王志亮 中国人民大学哲学院 博士生
A View from Outside of the World—The Great Consciousness Conveyed in Artworks of Zhang Yufang
By Wang Zhiliang, doctoral student of School of Philosophy, Renmin University of China
In this exhibition, Zhang Yufang displayed over 200 pieces of works he completed between 1977 and 2008. The works cover multiple subjects, including landscape sketches, studio sketches and themed paintings. The 200-plus works, span over 30 years of Zhang Yufang's artistic life, they not only reflect the process of his personal artistic creation, but also to some extent, reveal the development of contemporary Chinese art. Zhang Yufang's creations were well-developed in 1980s and reflected the spirit and ideals of that time. We may find these ideals come back alive in his recent works. We will always pay our attention to certain great consciousness in his works, which can be interpreted as a sense of life going on and the pursuit of a spirit realm beyond the mundane life.
Bergson believes that the nature of life is but duration, in which time forms to become the same of life. The duration of life and flow of time, as we refer to here, are also themes throughout paintings of Zhang Yufang. Zhang Yufang embarked on study journeys twice in Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts. The learning experience of the second time in the Academy directly exerted an influence upon his later artwork.
During that time, he was undoubtedly a vanguard on campus. Zhang Yufang deliberately selected primitive pottery pattern as the source of inspiration and symbols of his works. In two ink and wash works named Untitled in 1979, we find such obvious primitive sense. In his later works, these primitive patterns do not serve as representative symbols of the artist, but are transformed into a profound sense of life. The twisted, massive and vacant faces of the figures repeatedly appear in the painting. The paintings, with deep and imposing sense, seem to embrace a force of life bursting outward. This is not what Bergson called the intuitive force of life, but a strong sense of life that merges cultural connotation of the people. Transmigration, Fate, Men with Horns and Believers, all created in 1980, are representativeworks of such spirit. We need to pay attention to staring eyes in each piece of work. His 1980 work Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow has three expressive eyes, which have merged into details of his later works while kept staring at the entire world. These eyes, staring beyond the paintings, symbolize the eyes of the artist on the mundane world. Through these eyes, the artist looks at the times they belong to. In 1981 works Dolls and We, They, the artist has even stronger touch on eyes. The nature of the other of the dolls can find full expression in the two unsymmetrical eyes, which symbolize the helpless status of the dolls. The eye on the lower left corner of We, They is staring at audience, revealing slight expectation and frustration. Each expression in the eyes must dwell in an entity. Eyes in Zhang Yufang's works do not dwell in bodies of the current time, they came from another world, or from primitive times he chose, to be more exact. The artist travels through time and space, and borrows entities from the primitive times one after another, using them as the subject for observing the modern society. What the artist wishes to convey is not intuition and impulse of individual lives of the current time and space, but duration of something larger than life. Life of individuals will end, as they have starts, but those larger than life will embrace eternity. Perhaps it is the freedom of life and the free flow of life can be represented through another form. From Squeezed Space in 1980 to Tsunami in 2008, works between the years will tell that the artist generally use soft curves to express the flowing nature of life. Of course, he does not depict human as individual beings, but everything with souls. In his 1983 works Poseidon, Two Bird Messengers and Jungle,woods, birds and water are endowed with life and souls. They are the living duration of the entire world.
With a slight rational transition, eternity existing within duration and the sense of flowing life can be turned into a consciousness of the other realm. Such sober but soaring consciousness sprouted as early as in the 1980 work The Blue Night. With flat brushing, the painting depicts a night that does not exist. Two ghostly images on the lower right corner and a blue crescent on the upper left corner present a regular projection of a surrealistic environment that contains meditation for life. Such meditation is dispassionate. It does not seek help form expressive primitive form of life, but relies on the overall environment of the layout. In the 1981 work Self, the dim face under the arch walls must be telling something. By resorting to such a sober and calm surrealistic approach, the artist builds up different scenes. One of which is the dream-like night, while the other is impoverished settlement combining primitive spirit and Christian spirit, collection of the two spirits. Aerolite Flying in My Room and Hey, Can You Conquer the Moon show freedom of thinking of the artist. However, a primitive and barbarian spirit is poured on top of the scene. All these elements, a canoe, the vast sea and wild land, indicate the presence of strong vital force. In these works lonely houses come in frequently. They look like tents of primitive tribes. However, the specific shapes of the houses do not matter. What matters is that they are placed in the painting as the habitat for human spirit. The 1983 work People Walking to Round Housing is a representation of the destination for soul. In 1983 works Sacrifice in the Night and Untitled, owl becomes the main character. They are lawmakers of the night, and enjoy ultimate freedom in the dark, peeping at the sleeping human world. 1980s saw popularity of western cultural icons, such as Nietzsche and Sartre. And paintings of the artist also show Christian spirit, which merges with the primitive sense of life deep in the artist's mind as one.
From 1985 to 2004, though there was not much work, Zhang Yufang was still working on artistic creation. Until 2004, the artist began with landscape paintings to seek the spirit of life of the 1980s. Observations show that in his later creations, such spirit of life is not a bit weakened. Profound representation of life in one's works means a lot for contemporary art. However, what did they mean to 1980s? In 1981, as the primary organizer, Zhang Yufang planed First Xi'an Modern Art Exhibition, in which many works we will see today were on display. The exhibition stirred great sensation. Through works by Zhang Yufang, audience may attempt to imagine the leading theme of the then exhibition. When people were still engaging in disputes about consciousness of life. All of the images, no matter they are forms filled with primitive vital force, vast land or the flowing oceans, are expressions of the artist on individual liberation and the free consciousness of life.
Due to reasons of the overall situation of Xi'an in 1980s, Xi'an contemporary art is absent from the history. However, from works of Zhang Yufang, which were completed years ago and are displayed in this exhibition, present us not only a chronicle of artistic creation by Mr. Zhang, but also valuable data and archives with relation to the early development of Xi'an modern art for art researchers.
Wish Mr. Zhang's exhibition a great success!
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