After an exhibition in 2007 in Germany alongside big names of the contemporary art world such as Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman and an impressive personal exhibition at the Today Art Museum in Beijing which ended mid-May, Xia Xiaowan takes a look back on the major guidelines that have channeled his work.
Runweb: How did you become a painter?
Xia Xiaowan: When I was a child, I already liked to draw but I didn’t really have the opportunity to get training. It was not until college that I began to follow a proper education. My father found me a teacher who was a set designer and who had studied painting in Russia; hence the obvious Russian influence of my early work. My style has obviously changed since then. In college, I was able to discover many Western styles and works: the Renaissance and other Western currents left a deep impression in me.
What place does this series of glass paintings take in your work?
Xia Xiaowan: I have worked a lot on the concept of “corporality” because it interested me to question the viewers’ perception. Paintings are in two dimensions. The Western method of setting up a perspective using one focal point is a pure illusion. This 2D painting is the result of an artist’s action, whose movement is in a space. Perspective which uses a focal point is like seeing with only one eye. When we use both eyes to see, this way of doing things does not work anymore. Hence my interest in creating spatial paintings, that don’t resort to geometric perspective.
When did you get the idea to create your first spatial paintings?
Xia Xiaowan: In 2003, I decided to go in new direction. Before that date, I stopped oil painting for two years to devote myself exclusively to sketches. I wanted to return to the essence of painting. In October 2003, I exhibited my sketches at the Today Art Gallery and that is where, working in this vast empty space, I wondered about the introduction of spatiality into paintings.
Has your experience as a teacher at the Beijing Academy of Dramatic Arts influenced your art of setting?
Xia Xiaowan:Yes, there is an influence; because I see theater every day and I am myself a designer. But my inspiration comes mainly from my desire to transform a 2D space into a real space. By the way, until recently, my theatrical sets were decorated in the traditional sense. For my latest creation, the Ming Dynasties, a play inspired by one of Shakespeare’s, I used this technique of painting on transparent surfaces and overlaying them. This adaptation will be played next October at the new National Peking Opera.
What do you think of contemporary artistic creation?
Xia Xiaowan:The current development of arts in China depends on the country’s economic growth. But Chinese artists must keep in mind that if their works are only created as goods, their impact will remain very limited. They must first and foremost claim their artistic identity. The mistake would be to follow a trend simply for commercial gain. As for contemporary Western art, I rarely get a chance to travel, so I see very little works up close and outside of reporting. My view is probably not very precise. Although I can see a common trend in Western art and Oriental art. The public no longer needs to have extensive knowledge of art history to understand the works; it is more of an instinctive understanding. Duchamp is the source of this renewal in art. Before him, art was focused on literal illustration. But after him, the whole system was restructured.I will continue my work on glass, but I’ll stop painting landscapes to concentrate more on works on the body.