invaders. Chinas culture is based on a different model. There is a known connection between the elements that create the environment and the human being who lives surrounded by them. More and more, I’m getting used to the concept that we’re an integral part of nature, like a leaf that is growing from a tree branch. And what about the shit we produce…? Plastic, fabric fumes, trash, chemicals… Is that also a part of nature? Hm... where am I going with this…?

Well, I like to point out that there is a complexity in how we shape our current surroundings and cultural landscapes. On purpose I’m only scratching and avoiding a political statement about environmental issues. Not because I don’t care, but because I think that there are other places to talk about it. In particular I claim that the traditional (non-political) artist has a different duty. He needs to perceive the world without judgment. Right into the heart of trash and dirt. If an artist sees a lotus flower growing out of plastic waste, he recognizes the beauty in it. And here I’m getting to the core of my thought: 
This special talent, to be able to see beyond appearances, is what I recognize in Wang Xu’s work.


Wang displays an interest in pushing the boundaries of still-life. He strives for an intimate relationship between what I know as figurative nature painting and my own private catalogue of feelings. There is a certain specific mood in each painting.  Mysterious settings like: “Birds in winter, dark lakes, dangerous blood red sceneries.” And then as a contrast: “Innocent swans or the delicacy of a dead plant…” He uses traditional material like paper, ink and brush and yet at the same time his images convey a modern notion.

There is a deep connection towards nature & traditional painting and at the same time a bridge to our modern human experience.
In theory some of his paintings might seem adventurous in portraying insects in winter settings or isolated birds, but there is always an uplifting element in each artwork. Not a single image is resonating negative vibrations. Quite on the contrary. The balance of colors and Wang Xu’s delicate style doesn’t allow that. It miraculously comforts my soul when I look at his work, regardless of the season and setting he chooses to paint. 

Wang Xu’s work is not simply neat decoration for corridors. It needs definitely a (functioning) spotlight and I’m looking forward to see more of his work in European galleries. He and I are from two different worlds, however Wang Xu’s art was the actual dictionary in our communication. And I’m convinced that it will find many enthusiasts around the globe. Many will enjoy what Wang Xu showed me. Details from the world, carefully crafted through his gentle magnifying glass. And yet he is experimenting. He is playing. His art is alive.

So here we are. I opened up without shame and bluntly said what I deeply feel. For some of the readers this might seem obvious and for others incomprehensible, but I hope I lived up to the challenge to make the reader curious about the following images. Those few words should be anyway read merely as a starting point. Their use is only to inspire to turn the page. My job is done. What’s left for me is to hope, that after a few hand movements the reader replaced what is written here, with his own experience of Wang Xu’s distinctive voice."


With deepest respect and gratitude,
Patryk Dawid Chlastawa

All Images by Wang Xu