Mirrors of the Heart – Xiong Yu Solo Exhibition 2011
These are two particular features that have emerged in Xiong Yu’s recent works. They have a classical feeling to them, though the artist has not gotten stuck in a rigid classical pattern. The second feature is a continuance of his past work with staged atmospheres, but he breathes life into the plot’s visuals.
Images of angels are still Xiong Yu’s theme, and now the angels have come down to live amongst us. This is not a fresh subject, and it risks falling into a traditional Chinese realistic style; for example, sketches of workers manifest an artist’s skill, and do not bring the essence of the work to a new level. Xiong Yu, however, has developed highly characterized roles, and in order not to let his works fall into mediocrity, he brings the focus of the vision back to a classical portrait style. Through his own expertise in the language of human figures, he analyzes the inertia of classical painting, and though he retains the refined ambience of classicism in his new works, the realistic interpretation of modern art is more prominent. Reversing time and space, making memory babble and flow over the canvas, he tells us that even though angels have seen the evils of the world, they can still embrace a peaceful grace.
Xiong Yu brings the heavenly angels of our imaginations down to an earthly existence, but he still holds tightly to the distance that should be maintained between angels and man. The meticulous lines and soft color narrate scene as in a classical painting; in the canvas’ time and space we can feel a reality that has been pulled open and memory that has slowly been put in motion. People who are familiar with Xiong Yu’s art know his ability to isolate his figures from reality, culminating in an emergence of a kind of imagination that transcends reality. With the computers and cartoons of the new era, this kind of characteristic is a common method of expression for young artists. But Xiong Yu uses the artistic expression most pleasing to himself, and he uses refined brushstrokes in place of the many details of his older works. In his new works, the density that the canvas emits doesn’t need excessive narration or elaboration – we can immediately see the difference between his new classical vibrancy and stiff portraits.
Coming from our realistic world, we might not be very clear about what angels really look like. Painting angels is a kind of living; belief in angels is a kind of faith. Xiong Yu places angels in our world because, I think , reality has caused him to despair. But he has never despaired of humans or failed to press on. These angels can impede, they can become tired, but Xiong Yu’s angels remain in this city. And all along, they have been peacefully repulsing the glamour of reality.
Xiong Yu’s painting exhibition now on [China.org.cn]
By Ren Zhongxi
China.org.cn, December 22, 2009
Young Chinese artist Xiong Yu, known for his use of big eyes to depict the transition from youth to adulthood, has a new solo exhibition out at the Pifo New Art Gallery. He talks about his latest works themed “Angel in City” and his attitude towards life in an exclusive interview with China.org.cn.
“Angel in City” departs from Xiong’s previous works in “Running on Tranquility” (2006) and “Tarot” (2008), which reflected more a state of mind and Xiong’s attitude toward the world. Despite the ethereal title, Xiong’s subjects in “Angel” are closer to specific aspects of life.
“‘Angel’ represents dream and ‘city’ represents reality,” Xiong says. “What I want to show is the struggle between dream and reality.”
Xiong’s paintings feature everyday people in what he calls a “very unrealistic environment.” To create a sharp contrast with the ordinariness of daily life, he dressed them up and gave them a pretty appearance.
Xiong kept their wings small, though, to reflect how people’s dreams are rather inconspicuous but still hinted at in their actions. “You’ll seldom see someone screaming his dream out but you can still feel it in everything he does,” Xiong says. “The dream is actually hidden in reality, and it will emerge occasionally.”
The Angel paintings are replete with recurring imagery of things people use to help them stay strong. Horses are a prominent object, symbolizing the kind of power people can rely on when they feel tired and helpless. Rope signifies the tension between humans and power.
“When you get help, there’s hope,” Xiong says. “But when you really hold it in hand, it becomes a strength controlling you.”
Xiong says his Angel works reflect changes in his own life as well. After establishing himself as a respectable artist, he now has to meet people’s higher expectations. “I also have a lot of responsibilities and numerous roles to play in life,” he says. “So the subject of my works changed.”
Xiong is also curator of the Art Museum of Sichuan University and has hosted several art exhibitions to introduce new art forms and promote culture. When the museum first opened, people dared not enter, but now it has plenty of casual visitors, Xiong says.
“It takes time to educate…the reality shows that it works.”
Hi Art = Hi Xiong Yu = Xiong
Hi: As for the big eyes, what is your initial idea?
Xiong: At that time I just want to create a pure person, neither man or woman, who could live in different situations, make a consideration quietly and enjoy his private space. I have two kinds of feeling at that time: one feeling is that I hope the person in the painting could have a vital strength. I like to exaggerate person’s hand and joint like now. Besides, I like eye communication, so I paint big eyes just like a gaze. The eye is blue, because I feel blue is a clear color and I hope his eye could bring us a feeling of clear. Have you seen Picasso’s “Women Running on the Beach”?
Hi: Yes, I am so surprised about that painting. Because I thought it was a big painting when I saw it in the painting album at the first time. But it is too small with width about 30 cm when I saw the original one in Picasso Art Museum.
Xiong: I also thought it was a big painting at one time. If he painted the body into a common shape, it would not give us a feeling like this kind completely. He exaggerated the shape so that the vitality and the gladness of life could flow out of the painting, and then you felt the small canvas could not contain the painting. However, I want to say why the painting appears this kind of feeling just because he exaggerated what he interested.
Hi: Finally, you decided the pattern of the eyes in your painting-Long Eyelash. I feel there is some flavor of cosmetics in your earlier paintings, and I feel better about this time. What do you think?
Xiong: A flavor of cosmetics? I do not have this kind of feeling. I think the eye would become more limpid. Like what I have said just now, the character with uncertain gender has vitality, limpid eyes for communication and stays in a quiet place. Keeping in original is not my main motivation absolutely, so his eyes change gradually not always have long eyelash. I pay much more attention to the feeling of the whole painting. Sometimes I would add it at last, including the gloom in an eye you just mentioned. I would not seek for that purposely, and I have this feeling all round in my painting days, maybe there is something relates the environment here.
Hi: Your second solo exhibition is about Tarot Cards, what is your inspiration from Tarot?
Xiong: At first, everyone tells me that using Tarot Cards to make fortune-telling is so accurate. One friend of mine from Shanghai is a painter of two-dimensional cartoons, and he is very tired for painting dozens of sheets or hundreds of sheets one day. He likes it very much. He gives a fortune-telling about marriage and social jobs. It is very accurate, so I feel that is very mysterious. He give me to see an authentic series, I feel it is a complete system of world view, so I want to draw it out. I began to paint in 2005, but interrupted after paining more than ten pieces.
Hi: What happened in this process?
Xiong: It was a big lesson for me. Sometimes, it would not be a good thing if you influenced by the surroundings when you were creating. After I painted more than ten pieces, I forgot what I had to do in Beijing. And then my mind changed after I came back. I felt something wrong with that work when look back, which was not the work what I wanted.
Hi: What happened?
Xiong: Nothing happened. That is to say, you would find the feel conveyed by the work is not the one you want at the beginning, you would think it is too simple, superficial and flowery, and then you would turn over it and do it again. Meanwhile, you would be so tired for the heavily workload. When I painted Tarot again, I learnt the lesson before. In this period, an exhibition in Korea opened and invited me to come, I didn’t go. And then, China Blue Gallery contacted a solo exhibition in Shanghai Art Museum, I gave up again. I told them I hadn’t finished my works, and others thought it was so pity for giving up this opportunity. I think different people have different perspectives. There is a state of continuance when you are creating, that is the reason why I told you. It would be interrupted when you do something in the half way. Chen Conglin told me that he also has this experience. When he was in Germany, he painted the crowd of funeral and wedding, it is a big painting. In this period, Kassel Documentation Exhibition invited him to take part in, but he refused. He painted for several years for that painting. Afterwards, I asked him why he paint a painting in several years. He told me his mind changed and he depended on his insistence to finish that painting. I think painting just likes that, you would be the genius at the beginning and the end, but it is persistence in the painting process. You have painted it in the basic level for a long time, such as painting pigment for one time or two times, but that was not what you wanted at that time. You needed to adjust it for a long time at last.
Once you stopped in a half way, the producing process would stay here without your own inspiration and gift at all. Meanwhile, you would find there is neither rhyme nor reason, just wasting your time. Because your mind was changed, a young man could be influenced by the new things every day, maybe your mind would be changed a lot one year later, but your mind would not be changed when you are doing that. You should think no matter how the outcome would be, people support or not, you must put much of your energy into it. It is a part of ladder on your life road or a commitment decided before, you must finish it, that’s it. That is the reason why I dared not to do at that time, and I was not sure whether I had sufficient energy and time to finish it or not.
Hi: Your painting, “Tarot”, big arcana of 22 pieces, Jung said that it contained almost all of the types and the human situations as well as the behavior of the sub-consciousness, but you said it represents your view of the world, how can you explain that?
Xiong: That is the case. I make my own interpretation in the framework of this human commonness, it related with my living experience, and your construction of image would show a personal appearance of your understanding of this matter. Such as “Devil”, when I paint it at my first time, the devil held its mask in his hand, after he put on the mask, he would be the devil. That is to say, I think people always have a little bit of goodwill. However, in the following year, I think he has some manipulation of the mask in his hand when I re-painted, maybe my view at that time was a little bit heavy, so I painted the hue more plainly. All the cards must have a bit change and stress to express my view of the world.
Hi: These “Tarot” paintings are connected one by one to exhibit and the space is also designed. Where is your idea from?
Xiong: As for painting Tarot, I was hold back for a long time, and then let go suddenly. I made the black and white wall in our art Museum in February this year, I felt so relax after finishing, and then I went to do my experimentation. For instance, I think it has a space atmosphere when I see the Tarot cards. You want it to be classical and attractive; in fact, it has a little bit difficult if you want both of them. And then I let this kind of idea go. I try to do some creation for extending the space and let the audience go to a strange space when I begin to exhibit the Tarot. I could use a way of wall or projection to do that, not necessarily to get it through painting, contrarily, I could express the emotion more delicate in the painting. At that time, I didn’t care the painting was big or small. Maybe I would paint a small painting to show a clear atmosphere. I made four spaces at that time, each space had different feeling. It is a way of my experimental creation and I do not think it is accurate but a new exploration at least.
Hi: Do you want to sell them in a whole or?
Xiong: Yes, it is must be a whole to sell Tarot. Because I think it is a whole work. Most audience will not see it like that, they think one work is one piece.
Hi: Each exhibition just likes your summarization in one period and is also a new start point of you. Is there any change in the preparing process of this exhibition after “Tarot”?
Xiong: Afterward, I want to pay attention to some concrete people and things. Because I begin to have the occupation of curator of the Art Museum of Sichuan University since 2005, you will have a kind of responsibility when you have this status. I think the things I talked about in the front are very pleasant such as world view and experimentation. I liked that kind of conceptions better when I created in my early times. However, this exhibition “Angel in City” exhibits my feelings after I have social identity. Every character in the painting has identity, such as craftsman or water staff. I like the kind of healthy, viable subject, so I choose manual workers.
Hi: But these people, such as craftsmen with wings on their backs look so weak and hard to fly, why do you do like that?
Xiong: Wings indicate his angel identity. But he gets weak compares with my early paintings. Even though he does this job, he may have some other ideas. That is the feeling I want to express. Everyone has his own ideality, but one will give up his ideality sometimes in his real life, even if an angel. But I think people with real identities would have their ideal wings, they would not give up certain things sometimes.
Uncertainty of after-70s
Xiong: As for this painting, how to say? This is “World beneath Clouds”, and they look like……
Hi: The Special Policemen of Chengdu?
Xiong: The Special Policemen of Chengdu are not so cool.
Hi: Yesterday I saw a magazine wrote about them.
Xiong: The Special Policemen of Chengdu are not so cool, and they do not wear so well.
Hi: It is real. Maybe you didn’t see the Special Policeman of Chengdu on the street. However, the rapid development of their advanced equipment is beyond our imagination.
Xiong: So cool?
Hi: The hats they wear are the same as your painting, including women’s.
Xiong: I didn’t see. Actually, what I paint is not according to the policeman as you said. I just want their apparel give us less hint, even if we can say they like policeman.
Hi: In this painting, they are around a person who looks like an angel in the middle. The angel seems too weak.
Xiong: Yes. You can say these people want to protect him or catch him.
Hi: I feel many young artists always like to make amphibolies expressions, and the expression is too amphibolies. This attitude doesn’t make me enjoyable sometimes. Furthermore, you should not complain that the audience has such expectation of you. Because you are painting a devoting into social world, not a getting out, even more, this will lead people to think the painter are in a state out of handling.
Xiong: The whole lifestyle is flat for after-70s and I think my painting is clearer than before. Because I think my attitude becomes clearer after having a profession. My teacher told me that I should let my paintings become more expressive and effective or make the paintings have more effect. But I didn’t like to paint in this way at that time. Because you would feel the paintings are fake if you paint in this way.
Hi: As a matter of fact, I doubt my question when I ask you, or I can say, art should not cling to the state of possess or not.
Xiong: Look, you are also amphibolies.
Hi: People after 1970 are incurable.
Xiong: I don’t think so. People change gradually. For example, if you have kids or your relative dies or you have an occupation in the society, your attitude will change gradually. You will learn more from the society when you are forty years old. It is my feeling from the book “The Important Thing is not Art” of Lao Li. He wrote the anterior articles so academic, including the contents of traditional Chinese painting and ink. You will find his attitude is not so obvious at that time and he talked about the problems of techniques all the times. He indicated his attitude in the article of “The Important Thing is not Art”. Whether it is an art or not is not important, the important thing is the emancipation of mind, and it happens with the passage of time.
It may accumulate for over ten years, which was the reason I wanted to create at that time. Maybe you will accord with your own interest to do it theme by theme, but it may not be what you want to say. However, when you have much more experience in some degree and you make a small exhibition, you will feel you are saying all the words clearly.
Hi: Is there any joint behind different themes?
Xiong: Of course, I pay much attention to the states of people behind different themes. My first solo exhibition “Running on Tranquilly” is much more direct. I have much feeling to express one’s state, but I am not sure. I have certain attitude at the period of “Tarot”, but it is also an extensive creation with big conception. This exhibition is clearer, a feeling after people afford a responsibility of society.
Hi: You just said you had many directions after “Tarot”, what were they?
Xiong: I have just said the extension of space was an exploration of mine. I do not want to express what kind of feeling it is. I have been thinking about this theme a period ago, just liking a feeling of “all-forging-steel”. For myself, I think “all-forging-steel” is idealism despite someone would think it is a failure. I want to understand this problem through painting wall again to express the idealism in my eyes, actually, I want to use the whole space to finish this feeling. Recently, I want to make a huge projection and I just solve all the problems in technique. However, the hired machine will cost 100,000RMB one day and I need to apply for that in the city. I also made a work of helmet which is a mask of welder. As a matter of fact, many masks are not protective. He watches the electronic welding everyday. It seems that he is well apparently because mask prevents the light, but actually it is bad for his vision. It has two sides, protective and hurtful. Now I also want to make the soul of human in goods. For example, you use this cup everyday, and you will find it is an important thing for you after using for ten years. Because there is your flavor on it, and I try to express this feeling. But it is impossible for you to paint on it. Now I am so puzzled that I do not know how to do concretely.
As the Curator of Art Museum
Hi: Do you have any experience as a curator of Art Museum?
Xiong: Now many Medias pay attention the development of Art Museum, which is a good thing. I think the development of Art Museum is difficult for us in Chengdu. All of the staffs here are volunteers without salary, including my students and me. All of us are working depending on our passion and lacking of economic support. The Art museums in China always like that, he thinks it’s over after finishing the space. And he will not think about the following things, just let you to take over it and you ask him for money, and then he feels why you ask for more money.
Hi: Have you ever thought of abdicate the curator of Art Museum?
Xiong: Sometimes it would be a responsibility, you would be wrapped in. At the beginning, I just wanted to cultivate students’ ability and had a better academia. I would be simple if you thought in this way, but I found I should put more things into that afterward. At first, there are only three people, two volunteers of student and I, and then so many students took part in, now it become bigger and bigger. When they see you, they believe you are the core of them. If your emotion turndown one day, they wouldn’t know how to do. Students are full of passion, they will grow up and have many things to do, and then they will have many responsibilities. It is a circulation. Therefore, I think it’s better for you not to share your idea with others if you do not prepare well. If you tell someone, you would need to fulfill your word and then become involuntarily.
Hi: And then as a lecturer in the department of oil painting?
Xiong: Comparatively, I put less energy in teaching, more in the Art Museum. I pay much more attention to the training in the Art Museum. The activities of Art Museum can influence more people. For example, now the volunteers of our Art Museum are from different specialties, some of them don’t learn art.
Hi: Do you feel busy with so many identities?
Xiong: Now I feel implementation is very important. Especially as an artist with a comprehensive identity, implementation becomes more important. Many of my students, who stay with me for several years from undergraduate to graduate, are on the right path. For example, some of students could make an exhibition independently. Now I do nothing in the exhibition, just tell him to deal with it and he can finish it. Although I paint many works this year, actually the paintings become more pure. Because I do not have to do many things, the team will help you to do that, and you have much more time to think of your paintings. That is the effect by grinding for several years.
Xiong Yu grows up in his work.
In 2006, Xiong Yu acomplished the work named “Portrait in the Woods-No.2”,which was rarely commented. However, it should have two different kinds of symbols in the creating period of “Running of Tranquilly”. First, dyeing techniques similar with ink [in his new work in 2009, he found a representation to make his technique more syncretic with classic style]. Second, it can be regarded as classic representation in Xiong Yu’s youth. The method of painting pressing and washing can be seen in the silhouette treatment of white flowers on the foreground and plants on the background. Therefore, space will not show a kind of unprovoked agitation with the motives of branches of the plants. Especially, the description of Character in the painting and complete inconsideration of future. In this work, it is deduced briskly that lives absolutely have no experience of community, by the expression of character’s eyes and layout of the scene. In 2009, in a work named “worker”, Xiong Yu no longer lets outside to fide or sniff the life atmosphere of elegant fantasy of the past. In this work of Xiong Yu, firstly, the expatiation of color is no longer a simple black and white melody as before. He let protagonist’s clothes on the painting have a different color. Space is also changed – protagonist steps out of the woods and waterscape where he used to indulge in, exposes in interior space of a factory. Oppressive and embarrassing feelings are obvious in the atmosphere. Protagonist holds a shovel in the hands, the high collar of the clothes was pulled to cover nose and mouth. The large plant is drooped that, on the faces of the protagonist, only eyes are exposed. If you watch carefully, it should be found that Xiong Yu no longer endue character in painting with pure and clear expression in their eyes, instead, with a pair of slightly depressed eyes can’t say a word although with wishing.
From self-imagined extendity to self-identity, in 2009, there has been big change in Xiong Yu’s creation. I would position the creation of Xiong Yu at a period of development of live consciousness. Firstly, Xiong Yu let characters in the painting no longer have the expression of yearning dream as in his former works. Xiong Yu started to add the so-called social role identification symbols to the characters. He let character dress and other small accessories implicate character’s identity in work [or life]. Secondly, gender has become more and more clear, no longer appears neutral mostly like the past. Thirdly, Xiong Yu takes his characters away from the traditional luxuriant woods or river. The working space in reality and living place become the character’s main presence field.
If the plastic like black dress and water forest space deducted by Xiong Yu in the past is the protection color he constructed, the scene presented in the latest work completely removes these protective colors. Xiong Yu still emotinally attached to the role of angels in his works. Just that, angel has been in this city, strike to confront a turbulent life, no longer dodge in the comfortable environment, and no longer afraid that the white wings will be dirtied.
Xiong Yu’s attempts at creative expression are, of course, related to the experiences and feelings accumulated in work and life in these years. The earthquake in 2008 most apparently changed the attitude to live and oneself of people in Sichuan province. Dreams that have been realized, or about to realize, or in constructing status were completely pushed to the earth surface from peaceful life, and turned into flying dust, by a burst of shaking. Xiong Yu saw the original convention of environment was suddenly deformed and twisted, but life was so fragile that there was no resistance and parry at all. Unexpected changes in the large environment and warming sign of family health reminded Xiong Yu that life and living can not remain unchanged forever.
Moreover, in recent years which exhibitions in different regions, Xiong Yu’s vision was thereby broadened, and following that, heart was naturally open. In school work, from the beginning of anything-undone to joining of students later, Xiong Yu changed from pure artist to art manager and organizer. The breadth of interpersonal relationships had been widening. At the same time he had the opportunity to realize the levels and ever-changing of depth interpersonal relationships. Theses very simple contents of life were indeed a process for Xiong Yu, and experience unlike his former quiet life.
There are two characteristics fully demonstrated in Xiong Yu’s new work. First, classical rhythm doesn’t fall into the rigid structure of classical paintings. Second, he makes the dramatic vision flow with breathing by continuing the stage context atmosphere he had ever attempted in the past.
In the works of “Craftsman” and “Steeling-making Man”, Xiong Yu lets the angels be the workers in the secular world and the pattern of clothes is regarded as a way to identify identities. However, Xiong Yu doesn’t have any nostalgia for the situations in which traditional Chinese realistic paintings pats a tribute to the workers. Workers in the painting of these two works are given an absolutely accurate exquisite and elegance. That is to say, on the one hand, Xiong Yu lets the other-worldly angel be the living man in the real environment, but he also keeps the distance between angel and human tightly. Xiong Yu lays out a painting which looks like we appreciate the classical characters through the fine brushwork and soft color and lustre, and we can feel the reality is pushed away and memory is activated from the space of painting. People who are familiar with Xiong Yu’s art should know clearly that he is good at separating the characters in the painting and the real space, showing a surreal imagination.
We probably really do not know how an angel likes exactly in terms of a real situation and environment. However, painting angels can be regarded as a technique for making a living, believing in angels is a sort of belief. I think the reason why Xiong Yu puts the role of angel into the living life just because he is so disappointed with the reality, but he has never been disappointed with people and given up himself. Therefore, angels will be contained, exhausted, tired, and… However, after all we see Xiong Yu’s angels are still staying in this city. Furthermore, they are facing the hurly-burly environment quietly from the beginning to the end.
Xiong Yu is painting angels in this city. Xiong Yu is also expressing himself, isn’t he?