Current Exhibition | 當期展覽

Daily Roaming Between Classical and Modern ——
about the new ink-wash paintings of Mr. Shi Jianmin

Dang Cheng

  Today, under the great change of media forms, Jianmin, unlike most artists who keep up with trend and pursuit technical innovation, insists on painting on silk with brush and ink, independently and constantly.
  Silk for painting is a kind of plain textile. It was called "sliver plate" as the fiber became flat and neat after hammering and sizing with deer glue and alum. Jianmin is thorough and demanding on quality of painting. He does the further processing of silk himself, and chooses the best old ink stick to paint. He likes to paint big size works. In his studio, there are several self-designed huge easels with hydraulic device to adjust the height and angle of drawing board.
  Reviewing the Chinese art history, almost all the handed down Song dynasty paintings are silk scroll. The literati paintings since Yuan dynasty are on paper normally. The silk can be washed with ink and water for many times to make the image lifelike and vivid through rich layers. In contrast, Xuan paper has strong water imbibition, and is suitable for dry brush with a bit washing, which forms a simple and indifferent style. The differences between Song painting and Yuan painting are not only on concept and taste, but also on media and skill. Since the rise of literati painting, the silk was replaced by Xuan paper, the wet painting skill of Song masters declined with silk. For this reason, Jianmin's silk painting has the significance of inheriting the ancients' lost knowledge.
  Jianmin emphasizes both design and expression. The strong sense of volume gives his paintings full of stereo perception, which makes the viewers want to touch. The intentional brief parts are fresh and light, even indistinct, offering interesting contrasts between emptiness and solidness. The white spaces are washed with faint ink, but the brushstrokes are invisible, perfectly and naturally.
  Jianmin started his artistic career from sculpture and oil painting. He created a series of abstract and semi abstract sculptures with stainless steel on the beginning of 2000s. Meanwhile, he painted oil paintings of the expressionist style. But, for dislike the smell of linseed oil, he changed to ink-wash painting. From Xuan paper to bast paper, until the long forgotten material, silk, satisfied him.
  From cold metal to warm silk, Jianmin choses the way back to classical tradition. He works more than 10 hours every day tirelessly. He does not have many works for his complex methods, but he never stops painting, and has new works every once in a while.

  However, I always hesitate that whether Jianmin's works belong into the so called "Chinese-painting".
  His recent works have unique "iconographic motives", only two kinds of fixed type: tree and stone.
  These seemingly simple motives are worth to ponder.
  The stone he paints is neither massive rock nor round pebble, but the exquisite taihu stone, left alone after many vicissitudes. The tree he paints is neither verdant cypress nor withered willow, but haggard wood without branches and leaves, which is like a fossil, keeping the posture of dying pain.
  The scene makes viewers feel like stepping into a destroyed and abandoned garden, full of stagnancy.
  But this is not a lifeless world dominated by death.
  A deer comes gently, then disappears.
  Two butterflies fall freely and leave.
  The most unexpected is that the fierce boars can broke into the once flourishing place. These ferocious beasts go through the trees and stones rudely. Some even come in groups, like the arrogant invaders.
  The classical elegance is dispelled by putting the motives from different contexts abruptly. The indubitable modernity and a kind of surrealist fantasy stand out in the same way.
  On the spiritual level, Jianmin's works may be closer to the art of Paul Nash(1889—1941)and Max Ernst(1891—1976), which is the "Apocalyptic landscape" never found in traditional Chinese painting. Differing from the western works, there is a kind of pathos and poetry instead of tragic scenes like doomsday or war. But, beside the difference on surface, both of them have dramatic power in revealing confrontation between civilization and barbarism, as well as the cruelty and absurdity of the historical process.
  Jiamin's works make me think of In an Autumn Garden of Takemitsu Toru: Silence. Two clicks of wooden clapper. Ten seconds stop. Then, the bamboo flute and tartar pipe play suddenly. The squeal sound continues for long, no clear direction, and fell silent in the end again.
  This piece, called new gagaku, is not only the echo of Japan court music in Heian period, but also avant-garde experimental music work.
In a comparable sense, Jianmin's works may declare a new direction of Chinese contemporary art. We met and talked for many times, but he never spoke any framework proposition about "art". For the nature of forthright and sincere, he responded the call of classical tradition; based on the deep understanding, he expressed the serious rational thinking. Between classical and modern, Jianmin opens up his own art.

Translated by Liu Xiaoqian

Works / 作品欣賞


156x78cm  ink and colour on silk 2016


180x360cm  ink and colour on silk 2016


206x158cm ink and colour on silk 2016


117x158cm  ink and colour on silk 2016


117x158cm  ink and colour on silk 2016


125x195cm  ink and colour on silk 2017


190x190cm  ink and colour on silk 2016


207x158cm  ink and colour on silk 2016


156x96cm  ink and colour on silk 2016


88x71.5cm  ink and colour on silk 2016