In contemporary Chinese art circle, Fujian artists have become a remarkable cultural phenomenon. Most of them have stepped out of the bondage of easel painting, and have created their own arts in multi-media language such as installations, sculptures and images. Thus they form a more comprehensive artistic feature, which conveys Fujian people's spirit of "no pain, no gain"and distance themselves from the images of other artists. Among the special artistic groups, Gao Xiaowu is a backbone and plays a key role.
Gao Xiaowu was born in Sanming of Fujian province in 1976. He grew up in a southern village with pleasant ecology and primitive scenery, which developed his character of being curious and fascinated about all forms of life and natural things. Fujian was rich in traditional folk art, such as handicraft, lacquer, stone carving, and wood carving, which cultivated his creativity and imagination, and brought an endless stream of inspiration to his artistic creation in the future. In this sense, Gao Xiaowu's artistic thinking was closely related to the environment in which he grew up. Of course, educational background was also important since it was the humanistic basis for shaping his aesthetic taste. He was born in a farmer's family that prioritized education. To this day, his father who can do calligraphy and paint still keeps the traditional way of life. This background is instrumental in shaping his ideas and values. Upon reaching adulthood, he studied at Xiamen Academy of Arts and Crafts, which laid the foundation and broadened his cultural horizons.
Xiamen Academy of Arts and Crafts (XAAC), which was formerly Xiamen School of Arts and Crafts, is known for its focus on art design. Located in the beautiful Gulangyu Islet, it has a long history. In terms of teaching, it not only pays attention to the practice of skills but also emphasizes the enlightenment of thought. It has trained many talented people for the design industry and the arts and crafts industry. Many contemporary artists in Fujian are graduates from this school. When Gao Xiaowu studied at the XAAC, he not only learned all kinds of modeling skills, but also was influenced by its open-minded atmosphere. Upon graduation, he didn't stay in Xiamen but went to see the world, going first to Shanghai and then to Beijing where he studied sculpture at China Central Academy of Fine Arts. In the end he finally settled down in Beijing to work as a professional artist.
Gao Xiaowu's artistic career, in all fairness, officially started when he went to Beijing. Prior to that, he had created many sculptures such as the Buddha-statues in the temple, which laid a modeling foundation for his artistic creation in the future. But it was after attending the China Central Academy of Fine Arts that he found himself truly in shape for artistic creation with his own cultural characteristics. This was all thanks to Beijing's cultural environment and his persistence and sensibility. He quickly found himself in tune with the zeitgeist of the time, producing sculptures that were in line with the prevailing art styles, reflecting the changes of life style and ideas. For instance, a collection of sculptures that he created early on, featuring cuddly figures with a bow and smile, was closely associated with the artistic trend. This was the reason why Gao Xiaowu's sculptures attracted more attention, and why he was caught in a dilemma, too.
Actually, Gao Xiaowu became aware of the plight, and had been trying to distance himself from certain trends. Therefore, he tried many kinds of art after he had created a series of images highlighting exaggeration, distortion and simplicity. For example, he enhanced the cute elements and improved the cuddly figure of his works. He explored another series of works by way of using Soft Violence as the creation idea. He was trying to develop his own artistic features, and be different from other popular art style. Although he experimented a lot in terms of concept and language, Gao Xiaowu was still trapped by the established era style. This became his distress, which exerted all his strength and wisdom. However, the nature of freedom, and the will of exploration did not block the pace of his self-transcendence. By means of repeated test and constant thinking, Gao Xiaowu gradually understood that efforts should be made beyond the art. As a result, he began to divert attention away from the original visual image, to focus on the daily life as well as the religious field where people do the self-practice, and to think about some more profound life propositions. Then, he was inspired by the contradictions between the life and death, as well as the "go out of the secularity"and"go into the secularity." Finally, he created the representative work, In and Out, in the transition period.
In and Out features a zen practicer, who sits on a screw that represents industrialization. The screw stands on the ground with the visual form of the spinning top. Its bottom is covered with sand shaping like a whirlpool, which symbolizes the people can not control but are stuck in a whirlpool in the post industrial era. This was the visual effect and artistic idea created by Gao Xiaowu's sculpture. In fact, its significance was not in the work itself, but in it relieved certain pressure on him, which offered many possibilities for his creation in the future. In the In and Out, the zen practicer was put in the whirlpool with a mingling of mud and sand, which deliberately created a figure who looked relaxed and calm. It was calm and unhurried that Gao Xiaowu gained after he devoted himself to the faith. That is to say, religion inspired his fraternity, and endowed him with the freedom of thought. Thus, those beautiful memories of growing up sheltered from the reality, such as enjoying the nature in childhood in the countryside, and making various toys with natural materials by hand, flooded into his brain. It not only enriched his artistic thinking, but also opened a door to his memory of self-culture. Between"go out"and"go into,"he related all the daily chores through the memory, in which he captured countless vivid, interesting, and lively visual images. Ultimately, he produced a more distinctive series of works called Rebirth.
There is no doubt that the Rebirth marks another new stage of Gao Xiaowu's art. Unlike his past works, the Rebirth is associated with Gao's experience of growing up, and fills a gap in the narrative of contemporary urbanization with the mentality of some ordinary people and the cultural proposition that returns to the nature. More importantly, its language innovation enriched the vocabulary of contemporary art, and also brought vitality to the visual expansion of contemporary sculpture. In Rebirth, he loved to skillfully reshape and extend the co-dependent relationship between plants and animals in the natural world, and their growing environment, such as that of frogs and water, antlers and branches, butterflies and vines, fish and plants, as well as wings and vein, etc. Such a marvelous joint and permutation, as well as combination and fusion used the postmodern modeling means and learnt from the exaggeration and variation of folk art, which presented a lot of remarkable visual images. Thus, people feel familiar but fresh about those exaggerative and true, as well as humorous and serious styles of art.
Since then, Gao's personal style in the artistic creation has become more clear and complete. He has used contemporary language materials, such as stainless steel, glass steel, and image, to capture and seek the original ecology. He has taken various comprehensive measures to combine the mysterious oriental aesthetics and the contemporary aesthetic imagination. It not only creatively restores the expressiveness of traditional art, but also attaches wings to today's contemporary life, which brings surprise and amazement. This is the reason why he breaks the limits of geographical areas, and has a foothold in contemporary art circle. In the larger relationship between culture and society, he uses his own artistic exploration and language innovation to display the theme of tradition and contemporary, as well as nature and alienation.
July 6, 2017
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