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【评论】Dual Variation of Sociological Narrative and Aesthetic Modernity

2016-12-13 16:36:12 来源:艺术家提供作者:He Guiyan

  The name of Luo Zhongli has been closely associated with the achievement in the field of China vernacular paintings. Since the 1980s, due to its introspection on the history and the concern for the present, Sichuan vernacular painting has thrust itself into the attention from the circle of art in China. The rise of vernacular paintings could be contributed by two factors: one was the "Reflection on Cultural Revolution", proposing one common theme, i.e. reflection on history, narratives on suffering and salvation of wounds, for the generation who has been through Cultural Revolution and the sent-down-youth life; the other was "Scar Art", recasting the realism criticalness in paintings, further laying a theoretical foundation for the shift of the genre from "the Sent-down-youth group " into "the Vernacular". Hence, the emergence of vernacular paintings was a backwash, besides, a transcendence over the Cultural Revolution Art, as well as a representation of the social transition in China.

  On the New Year of 1981, "Father" by Luo Zhongli won the gold medal on the Second National Youth Art Exhibition organized by China Art Museum. Unquestionably, "Father" has exerted a monumental effect on the rise of vernacular paintings and the development of China contemporary art since the opening reform policy. As a matter of fact, as for the painting tradition after the Cultural Revolution, both "Father" and "Series of Tibet Oil Paintings" by Chen Danqing heralded the ongoing revolution on the aesthetic values, thereby initiating a new chapter of history where naturalistic realism fought against the previous stifling socialistic realism. The naturalistic realism, in short, was to perceive the reality in the ordinary light, and describe in austerely realistic language the reality, which, however, had been masked with various political languages in Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, in the spiritual dimension, "Father" did not target directly at the Cultural Revolution, but "its existence itself, is the proof of poverty, the evidence of suffering and the irony over lies." It was acceptable that in most of the previous artistic works, the rural life had been depicted to be rigorous and delightful, where peasants had been the proletariat laborers possessing the noble revolutionary ideals, and the master of society whose lives were supposed to be increasingly affluent; Nevertheless, "Father" subverted the existing kitsch of and illusion over the rural and peasants, which were the stereotype in the previous Cultural Revolution Art full of empty, false lyricism and kitsch of reality. In addition, it revealed the criticism on the national misery as a result of Cultural Revolution. Therefore, "Father" embodied rich humanitarian feelings. Though "Father" could be traced to the artist' personal experience in Mountain Daba, the simple humanitarian feeling could, in the special period when a top-to-down wave swept nationwide on the themes of "Emancipation of thoughts "as well as "Criticism on Cultural Revolution", to some extent, reflect the artistic appeal that artists were presumed to dismantle the barriers that caged art for politics, additionally, pursue one individualistic language to properly express one's sentiments on the base of listening to one's inner need, and following one's heart.

  Just in the very political and cultural context, "Father" was soon accepted in the dialogue of various sociological narratives, which reflected that, rather than the acceptance of the value in his themes and thoughts, Luo Zhongli's pursuit on the painting language and aesthetics played a subordinate role. However, his persistent exploration of language could as well drive his creation immensely. For instance, he employed the dimension which had been used to depict great men and heroes to represent one ordinary peasant, which, inevitably, challenged existing aesthetic habits and view ways. Meanwhile, the low, bitter, and grim atmosphere in the picture distanced itself from the existing propaganda of "red and bright". In addition, a great many details in "Father" could not have been represented, such as age spots, ominous moles, thin beard, incomplete teeth, dry and cracked lips, dark and tough skin, etc., if the popular rigid approach in Cultural Revolution with elements of big canvas, conceptualization, profiles, and stereotypes, had been employed. In other words, the very super-realistic language endowed "Father" with the aesthetic modernity from the perspectives of vision and view ways.

  Although, he gained his reputation overnight for his "Father", Luo Zhongli's persistent pursuit or obsession of the painting language, as a matter of fact, armed the artist' creativity with passion. In 1981, he created one piece of new works -- "Golden Autumn" using the same super-realistic approach. However, "Gold Autumn" did not become a massive hit in the circle of art, as said by the critic Mr. Shui Tianzhong, "'Golden Autumn' diluted the nicked impression out of 'Father'". Soon, Luo Zhongli amended the previous creative way, with more efforts exerted on the expressiveness of language while with the gradual weakening theme. In 1982, on the graduate exhibition, "Series of Countryside" pioneered another direction, depicting the daily life of people in Mountain Daba, for instance, "Blowing Dust" "Crossing threshold" and "Eave Water". At this time, Luo Zhongli gave up the early detailed-descriptive realistic method, shifted from the authenticity in image into their genuine inner experience in daily life, from the portrait of rural life into the concern of rural culture. On the one hand, the transformation of figure, and the intensification of linear representation furnished "Series of Countryside" with more painterliness; on the other hand, the increase on plot and scenario painted the piece of work with the color of "life-of-stream".

  As for the construction of aesthetic modernity in China contemporary arts, appropriately three clues are worthy noticing in the span from the later 1970s to the early 1980s. The first came to the inner transmutation and derivation in the realism itself, with the representatives of "Scar" critical realism and "vernacular painting" naturalistic realism; the second could be traced to the contemporary "Beauty in Form" and the following abstract arts; the third went through the direct influence of western modern and post-modern art, where artists were required to realize the individualization and stylization of their painting language with modern elements. In all, three directions once shared one common mission, that is, to defend for the ontological value of art, with the regained freedom of the artistic creation, after dismantling the stifling socialistic realism and the unified art mechanism since Cultural Revolution. However, three directions were not pure nor spontaneous, instead, each of them took a special focus respectively, under the influence of foreign arts, in particular, the European-American modern arts. For instance, He Duoling, from the same era, was affected by American Vernacular artist, Andrew Nowell Wyeth, while Luo Zhongli's expressiveness was due to the enlightenment of American Super-realism. This was also true of the artists of "Beauty in Form". However, this group of artists, with the representatives of Wu Guanzhong, Yuan Yunsheng, had an early halt in impressionism. By contrast, other groups went further into the acceptance and imitation, like Zhang Xiaogang for Surrealism, Mao Xuhui for Expressionism, and Xia Xiaowan for Fantasy Realism. Despite of a lack of originality, the step was significant to the construction of the contemporary art language and aesthetic modernity. But for this move, the "New Art Movement" featuring in artists' self-consciousness on the aspects of language, form and style would not have come into being.

  Nonetheless, due to historical limitations, the aesthetic modernity could not independently reinvest the work with meaning, before the "New Art Movement". In other words, the appeal for culture, politics, and thoughts out of sociological narratives would be so predominating that the language pursuit in the early works of Luo Zhongli, would be predictably covered. Even so, the works of Luo Zhongli, a good case in point, still could provide a new perspective for the transmutation of the cultural modernity in 1980s in China. The question lies in how Vernacular art in the form of locality could be powerful enough to be involved in the construction of cultural modernity since the opening-reform policy. Moreover, why it would happen to be "Vernacular Art" rather than other arts? Actually, what should be noticed is that as for the modernity construction in China in the early 1980s, the modernity with the representative of "Vernacular Art" constituted a major part in the pursuit of modernity in China culture. It could be explained in that the modernity in "Vernacular art" signified the commencement of the whole modernization in China in the early 1980s, especially under the background of "family-contract responsibility system". Hence, time chose "Vernacular", just because vernacular painting exactly represented one advanced and modern culture spirit during the period of the transition from rural modernization to industrial modernization in China in 1980s.

  Although Vernacular painting has shown the spirit of cultural modernity in the early stage, it still moved in one single direction with its limitation that it could not stand for all pursuits of cultural modernity in the modernization in China, thereby serving as the only one branch, instead of the whole of the modern cultural system. Therefore, around the 1985, time called for a new artistic spirit, and new aesthetic values, when the country shifted the reform site from the rural to the urban, especially with the launch of thought emancipation and culture enlightenment. Then, on the one hand, with the "Sixth National Art Exhibition" as the watershed, the vernacular painting, after its period of prime, began to fall out of fashion, because, "the Vernacular" has drained all enthusiasm of artist due to its limited power in social criticism, while the traditional realistic scenarios gradually transformed into the aestheticism picture. As a matter of fact, "vernacular painting" in its later stage did transmute, in the form of reinvesting the works with regionalism and culture, which moved forward to the genre of minority. On the other hand, with the rise of "New Art Movement", the younger generation of artists, thanks to western humanism and modern and post-modern arts, instead of focusing on the vernacular, have gone further into double-critique of culture and language in the new arts, which was manifested vividly in the movement of "Time Needs Great Soul" and "Purifying language" in the middle of 1980s.

  In 1984, Zhongli Luo pursued his further study in Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in Belgium. In the two years, he paid visits to magnificent museums, galleries and art exhibitions in Europe, which proved to be a rewarding experience for him. To be more specific, he had a deep appreciation of the history of Western Art and contemporary painting, moreover, with a strong determination to take the road of culture nationalization and localization, based on the cross-cultural perspective and different pedigrees between Chinese and western painting. After two years when he returned, out of his genuine pursuit of language, Luo Zhongli showed no interest in the booming "New Art Movement", let alone participating in it. Conversely, after one decade period of dormancy, until the middle of 1990, he regained the eyesight of circle of arts with a set of "New Vernacular" paintings.

  The span from 1995 to 2006 witnessed the change in his creation value, when he evolved the early pursuit of historical memory, in particular, that of the Mountain Daba into respecting the desire for life and questioning the survival awareness. This was embodied in shift in painting language, with the early realism substituted by the subjective expression, highlighting instinct and handwriting. To be more specific, austere yet powerful lines, uneven and mixed brushstroke, mottled yet thick texture, and bright and folk color all contributed to the unadorned originality and productivity. Actually, in the nearly one decade of language pursuit, he has been influenced by two distinct routes: one came from the French painters in 19th century, like Gustave Courbet, Jean-Francois Millet, the other was involved with the expressionism in 20th century in Europe, especially Georges Rouault, and Kees Van Dougen. However, rather than simply imitating two routes, which was actually nearly impossible due to their different sources and different artistic pedigrees, eventually, he endeavored to form his individualistic expression, with the breakthrough on the aspects of vocabulary, rhetoric devices, and visual psychology. In a broad sense, the early 1990s saw the same linguistic shift in the field of China contemporary art, featuring in planarity, visualization, as well as symbolization, which was obviously the result of Image Era, even a backwash over the dominating modernism in 1980s. Honestly speaking, the shift into images and signals in contemporary art, is a gain, yet a loss. Specifically, one way of visual reading has come into emergence in accordance with the visual experience in public, while, the sentimentality expression has been blocked, even at the cost of painterliness. Therefore, it was understandable why Luo Zhongli then decided to break through on the basic elements in painting, like lines, brushstroke, texture, color, structure, etc, and highlighted the occasionality between intuition and painting. Out of his consistent chase after language and aesthetic modernity, Luo Zhongli employed his works to address one haunting issue in art circle in 1990s, that is, how to endow the works with contemporary awareness from the perspectives of ontological art, language and rhetorical devices, and painterliness.

  Another change in his paintings instilled new connotation into the cultural modernity. Two significant meaning dimensions contributed to his works of art at this stage: one is the primitive style in western modern art in late 19th century; the other is the new artistic language out of the western life philosophy and anthropology. According to the critic Wang Lin, "the most ordinary, the most unworthy of depicting scenarios, like peeing at midnight, crossing rivers, sheltering from rain, yet embodied the primitive vitality. Even the purity of life and the oddity in festival, toughness of life and extravagance of sentimentality all mix into wild-flavored folk paintings". What distinguished them from the works in the early 1980s, was that, instead of the top-to-down result of ideology, the regional rural experience has been sublimated into the respect for the indigenous life in the process of modern civilization. Meanwhile, it did not use the city dwellers' assumed imagination of the rural area which was supposed to be the romantically idyllic scene, on the contrary, one genuine way, on the base of approaching peasant culture, was employed to tell the unique living experience which was strikingly different from the mainstream cultural awareness and the life style in the urban. In sum, he set his final goal of revealing the casual desire, and the hidden simple but tough living awareness, especially in the fragments of daily life.

  The series of "Rereading History of Fine Art" in 2008 were a landmark of a dramatic turn in Luo Zhongli's creation, which actually was not abrupt, if perceived from the perspective of the trajectory of the artist's own painting language, though, superficially, it might seem to be a crack. If the creation from 1978 to 2008 was regarded as a whole, his devotion to both culture modernity and aesthetic modernity has been two indispensable contributions to the meaning construction in his works. These two factors were by no means separated nor contradictory, instead, closely connected, while taking different focuses in different works at different stages. For instance, sociological narratives took a more prominent role in works of "Father", "Golden Autumn", in the particular political and cultural context at the beginning of 1980s; while, aesthetic modernity stroked back in works of "Sheltering from the rain" and "crossing the river". In all, in the past nearly three decades, the artist floated slightly between the cultural modernity and aesthetic modernity, however, the dedicate balance has been violated thanks to the "Rereading History of Fine Art".

  What matters in "Rereading History of Fine Art" is that it extinguished all sociological factors, only with brushstroke, line, structure, and schema remaining. Furthermore, any narrative dialogue involving sociology could not be immersed in painting, rather, only with language, vision and painting itself. Therefore, it could be understandable of Luo Zhongli's attempt to reinvest painting with meaning on the route of following language itself. On the other hand, what is equally significant in "Rereading History of Fine Art" is the "intertextuality" in the works, in the form of the schema in the works, which could be traced to the "embezzlement" and transform of the masterpieces of masters in the history of Western as well as Chinese fine art. For instance, the works embodied various painters in western pedigree, like the renowned Titian, Diego Velazquez, Peter Paul Rubens, Vincent Willen Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, etc. However, it could be inferred that Luo Zhongli's favorite artist was Pablo Picasso, for the greatness of Picasso, i.e. the breakthrough of the existing visual representation system, the change on the human's care for nature, the creation of a new mouldmaking rule, and the establishment of a new painting paradigm and aesthetic interest. In the artistic reference frame and tension between the east and the west, between modernity and tradition, Luo Zhongli decided to set up his own methodology, rendering his individualistic language with the logic of history of fine art, in the process of taking a dialogue with the existing classical vocabulary. As for many artists, the appeal of creation might be the increasing appreciation in value, or the step in pushing painting towards the field of values. However, what distinguishes Luo Zhongli with others, on the base of his recent works, lies in his pursuit of consistent purification, and consistent "minus", with his persistent exploration and persistent experimentation, in the final hope of rendering painting back in language, in rhetoric devices, and in its purity. In other words, painting can exist for its own sake. As a saying goes, complex doctrines should be streamlined. In Luo Zhongli's world, the most essential and the most indispensable value in painting lies in its very painterliness.

September in 2016

Sichuan Fine Arts Institute