Familiarization and Strangeness
Tang Weimins paintings remind us of a feeling both familiar and strange. People would easily classify his painting into the Tibetan subject. There are quite a few oil painters who have gained their success through Tibetan subject, which makes this subject no more strange among the creation of contemporary Chinese oil painting, despite of the fact that there is rare painters or viewers who are truly familiar with the real Tibetan life. In other words, it is the huge amount of oil paintings with Tibetan subject that make people to become familiar with the remote Tibetan life. In order to let their works look like original representation of the local life, some painters would go deep into the Tibetan district to do sketches or pretend to get involved into their life. However, Tang Weimin never disguises the fictionalized feature of his works. The Tibetan girls in his painting are more like court ladies living in the palace for long instead of the real Tibetans who have been through the vicissitudes of life. Even he paints Tibetan girls in real life, their repeated presence has dispelled the alienation towards Tibetan girls for the audience. Since the audience is not really familiar with the real Tibetan life, Tang Weimin could get the chance to paly the game between familiarization and strangeness freely. His painting could therefore jump in and out unrestrained from the real life, driving the audience up and down between the mental reality and fantasy, acquiring a kind of visual and psychological pleasure.
As a matter of fact, ever since the popularization of camera, it is no longer important for painting to record reality in sincerity. Nobody would be that crazy to take a painting of someone doing something as evidence in court, no matter how realistic the painting is, while on the other hand, a photo that is even not so clear could work. The difference between painting and photography could be underlined from this case. No one would take painting seriously as records. If painting must be records of life, perhaps most painters could not succeed in this task. As a result, it is not important for Tang whoever the figure is in his paintings, nor is the significance of the particular costume on that figure. What really matters is with everything matched together, whether he could convey the feelings he wishes to achieve, such as elegance, dignity, mystique. In this sense, although Tangs works seem to be realistic at first glance, they in fact carry the projection of Romanticism or Expressionism. Or, we can say that Tang is pursuing the effects of music with paintings. At surface, he paints figurative person, but indeed he goes for the abstract tones in music. Just because of the distinguished sense or tone, Tangs Tibetan paintings would be able to stand out from the massive resemble subjects, which is similar to the case that Mozart and Beethoven would compose in different styles in the same genre of serenade. Tang is so determined to work on the subject that everyone is familiar with. The reason is exactly due to his firm belief that the meanings he expresses are different from anyone else, and his emotional tone has characteristics, even within the same subject matter. Therefore, he would not have to concern the issue of similarity.
The de-familiarization of Tangs works lies in their distinct spiritual disposition and emotional tone. They belong to both his works and the painter himself, particularly evident in the familiar subject matter. For example, both adopting the subject of Tibetan girl, Tangs dignity is different from Ai Xuans sentimentality. All the arrangements of canvas function to carry out the emotional tone for Tang. This emotional tone is exactly the gift that an artist is born to have, such as the ethereal quality of Li Bai, the depression of Du Fu, as well as the intangibility of Wang Wei, all of which are not be learned from simple training. To this extent, it is fairly reasonable to say that art resembles personality. The reason why that art will not run to an end only because of the exhaustion of subject matters is just due to individualized temperament of artists. As long as the personal disposition could be fully demonstrated, works that both contain familiarization and strangeness would be thus created. From this perspective, painting shares some similarity with playing music. A same piece of work would vary due to the different disposition of the players. After tough exploration, Tang finally finds his spiritual sustenance through the subject of Tibetan girl. Therefore, it is rather to say that he has created a goodness of his heart than he paints Tibetan girls from real life.
The reason why that Tang Weimin adopts the Tibetan girls as his subject matter is probably to widen the distance from reality in painting, which is similar to the case that painters used to be fond of going to the frontiers to do sketches, adopting the minority as subject in their creation of works. Nevertheless, those artists were more concerned of the distance between the minority groups and politics, while Tang focuses on the distance between Tibetan girls and the secular. He uses Tibetan girls to express his spiritual high ground, just as Schiller used to borrow the ancient Creek to convey his psychic pursuit. The figures in Tangs painting seem to be de-familiarized through his combination of unique mental pursuits and emotional quality, while the pure and simple realistic manner in the depiction of figures makes a sense of dj vu. He neither heads to the distorted expressionism for his personal emotional need, nor does he become a slave of reality for the need of realism. He seeks freedom in restrains and pursues strangeness through familiarization, which to me is the most fascinated site of Tangs painting.