Popular But Rafind
Lang Chengwens New Traditional Paintings
Mr.Lang Chengwen,more often than not,affixesAh Wenashissignature to his paintings.The name of Ah Wen is so common and popular that it comes out of the mouth very easily.Though seemingly commonplace,the name becomes at once popular and elegant on careful reading;the elegance lies in the characterWen(refined). Usually,What followsAhforapersons nickname would be something likeearth,grain,androot,and the character,Wenis really out of the common run.WhenAhis followed byWen,the nameAh Wenconstitutes a combination of popularity and refinement.
Looking at Ah Wens paintings,one gets the feeling that they seem to be familiar and yet they have never been seen before.Familiar or unfamiliar? popular or refined? Just like the name of the artist,the paintings are both popular and refined.Studying them over and over again. one realizes the subtlety Of his paintings：novelty grows out of familiarty,and elegance is embodied in popularity.Ah Wens works of art have gone through a process of refining the traditional,which has brought him success in breaking away from the beaten track.
The traditional Chinese painting is an art of imagery which focuses on revealing the artists inner heart and expressing his rational leanings instead of imitating nature.Like the characters in Chinese calligraphy,the imagery in the painting is a symbol suited for expounding extreme generality and abstractness.accompanying the symbol of imagery is the traditional formula of expression technique.Masters of ancient times created imagery in their hearts along With their own formulas,which differ from one another and are full of vitality.The traditional Chinese painting has alwayS been a refined art since its advent.Most of the later painters were accustomed to copying the formulas of ancient master and turned the lattersrefined art into a set pattern.Every painter draws mountain peaks in the same manner;all of them bacome infatuated with the formulas.They either imitated Wu Changshuos style or copied Huang Binhongs formula;their paintings were stereotyped and very much alike.When such paintings ran rampant,the elegant type no longer had any elegance,and the vulgar type bacame all the more vulgar.Ecen traditional Chinese paintings of madern times were caught in the whirpool of vulgar and declining formulas without making any headway in pyrsuing either pursuing either popularity or elegance.Like contemporary artists of insight,Ah Wen aspires to create something new and original and achieve his own identity ao as to build up a new imagery,new style and new formula of his own based on the heritage of the refined art.
Some people have said that Ah Wen used to paint landscape but has now taken to figure painting.To my knowledge,what Ah Wen painted befor was confined to pure landscape:his earlier paintings included dwellings,narrow paths,villages on the river,temple fairs,door-gods,veranda eaves,young ladies,and what not while his figure paintings of today also abound in boats,mahogany furnture,windows decorated with papercut,antiques and curios,cats,fish thanks,dressing table,flowing water,and green hills.Against this backdrop dot one or two nude women whose foreheads remain unpainted,which form an organic part of his paintings.Those figures are no longer mere portraits,mere characters in a story,or beautiful women in the style of the traditional Chinese painting;they are modern genre paintings which do not adhere to the fad,To put it precisely,Ah Wen,having broken away from the obsoleta convention and formulas of the traditional Chinese painting long ago,paints what he is familiar with and what he wants to create with ease:to lay bare the pure and sincere heart of an artist.Focusing his attention all the time on tradition and on the folk customs and habits of his native land,he relates in an elegant manner the leisurely life,magnanimous feeling,and harmonious atmoaphere there:women washing and dressing up,watchingat leisure,lost in deep thought,shpping,enjoying the cool in the open air,playing a stringed musical instrument,going boating on the lake,reading,playing chess,playing ona swing,flying a kite,watching goldfish,and so on.These trivialities of life appear to be so enjoyable and tasteful under Ah Wens painting brush.In his paintings,the exquisitely executed scenes and objests include countryside dwellings,folk papercut,embroidered pouches,windmills,clay figurines,and curtain and canopy patterns characteristic of the cultural flavor of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.His paintings are just like a folk custom museum packed with folk arts and crafts.
The content of Ah Wens paintings is familiar daily life of folk custom .Artistically,he adopts the traditional technique of sketching the contours by middle stroke and painting plainly in single line,thus giving his creation astrong plane decorative effect and oriental flavor,The layout and compositon usually consist of several symbolic scenes and pieces of stage property.When the actress enters into the spirit of a character,the drama begins.This is very much like Chinese local peras,concise and novel,and easy to understand.He has obviously absorbed folk art coloring in his use of colors.The arrangement of big patches of red and green,black and white gives his paintings a clear atmosphere of freshness and liveliness,simpleness and strong appeal.Ah Wens paintings are chinese paintings both in content and form,which seem to be familiar to the audience.
But Ah Wens paintings constitute an entirely new genre of Chinese paintings.In theae seemingly familiar paintings,one has not yet met with such uniqueness in the depth.The traditional intrinsic patterns are dissolved,and modern artistic techniques can be found everywhere in his paintings.they abound in boldly distorted objects,unthinkable omission,and mystical overlapping and misplacement.Throughout the paintings laws of modern composition are applied to dissect and divide objects to form new combinations:the foreheads of nude women are invariably unfinished,who turn round their face,squeezing one of her breasts out of the armpit;a young girl who is oaring a boat almost leans her whole body to the cencter of the water;the interior of a house looks like an outskirt,while the scene outsideoutside the wall seems to be a courtyard;the bathroom and the open air are separated by a mere simple and crude screen;the windoe of this house is the wall of the neighboring house;standing on her feet on the ground floor,a nude woman leans her body on the railing of the next floor;a row of carved antique doors of the hall,which have no crossbeam on the top,open to a view of a big red-painted round table;the sunny shelter where nude women spend their leisure are but a few lines,which is floating in the high sky together with the lawn;etc.However,all these unreasonable and unstable factors appear to be in place in Ah Wens paintings;the seemingly absurd is actually real.The nude woman without forehead looks lovely and is absorbed in a train od though.Against the incomplete background,she is so complete and in confomity:the round arclike line of the nude woman integrated with the square straight line of the background and the plain colcr of the nude woman mixed with the rich colors of the background are harmonized in mutual setting out.Art is not storytelling nor plot unfolding.The structure of Ah Wen s art is to create a modern atmosphere,a cutural flavor of folk leisure.He used modern ideas to manipulate,to manipulate, deploy and group the figures and objects in his paintings,so that they become indispensable and unalterable images for forming a specific atmosphere.The transposition,combination and fission of these images are necessary for the overall atmosphere,so as to rationalize the art and reveal the new patterns which are at once abstruse and understandable.This is the course that Ah Wen has taken to constantly refine Chinese paintings of the teaditongal style.
Interestingly,this course is often not easily discernable;this is precisely where Ah Wenssuccess lies.He instils the vocabulary of modern art deep into the tradition and lets it manifest itself indistinctly,which makes his paintings seemingly traditonal or popular but actually very modern or refined.This is Ah Wens new formula of imagery,both popular and refined.To put his style in one word,I might call itNeotraditionalism.
Written in Discerning Hall,Hangzhou March 10,1994