At the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, I saw a painting by Jan Brueghel titled Vase of Flowers with Jewel, Coins & Shells. At that moment, what I saw was not the exquisite colors, nor did I notice that there were shells, coins, or jewelry in the painting, I saw an aura in which the flowers blossomed magically.
In my paintings, I started inserting the "love" symbol in my series , transforming the previous conceptual language to the more painterly language. It is a process of craftsmanship: every day and each day, I layered a new color on the previous one. The colors recycled and replaced themselves on the canvas, and they each left marks on the canvas in their own ways and developed new aesthetic relations through these marks. My use of colors and these floral patterns are not an imitation of the nature; instead, it is a depiction of emotions and imagination.
I am obsessed with the color gold. I think it comes from my pursuit of light. In the golden series, one can distinguish many refined layers. At the beginning, my eyes would hurt after staring at the golden canvas for so long. It was exactly the kind of delirium that I was looking for. It seemed as if I arrived at a deeper rim of the light, and I got used to it and became capable of working on it for an extended period of time.
I got to my studio every day, and Saturdays and Sundays are my most productive time. I think about my grandfather often when I work. During my early childhood, I lived with my grandparents. My grandfather would make wooden furniture himself and decorated them with carved flowers. He worked on this at night after he came back from his day job at the factory. He meticulously mixed chemicals to make an adherent, which smelled like resin then used the adherent to stick the flowers on the wooden furniture. The last step was to paint over the furniture. He had a room full of tools, and all the tools were organized tidily. I still dream about that room, and all the carving knives of different sizes hung on the wall, all kinds of saws, and the nails in the boxes. I think I am becoming more and more like my grandfather, with his intensity and determination. Later on I found out, he was also a Libra, who strives for perfectionism.
I once said that I would sing for the blue collars, and today I have become one. With my work, I have become more and more humble and softer inside. As I am more grateful for what I have, I have become more resilient as well. My daily work is repetitive, like a monk singing hymns. What must be completed today cannot be delayed till tomorrow or the day after. The goal is to advance one self and experience life earnestly.
I have been running free in the world of colors with determination, chasing the light as if it were the sun. This is very different from making music. When I was making music, my inspiration came from the moon. I wrote a song called Chasing the Moon and would always work late at night. I liked to stare at the moon absorbing information and sentiments transmitted to me by the moon. On the other hand, the sun has influenced my visual art creativity. I forgot when I started to enjoy walking in the sun, following the light.
Not long ago, I bought a Bible. I randomly flipped the book open and the first line I saw shocked me. "This is the message we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all".
IN CONVERSATION WITH DA VINCI
When I visited the library of the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Da Vinci's manuscript revealed something unsettling to me in the dim light: That the answer lie in the solitary and esoteric life, seeking light in darkness.
Da Vinci, whether it is his paintings, inventions, or his writings, everything he did has left unsolved mysteries. He is an insurmountable figure, he is a genius, and he is a craftsman who could not share his troubles with the others of his time. If I had the opportunity to talk with him, I would have many questions.
I returned to New York last fall. When I was perusing the Italian paintings and sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I took note of the repeated information about that era. Then I participated in an architecture tour group and spent two weeks in Italy. We visited about forty buildings from the Renaissance. When I stepped inside the Punta Della Dogana Museum designed by Tadao Ando, I found courage and confidence. Renaissance does not solely belong to Italy; instead, it continues to take place all around the world. Renaissance is the reawakening of self-consciousness and introspection. Every person and every artist can converse with his or her own past in a way that make sense at any time.
Upon returning to Beijing, kept searching for answers in books and stumbled upon an opportunity to converse with Da Vinci. I discovered his oil painting Portrait of a Musician of the permanent collection at the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana. In this portrait, the young musician holds a music sheet, but the notes are barely legible. I am not sure if the ambiguity was intentional or a result of time. In any case, Da Vinci left us a clue or hint for further investigation. I was very excited and this could be the beginning of my conversation with Da Vinci. I began to imagine and compose the auditory aspect of this painting. Based on the notes in the portrait, I wrote music and turned it into a turning mechanical wheel.
There are, many gear designs in Da Vinci's manuscripts, which fascinate me. They might not seem too complex by today's standard. However, this is what a pioneer and visionary have left for us.
When my father was five, his mother passed away. My father grew up with his grandfather who was a talented musician. After the Cultural Revolution, my father graduated from the technician school and was assigned to work in factories. His right shoulder was slanted due to twenty years of turning the wheels at the factory. My father enjoyed playing musical instruments and he could play six different kinds. My childhood memory consists of my father as a worker and as a musician who played on stage.
When I went to China Southern Machinery Factory to realize my project to create a gear that makes sound, I started crying when I was discussing the proposals with the technician manager. I cry easily now, as a diversion from the youthful rebellion. I do not know why I cried, and tears come with the trembling inside. I always think about the influences my family has on me, the talent and knowledge bestowed on me, the inspiring energy in my life, and how they protect me and give me wings to fly.
There was a period in my life when I found serenity from Buddhism and learned to renounce my arrogance and ignorance. I kneeled in front of the Buddha and I prayed. I prayed for the peace and safety of everyone I know, especially my family. The only wish I had for myself was forgiveness, from the people I have unintentionally hurt.
Rarely do I go to temples these days, nor is there a shrine or sanctuary in my home. The Buddha lives in my heart, in the air. The Buddha watches everything I do or say.
There is a special connection between the Bible and me. I have opened the Bible three times in my life, and each time it gave me an epiphany that I desperately needed at that moment.
My understanding about God is that he exists everywhere, amidst the universe and the nature. We just need to listen for what God tells us with a big heart and life will go, as it should.
China and Italy are two spectacular countries. There are a lot of similarities in inventions and religion between the two. Our nations have both experienced strenuous challenges to get to where we are today. The advancement of civilization is owed to the wisdom of our ancestors, but human beings have never stopped exploring further. The Internet and other new technologies have drastically changed our lives and brought us new experiences.
I saw a sculpture called Pray at the Ambrosiana Museum, and I was surprised to see that the prayer gesture is the same as the Chinese one-finger crossed at the center of the body.
I made a sculpture called Ai Pray through 3-D printing, and it is casted from my own hands in the shape of prayers. This is my salutation to technology. The development of humanity occurs with curiosity, and we must continue to create.
DIALOGUES IN MILAN
CHEN LUSHENG, Deputy Director of the National Museum of China
Milan is a diverse city. Most people think of it as a city of fashion because many luxury brands come from Milan. For those who like music, they admire the Teatro alla Scala, which has a history of 230 years, known as one of the most stunning opera houses in the world. Of course, everybody would see the Milan Cathedral. The most notable feature remains The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie, one of the few places in the world that require advanced appointments in order to visit. Visitors must come in as a group during their assigned time slot and each group has only 30 minutes. Milan is an ancient and charming city for so many reasons.
The extraordinary Leonardo da Vinci had spent the best years of his life in Milan. He had dabbled in many fields; besides his artistic talent, he was accomplished in astronomy, physics, medicine, architecture, irrigation, military, machinery, and geology. A very long and impressive resume filled his 67 years. Between age 30 and 46 (1482 – 1498), da Vinci was under patronage of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The artist established a studio in Milan with his apprentices. In 1506, da Vinci had moved back to Milan as Sforza’s power shifted back. He painted the now renowned The Last Supper at age 43 in 1495. The well-preserved ceiling fresco of Sala delle Asse at the Sforza Castle is not only a testimony to the relationship between the artist and the Duke but also an example of da Vinci’s talent. On the other hand, Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana Museum is known for the thousands of studies by da Vinci.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Milan is marked with da Vinci’s traces. Therefore, when Milan hosted the 42nd World Expo in 2015, one of the most remarkable cultural events was the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci 1452 – 1519 at the Palazzo Reale. It was called the most important da Vinci exhibition in the history. Alongside, the Sforza Castle presented an ingeniously curated exhibition complemented with new technology that unfolded the history of the Sala delle Asse and the conservation process, in addition to da Vinci’s artistic talent. It made perfect sense to fully take advantage of da Vinci’s legacy to demonstrate Milan’s charm and beauty. It was a new Renaissance in Milan in the 21st century.
The Chinese artist Ai Jing also took advantage of this rare opportunity, she brought her work and sought a way to communicate with the masterpieces at the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana Museum. Art has evolved drastically during the span of 600 years, as was Milan Expo in every aspect from what came 100 years before. Civilizations thrive because of development and diversity. Renaissance brought scientific and artistic revolutions; the Three Giants began a new chapter for European art, while on the other side of the world, the four masters from the Ming Dynasty sustained their legacy. Everything after the scientific revolution in Europe brought changes to the world, yet China faced its own tragedy as its power and influence weakened slowly. However, today, it is incredible to think about how far China has come. Just five years ago, Shanghai hosted the 41st World Expo, and many artists like Ai Jing herself have stepped outside the country and interacted with the world.
Ai Jing is an intelligent and diligent artist. Her representation of the theme love reflects a feminine sensibility and her passion. She is constantly moving forward, looking for a language that belongs to her. She has never limited herself in music, painting, installation, or any other art form. This time, she has presented her dialogues with da Vinci, Bruegel, and Micotti in variable ways. It is a very intriguing conversation on the Western masterpieces as well as Ai Jing’s work. As Western masters and a Chinese artist are put side by side, we need to surpass time and space to grasp what are their thoughts on how times have changed and how civilizations have interacted, especially the new artistic languages born out of such. With this in mind, we will hear what Ai Jing wants to say in the dialogues.
The “dialogues” that take place at the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana Museum will certainly differ from the conventional mechanism of display as works are interwoven throughout the existing exhibitions. Just as what we see at the Louvre, the Versailles, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, the contrast and interaction arisen when the new is added to the old bring a new aesthetic to the audience and the significance of a museum has been renewed with the new content. When we walk out of the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana Museum, looking up at the sky and clouds and everything around us, actual dialogues.
FLOURISHMENT AND BEARS FRUITS OF LOVE AND COOPERATION, FRIENDSHIP AND CULTURAL EXCHANGE
ALBERTO ROCCA, Director of the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana
In 1618 cardinal Federico Borromeo donated his precious collection of paintings and drawings to the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, creating the first museum of Milan. When a young cardinal in Rome, Federico Borromeo became acquainted with some of the most brilliant painters of his time. When he became archbishop of Milan, he aimed at creating a place where Truth (the Library) and Beauty (the Gallery) could be learned and admired in order to elevate men to the highest principles. Due to his great taste and knowledge, Federico Borromeo managed to collect an important number of masterpieces by Caravaggio, Tiziano, Bernardino Luini and Raphael. Furthermore, his personal friendship with the Flemish painter Jan Brueghel and the love for his manner of painting originated the exquisite collection.
The Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana immediately became very famous among scholars and art lovers so that even after the death of Federico Borromeo, paintings, manuscripts and precious books were bequeathed by illustrious people thus enlarging the collection. In this way, the gallery received, among many other very precious items, The Musician and the Codex Atlanticus by Leonardo da Vinci, the Madonna of the Pavillion by Sandro Botticelli and the wonderful paintings by Bramantino. Noteworthy to say, the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana also keeps some of the first Chinese writings arrived to Milan in the XVII century.
The collection of the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana is ancient and yet its rooms are now open to contemporary art by an eminent and well known Chinese artist. The presence of the beautiful works by Aijing in the ancient rooms of the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana is a meaningful evidence that the dialogue between East and West continues, deepens, flourishes and bears fruits of Love and cooperation, friendship and cultural exchange.
PIER FRANCESCO FUMAGALLI, Vice-Director of the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana
The harmony expressed in the artistic creations of Aijing reflects a ray of heavenly light, it invites to dialog, peace and love. This harmony enhances the hunger for beauty and happiness which always arises insatiably in men and women and which - summarized in the Confucian valour of coherence and loyalty 信 (xin) - has greater value, even in the physical nourishment and in the pure strength necessary to resist evil, according to the Confucian teaching.
Zigong asked about government. The Master said, "The requisites of government are that there be sufficient food, sufficient military equipment, and the confidence 信 (xin) of the people in their ruler." Zigong said, "If one had to dispense with one of those three, which should be given up first?" "The military equipment," said the Master. Zigong again asked, "If on had to dispense with one of the two remaining, which should be given up?" The Master answered, "Give up the food. Forever, death has always been the lot of men; but if the people have no faith 信 (xin) in their rulers, they cannot stand."
This superior nourishment of life becomes passion generating mercy and compassion towards every human being and even to all creatures and allows to perceive the universal beauty and to translate it into signs, symbols, music, words and pictures.
The meeting between two conceptions of art in Asia and in the West will contribute towards a new Renaissance and a new Humanism in which cultural, civil and aesthetic traditions will meet and fecundate each other. That is the case for artists such as Ding Fang, He Shuifa, Cui Ruzhou and Ai Jing. The exhibition in Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, on the occasion of the Expo 2015, offers a space dedicated to personal meditation and contemplation on that eagerness to love.
MELISSA IN CONVERSATION WITH AI JING
MELISSA CHIU, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
M: You are as well known for your music as your art. What inspired you to focus now on creating visual art?
A: I hope that people forget about my musical past, forget that I was once a singer, a songwriter, or a music producer. In China, musicians are not very respected; they'd think of me as some celebrity, calling us "artisans". That being said, this is not why I switched from making music to making visual art. I once said, "before you forget about me, I had already forgotten myself". I try to let go of the past and start again. My musical past is my sustenance today. I learned how to create, use lyrics, melody, and singing to express emotions. Once acquired, artistic creativity is an ability that can be applied to both music and visual art. I realized that, the main lesson of my life is "respect and love"-to learn how to communicate and understand others through respect, and to learn how to open up and sacrifice through love. That is what my name means, Ai and Jing. I have gone through more than half of my life now, and there is never enough time to do everything. When I was making music, it was a nomadic life; whereas visual art is about craftsmanship, more down to earth. It takes a long time to work in the studio performing physical labour, which can be exhausting and dirty. But I really enjoy the freedom of creating art. I believe that both music and visual art are the most elevated state of humanity. I like making art; it is a job that requires imagination.
M: What elements of your life have had the most effect on your artwork?
A: I am brave, dedicated, persistent, and a perfectionist. Last year during my solo exhibition at the China Art Palace in Shanghai, a scholar asked me after seeing the exhibition, "aren't you afraid that your work is diminished by being placed in a space that is 7.5 meters high in a museum?" For a brief moment, I did not know what to say because I never really thought about it that way. "I was just walking along the road I know…" What I meant was that when I decided to do something, I would think about how to get to that point by following my own train of thought. I will prepare my work based on the spatial conditions and maximize the work's impact. Of course, an advantage I have is that I can combine my musical and visual sensibility to pace how the exhibition progresses. During the exhibition, there was a thematic public program every weekend. For example, we did poetry reading, played music, and danced in front a work that was relevant to activity. I wanted to vitalize the conventional exhibition model and stimulate the audience. This is what I have learned from performing music on stage, to make everyone feel present and engaged. I think this is a very special way to gather energy; this kind of memory will be preserved in one's mind for a long time. This is what I care about.
M: Are your paintings with text related at all to your early music lyrics?
A: For a while, I really liked Richard Prince. We are not from the same era, nor did we grow up in the same country. But I listen to music from the 1960s and onwards which covers 40 years of the most important American and European rock music and folk music and illustrates the prosper then decline of the record industry. What I want to say is that Richard Prince was a pro, and I get his sense of humour; similarly, it was easy for me to understand Western contemporary art. In Chinese culture, literati paintings have always been trendy; I think Richard Prince is the equivalence in the West. I am used to expressing myself with words. Many of my early paintings have the symbol of love in a textual way. It is similar to expressing emotions through a song. It is not really about the composition but more about the expression.
M: You spent a good number of years living in New York, where there is a very well developed art scene. What do you think it taught you?
A: I like New York just as I like Beijing, and the feeling is like the difference between ocean and land. Inspiration floats in the air of New York, and all I had to do was to tiptoe and breathe. New York gave me an opportunity to see the world. There are so many different kinds of art and cultures. Artists push themselves to shine like a star, but no matter how brightly they shine, they will return to ordinary when the sun comes. Then you eagerly wait for the next dawn. Within the established art system in New York, I was able to absorb so much inspiration and draw conclusions about my own artistic language and goals. In New York, the big names did not scare me; instead they encouraged me. And this was the most incredible.
M: How important is colour in your work? Does it hold any symbolism for you?
A: In the earlier Chinese contemporary art, we rarely see colour; instead, there is a lot of solemn grey. This is related to our political environment; for example, the work of my teacher Zhang Xiaogang is like this. After the founding of the new China, we saw exuberant colours. At the time, the popular culture full of revolutionary passion served the politics and it was infused with loyalty, but it did not belong to the artists personally. My favourite colours have always been black and white, and my aesthetics is minimalism; I am fond of solemnity and order. After I moved back to China from New York in 2009, I wanted to challenge this and wanted to paint more colourfully. In the pursuit of colour, I discovered that it was also the pursuit of light rather than expressing colours simply. The layering of all the colours is intended to develop radiance.
M: Tell us what are the new works you've produced for this show. Do you see them as a departure from previous works?
A: The new works for the exhibition at the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana Museum are basically three dialogues with three works from the permanent collection. The first conversation is between my work Walking in the Sun and Jan Brueghel's Vase of Flowers with Jewellery, Coins, and Shells; the second is between my sound installation To da Vinci and da Vinci's Portrait of a Young Musician. Based on the illegible music sheet in his painting, I created a piece of melody. The installation is a mechanical piece made of various gears. The melody plays as the gears turn. The third conversation is between a 3-D printed sculpture modelled after my hands and Pray, a work by the Italian sculptor Ignazio Micotti. This is an itinerant exhibition. When I did my exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in 2012, I made a wish to exhibit around the world. Even though it is an itinerant exhibition, I will create works according to the cities and museums where they will exhibit. It is important to understand the country and the city's history and its culture first. I had visited Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana Museum in Milan twice to study its permanent collection in preparation for this exhibition. Then I returned to New York to revisit the Metropolitan Museum for its Renaissance collection, examining the artistic language and symbols in Italian art. I also participated in an architecture tour group to visit more than 40 Renaissance buildings in 10 days. The trip included some churches and the paintings and sculptures in there. After all the research, I came back to Beijing to prepare this exhibition Dialogues. In the future, I will work in the same way. I will have an ongoing theme with various works in place, and I will make new works based on the new exhibition location.
LIU JINGJING IN CONVERSATION WITH AI JING
LIU JINGJING: Da Vinci said something during his first Milan phase to express how he felt about setting out on the journey of art: I know it is impossible for me to find something very useful or something I like very much because those before me had already taken it all up, and I am like the last person at the market to pick at the leftovers. This pathetic person could not get anything else, so he had to pick up whatever that is left behind of little value. I will pack the discarded leftovers on my mule not to the city but to the poor villages to sell for what it can. Did you feel the same way as da Vinci when you first started painting?
AI JING: I have always felt lonely in the journey of art. It seems like the older generation had picked all the paths and have gone very far. We don’t want to pick the same paths since certain styles and expressions have exhausted themselves and can no longer stimulate. Some young artists try to be experimental and original, but they have trouble breaking boundaries. We have to think about these issues from different perspectives. I enjoy being on the edge, letting myself go without falling into any system. The older artists don’t hang out with me, and I respect everyone but I don’t really fit in. It is as if I walk by the market and hear all the vendors call out at me. I walk by all the success and failure, observing it all. I have to decide for myself which roads lead to dead ends and which ones deserve further exploring.
L: So you are a rather lonesome artist, like the film the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. It is important to keep a distance, just like you said, to let yourself go and not fit in, which takes a considerable amount of sobriety and self- reassurance. Maybe your attitude has to do with your former career as a musician; you have a different perspective and vision from visual artists.
A: Keeping distance helps one observe with objectivity. Just as appreciating a painting, a sculpture, or any other form of art, you need a distance to take in the work and its relation to the environment. I keep a distance from my environment and personal relationships as well; I enjoy the sense of unfamiliarity because the new and unknown are poetic to me. This applies to my favorite cities and family too. When I return to them after a while, there is a renewed unfamiliarity that is very special.
L: Da Vinci was known for his perfectionism and he was very meticulous towards his work. As a Libra, both you and your grandfather strive for perfection. It might be genetic but it is also a common trait among artists. But perfectionists are usually very hard on themselves, fighting with themselves in the creative process. It is also a process of searching for oneself and self-healing, maybe with a bit self- taming as well.
A: I have always been hard on myself; I used to be hard on others as well, but now just to myself. My perfectionism can be unreasonable, but most people don’t understand the fulfillment it brings. Perseverance is like breaking the sweat out in a sauna. You must endure the heat and take deep breaths to calm yourself down. When everyone doubts you and distrusts you, you must be able to endure loneliness yet strive to be different.
L: For da Vinci and his generation, “arte” means “skills”; it was associated with craftsmanship. Art has become related to more abstract and conceptual ideas now. You regard your painting as a “process of craftsmanship”. I think it is also a monastic lifestyle.
A: When I first came back from New York, I tried working with some craftsmen such as blacksmiths and stonemasons to realize some of my projects. Back then even though I respected them from the bottom of my heart, I could not connect with them mentally or comprehend their work rhythm. I spent a lot of effort and patience to learn from them and communicate with them, and I used to think that my taste was vastly different from that of the craftsmen. Now after having become a craftsman myself, I think I am their equal. We all do physical labor, and there is not much difference. The only might be that I work for my ideas whereas most craftsmen work for others’. I am not as experienced as they are so I need to be humble and continue learning. I like to do it myself. Some things have to be done by myself, and I have to put aside the useless skills first and focus on the right direction efficiently. Every day and each day, this kind of physical labor makes me more confident and stronger, and it makes me more humble.
L: I think your understanding of the nature and the humility towards art come from your feminine intuition. To put it in your own words, you are an “art psychic”, which is fascinating. I’m thinking, such psychic ability might come from your intuition partially, as well as from your training and talent in music. Therefore, your musical and artistic experiences transformed into a chance to converse with da Vinci, like the phrase “knowledge gained quietly, and talent displayed gradually” from the ancient study Wen Xin Diao Long on the theory and philosophy of Chinese culture and literature. A conversation of both subtlety and transparency happened between you and da Vinci. You turned his subtle music sheet into a legible melody. Could you talk about the details of creating music and a mechanical gear inspired by the music sheet held by the subject in Portrait of a Young Musician by da Vinci? It seems to me that you are deciphering a new da Vinci code. What is interesting is that da Vinci himself was a musician as well and he was a master of the lyre. He first appeared at the Milanese court as a musician instead of an artist.
A: I really like the sound of “knowledge gained quietly, and talent displayed gradually”. It is rhythmic, as if hitting one end of a piece of wood. The sound might vary from one to another, but it comes from the same origin. I was very excited after I had decided to base this conversation with da Vinci on Portrait of a Young Musician, and my previous fear disappeared. Da Vinci is no longer an unattainable figure or a master or an alien; he was a predecessor who had left a code, and I needed to discover what it can express. I noticed the illegible music sheet; then I had asked four classical musicians around the world to read the music. After that I very quickly composed a short melody. It was as if it was born out of itself because it happened very quickly. Da Vinci did not paint a complete music sheet, nor did I write a complete song. A friend from New York asked me why I chose to work from da Vinci’s Portrait of a Young Musician, I said, didn’t you see that there are the letters AI on the music sheet? It’s incredible.
L: Indeed, it is meant to be! Your work makes me think of Plato’s Symposium: when it comes to love itself, this is not just any object, but the ultimate object of love is Beauty itself. Your name and your work are closely associated with love, and I am very drawn to the honest and bald beauty in your work. For Plato, beauty is a concept. For artists, beauty exists between a conceptual and materialistic form. Beauty can be hallucinating, guiding someone to enter the world of an artist. Do you agree?
A: I actually never conceal my ugliness, the kind of ugliness that makes me feel at ease. There is beauty in it too. Any artistic language, whether it is musical, literal, or visual, is an emotional expression which can be dazzling and surreal. It should come from life itself. It is an artist’s responsibility to extract the complex sensibilities from life. As a result, many artists are always in an ecstatic state as they wander between illusions. I like to use a meticulous craft to deliver a simple and straightforward language whose complexity and texture can only be comprehended by those who share the same experience.
L: Marsilio Ficino, the Neo-Platonic philosopher from the 15th century, believes that beauty is accompanied with harmonious colors–each pattern differs from another but belongs to each other at the same time. Your painting expresses such aesthetic, and the layering of color resembles the detailed chiseling on a bas- relief. The symbol “love” weaves across like a code and invitation. Your painting is candid and straightforward like an innocent child.
A: Thank you so much for your generous compliments! I seek beauty and the representation of perfection. In my pursuit of colors, I discovered that the colorful expression originates from the pursuit of light. On the surface, it is a relationship of colors; in fact, it is a desire for light. The ultimate code of colorful expression is “the pursuit of light”. As a result, we can see much focus on the light in religious paintings. The obsession with light is an innate drive, as if we yearn to be back into the womb.
L: What is interesting is that, your daily life and work coincide with the ideas of Neo-Platonism from Italy, meaning the balance between an active life and a meditative mind. “All love begins with observation...For a man of thoughts, love elevates from purely visual to intellectual...for a man of actions, love stays at the visual level. Therefore, the former is known as the spiritual love; and the latter is known as the humane love.” Actions and meditation are the wings that bring the soul to a higher state. In your own statement, you mentioned “the intuition and talent injected into my blood, the precious energy concentrated in my life have always protected me and given me wings.” Da Vinci emphasizes repeatedly in his work that painting must be based on knowledge. Choosing to become a professional artist was looked down upon because people were ignorant about the connection between science and art. In fact, painting is not just craftsmanship; it is also based on pure knowledge.
A: When I first started painting lessons in Huajiadi in 1999, artists were still the equivalence of shenanigans; even today, a lot of people cannot appreciate what art brings. The acquisition of knowledge depends on daily observation and conclusion from experiences. Without the actual experiences, it cannot be completed with sheer imagination. On the connection between science and art, about 10 years ago, I wrote, “art is everything before everything.” I think the origin of civilization is the artistic imagination, including science. The drive to execute a task comes from the initial imaginations in addition to the accumulation of experiences and knowledge. I think that our knowledge is a combination of what we were born with and what we later experience in life.
L: I think you are an artist who expresses logic and reason in a sensual way. As sentimental as da Vinci was, he emphasized the importance of reason in making art. In the process of seeking understanding of the nature, he believed that the artist must be well versed in all fields. Erudition was a reflection of the Renaissance spirit. What are your thoughts on being focused and being erudite?
A: Reason comes from my suppression; I have always lived in a suppressed state. Sentimentality is a trap, and it is destructive. I usually stay away from destructive things, so I need Reason to suppress and contain. With reason it comes with one correct answer and result. It is important to be knowledgeable about many things. I used to be a professional singer and have had many different work experiences related to it. My professional training began at age 9, I studied theatre, acted in movies, I wrote songs and sang on stage as I played the guitar; I had concerts in many places in Asia, I also write–I wrote columns for Japanese and Chinese magazines. I tried many kinds of expression. I believe that the basis of doing something is to train one’s skills. Focus is about zoning in on one’s strengths, but it can be too limiting. I think it is important to be erudite, but be focused. For example, when I finished this new series Walking in the Sun, I wanted to experience the proximity to light. So I decided all of a sudden to go to Handan from Beijing then back. Within two days and 1,000 km, I made some ceramics. It felt great. I think it is not enough to stay focused on painting; I might drive myself crazy, but I haven’t let myself go enough. I will be more carefree and wild on the canvas.