A few years ago I wrote an essay on the works of my good friend, Li Gang, during the period of his artistic transformation. At the time, Li was at the peak of his creativity, as he completed many series of new works with great momentum. I left for Beijing later on. One day, Li suddenly resigned from his steady job and wandered off to Beijing like I had done. Our wandering to Beijing shared a similar motif: we received steady paychecks from official institutions, and devoted our spare time to artistic experiment. In this regard, Li showed a remarkable vigor. Here are some of my thoughts on Li from the essay I wrote a few years ago:
It had only been a few days since I last saw him. Li Gang had finished a whole basket of paintings, and he acted like a craftsman who crawled over patchworks and created many new series of works. I admire Lis capacity for doing everything with tremendous gusto and spreading his energy over multiple pursuits. In Die suan pieng, we have this idiom, spreading salt, which has the connotations of large and coarse, meaning that someone has the courage to strive, though his efforts may be unrefined at times. Despite such occasional coarseness, Li was meant to do great things.
The art of painting lies between vastness and fineness, between coarseness and subtlety. Vastness and coarseness are a kind of mindset and philosophy, while fineness and subtlety are another kind of feeling and experience. Looking at his latest series, I feel that Li has arrived at new kind of reflection through his quest for a uniquely personal feeling. I have always wondered: What kind of reflection and feeling are they?
在当代水墨画中，一些学者将其与中国的85新潮联系在一起，这样的线条特征（也许比抒情更为古怪）在体现艺术家的精神状态上，作为具有标识性的元素，起着重要的作用。四川出生的艺术家兰正辉，其作品形式上的庄严纯粹体现了水墨画的表现主义美学，令人从中感受到十足的生命力。画家通过对空的冥想，去探索大自然的美，这一传统沿袭于早先几个世纪前的禅宗画家们。这样的空饱含了大型水墨画中的力量，且展现了空间上的无限意味。兰的体量水墨（评论家刘骁纯说法）最终回到了中国当代艺术的前沿。在泼墨于水的过程里，兰的这些精制而又粗粝的浓墨画面以时间上的相对性转换了我们的空间意识。这些画具有一种玄奥的似是而非性。尽管他的大型水墨画面向的是未来，但依然与古老的老子思想密不可分。道家告诉我们人与自然是息息相关的，当人们的视野进入光学真空中，则会在片刻内被画作中的黑暗所吸引。在我们通过感知发觉自己的意识之际，那片黑已经过浓墨的洗礼变成了光的表面。在《道德经》的25章开篇（译者，Stephen Mitchell， 1988），这样写道：重为轻根，静为躁君。
Li worked in printmaking in the past, and he had a special touch for wood and grain while working on the material. He switched to Chinese ink painting at a later time. Through the use of brush and ink, he sought the dialogue with ancient souls, and its connection with contemporary language. However, I have always felt that he has not found his place in Chinese painting and ink, and he continues to practice the craft of brush and ink. In recent years, thanks to his various artistic and professional pursuits and his outgoing personality, Li acquired many eccentric friends. He has participated in and organized a number of experimental and contemporary art activities, while he gradually came to an alternative mode of thinking and feeling. As a result, he put the brush, paint, and writing aside, and turned to folding papers seeped in ink and their patchwork.
蓝正辉目前的水墨梦想 依然具有一种不可逾越性，就如早期那些直接表现大自然、风景或自然现象，或季节的水墨画一样。近期展览中的大多数作品，如相思，矗立，跳跃系列，更加关注的是存在的精神和情感状态。纵然早期的画作是大自然的隐喻，如曾经的狂雨展（2009年，雅加达举办），而近期的画作更关注的是视觉上的转喻。这一特质非常重要，尤其是想到兰在过去几年里所创作的画作规模，更是如此。虽然比喻表示的是画作中的具体之物，转喻作为与另一种感觉相关的平行符号而存在，但却并不等同于那种感觉。在两幅大型横幅宣纸水墨画（镶嵌于丝绸纸上）名为跳跃系列1和跳跃系列2， 也许对跳跃的指涉存在于艺术家的意识中，但水墨本身作为绘画具有其特质性，与题目具有模拟性的关系。《情殇I》《情殇II》《情殇III》在形态上彼此相关，但它们与题目的关系也许和观众对画作的感想并不一样。通常而言，画作与题目之间的呼应上，关于意义的问题在绘画中比在文学里更为复杂，尤其是如果绘画在视觉上从真情实感中抽离出来之时。
On Lis recent experiments, I see three layers of relation and meaning as the entry points to our discussion. The first is process. Titled Series, his new batch of works explore the experience and joy of the process of creation. The artist does not care for the depiction or expression of anything in particular. Nor does he care about the beginning or the end. He often begins his process in the quiet moments of his busy life: folding papers, sprinkling water, seeping the papers in ink, spreading them on a flat surface, tearing them apart and creasing the stripes for patchwork, etc. Step by step, the process unfolds and becomes his experience, while his experience also runs through the process. In this sense, his experience can be extended to a broader aesthetics and cultural meaning of water, ink and paper as a medium. The unison of ink and xuan paper embodies an experiential joy and understanding of the nature of Oriental culture.
The second is graphics. In the recognition of aesthetics and cultural meaning of Chinese ink painting, we are conditioned to derive our understanding from typical images and formulas such as mountain and water, flowers and birds, characters, and brush and ink. This has created the misconception that we can only draw reciprocal meanings of traditional culture and Oriental culture from such graphics, and led us to search for breakthrough from within these frameworks. Lis breakthrough takes on a rather large scale; it may even be a revolution, a quest for a new kind of graphics. Li attempts to break away from the traditional and classical S shaped structures, the relation between sparseness and thickness in brush and think, and the principles of resemblance and difference. In their place, Li creates abstract and square compartments, symmetrical lines that come close to perfect balance in the thickness of ink, patchworks that have been jumbled and rearranged, and the contrast and dialogue between different materials. These touches constitute his understanding and expression of ink art in the contemporary realm, as well as his personalized graphics of ink.
The third is feeling and exerience. The crux of Chinese painting and ink lies in the cultural expression and experiential depth of the art form. Its forms and graphics may be manifold, leading us to a higher plane of cultural experience; or they convey the artists personal experience of culture, which gives birth to the meaning of artistic creation. Li has attempted to his feeling and experience of ink as an artistic expression and cultural language with calm. In the depth of these ink compartments, a distinct aesthetics and comprehension are revealed through the varying shades of ink on paper. This needs to be discerned and felt from the heart. Li must pursue this experience as an artist; we, as the audience, must also do the same.
Robert C. Morgan is Professor Emeritus in Art History at the Rochester Institute of Technology and is Visiting Professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn， New York. He has written extensively on contemporary Chinese art and has been directly involved with Chinese artist since 1989. In 2005， he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Republic of Korea. In addition to his research， he functions as an artist， curator， and international critic and lecturer. In 1999， he was given the first Arcale award in Spain for his work as an international critic.
Lis experiment evolves along this process. The birth of his graphics, the expression of feelings, the experience of culture and the use of ink as a medium are transformed into cultural meaning, through the artists language and its growth.
作者简介：Robert C. Morgan是纽约布鲁克林Pratt学院的访问教授，罗彻斯特理工学院艺术史荣誉教授。他撰写了大量关于中国当代艺术的文章，自1989年起关注中国艺术界，亲自参与其中。2005年成为韩国的Fulbright首席学者。同时，他也是一名艺术家，策展人，国际评论家和演讲者。1999年，作为国际评论家在西班牙获得首届Arcale奖。
In spreading salt, Li has both coarse and fine touches. However, his experiment is only the beginning of a process, which leans toward coarseness and even ferocity at times. I hope that he will calm down and experience life, society and culture, and transform such personal experience into an expression of ink that is completely his own.
Love sicknessHeavy Ink Paintings by Lan ZhenghuiLove sicknessHeavy Ink Paintings by Lan
The title and emphasis of the essay was Experience is a Cultural Attitude, and experience has always been the starting point of his artistic creation. At this stage, Li has elevated this experience of artistic creation into cultivation in his everyday life. It is exalted into a way of living, a means of cultivation toward a higher realm in life. Be it ink, traces of life, emotional states and higher realms in life, they may all become a new stage in Lis development, an expression of his cultivation through the journey of life and existence.
From a traditional perspective, the art of calligraphy in China offers a visualsyntax for communication through a combination of aesthetic and spiritualprecision. This is made evident in the brushwork shown in the marks and tracesof Tang courtiers, scholars, and magistrates. Years later, itinerant artist monkswho practiced Chan in the their forest retreats, invented atypical andunwavering linear formations that proceeded to reverberate definitivelythrough space. In either case, the first stroke on the page told everything.Here the question was posed: Did the first stroke hold the energy of the sacredshi or was it a fake? In the presence of the shi was true, the first stroke wouldlead the way from beginning to completion. It might begin as a cursiveideogram and result as an inspired poem, or it might transform into a risingmountain peak, an gentle rain cloud, or a running stream beside a grove ofpine trees. In this way, the formation of Chinese calligraphy always doublesbetween image and thought, thereby revealing its potential to move betweenwriting and painting.
I look forward to seeing greater depths of Li Gangs experience and cultivation.
In the history of Chinese art, writing and painting are inevitably drawn to oneanother. They virtually overlap one another as they derive from the samesource. Poetry may be written in the sky of a landscape either by the painteror by another artist or poet intent on offering a salutation or eulogy. There aretimes when the legibility of the calligraphic signs may suddenly turn toabstraction or beyond recognition. We see the genesis of this tendency in thewild cursive script of Zhang Shui and the drunken monk Huai-su, who bothworked during the eighth century of the Tang. Their powerful and eccentriclinear constructions reveal a distillation of profound thought as it moves intolyrical feeling. Their unique calligraphy functioned as a kind of metaphysicalbridge between writing and painting in the process of entering an ecstatic andrhythmical sense of time/space. Although irrational in origin, this wild cursivescript resonates with elegant and expressive content, filled with spiritual andmetaphysical intonations. In the later genres of Chinese landscape painting,one may detect traces of these linear motifs in the compositions of the greatink painters from the Northern Sung Dynasty of the late tenth century andeventually in the masterful scrolls of the Ming Dynasty five centuries later.
In contemporary ink wash painting, which some scholars associate with the1985 New Wave in China, this quality of line -- perhaps more eccentric thanlyrical -- also plays a pre-eminent role as a discerning factor in representingthe state of mind of the artist. Here the emphasis on an expressionist aestheticthrough ink wash painting as shown in the sublime forms of Sichuan-born artistLan Zhenghui reflects energy made visible. The task of the painter is todiscover nature through contemplating emptiness of mind as in the tradition ofthe Chan painters several centuries earlier. This void (or sunyata) harbors notonly the force and momentum within these large ink paintings, but alsoinforms the works infinite feeling for space. Lans heavy ink paintings --aterm coined by Chinese critic Liu Xiaochun-- come full circle into theforeground of contemporary Chinese art. Through the process of layering inkon water, Lans densely refined and bristling surfaces of black ink transformour awareness of space through the relativity of time. There is a profoundparadox resident within these paintings. While Lan Zhenghuis large ink washpaintings point toward the future, they remain equally close to the ancientteachings of Lao-tse. Whereas the Tao shows the way to our destiny withnature, our optical entry into the spectral void is momentarily absorbed by thedarkness in Lans paintings. As we become aware of our consciousness throughthe act of perception, the darkness is transformed into a reflective surface oflight through the density of the ink. We read in at the outset of Chapter 25 inthe Tao te Ching (Trans. Stephen Mitchell, 1988):
10 May 2012
The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.
The calligraphic paintings in Lan Zhenghuis current Ink Painting Dreamcontinue to possess an insurmountable presence, as did the earlier ink washpaintings that referred more directly to nature, such as the landscape, or tonatural phenomena, such as the seasons. Most of these paintings in the recentexhibition, including the Lovesick, Leap, Standing, Hesitation series and Satoriseries, are more concerned with mental or emotional state of Being. Whereasthe earlier paintings function as metaphors of nature, such as those shown inthe exhibition, titled Mighty Rain (Jakarta, 2009), the recent exhibition is moreconcerned with visual metonyms. The distinction is crucial, particularly giventhe scale in which Lan has worked over the past few years. Whereas ametaphor represents something specific in a painting, a metonym exists as aparallel sign in relation to another kind of feeling. In the case of a metonym,the painting carries its own independence in relation to a feeling, but does notintend to be that feeling. In the two large horizontal ink paintings on ricepaper (mounted on silk), titled Hop series 1 and Hop series 2, the reference tohopping may be within the artists mind, but the ink wash itself has its ownqualities as a painting apart from having a mimetic relationship to the title.Lovesick series I, Lovesick series 2, and Lovesick series 3 are all in some sensemorphologically related to one another, but their relationship to the title mayalso suggest something different that what the viewer actually feels in thepainting. In general, the problem of meaning in the correspondence betweenpaintings and titles is more complex in painting than in literature, especially ifthe painting is visually abstracted from the actuality of the emotion being feltor observed. One might say the same about the vertical Satori series-- a title referring to sudden enlightenment in Chan Buddhism (Zen). Thefeeling of dignity about these paintings may refer to an enlightened state ofmind or no mind (wu nien), but again, the painterly qualities within the inkwash, scale, and format of the painting have their own qualities, which maycorrespond obliquely to enlightenment.
Titles given to paintings have the advantage of creating a spur both for theartist and the viewer, but in different ways. This, of course, is an aestheticargument. For the artist, the title may have a personal meaning that carriesthe weight of his inspiration during the time he is deeply immersed in the actof painting. For the viewer it may open another threshold in order to gainaccess or appreciation of the painting, less in formal terms than through somekind of sentiment or provocation. Within the realm of aesthetics, any and all ofthese are valid. Viewers will feel what they feel, and there is no way to denythis legitimacy. On the other hand, painters will go about their business and dotheir work. If the paintings tends toward abstraction, the psychology ofreception may be felt on a more personal level than if they are realist. Buteven this claim is negligible. There is no single correct emotional response to awork of art and there is nothing to be proven. In the work of Lan Zhenghui, it isa matter of profound feeling. His training as an artist at the Sichuan Academyof Art and his experience over more than two decades have taken him towhere he is today. Ultimately, his exorbitant ability to project feeling intothese heavy ink paintings is what gives his work importance. Whether he issoaked in the black rain or feels fever in the high mountains, the internalequivocation between Being and Non-Being -- in essence, the way of the Tao --may contribute to his legacy, but quality of the works themselves will give himthe verdict. Given the work in this and other recent exhibitions, it wouldappear that Lan is clearly on the right track.
In a recent lecture given by another Chinese painter and digital artist at theChina Art Institute in Manhattan, two important points were raised toward theconclusion of his remarks. There were stated in the form of two questions: One,does art define itself as something that has no function? And two, is it possibleto make art without electronics?
In reflecting on these questions in relation to the work of Lan Zhenghui, his inkwash paintings would appear to have no function. One might argue they arethey are both functionless and purposeless. They have nothing to do other thanstare back at us as we engage in the process of starring at them. Even so, theyfeel like works from the present moment of our history. Somehow theyconnect with diverse cultural traditions within the global environment in away quite different from what might have been the case in the previouscentury. In contrast to the media rhetoric of the 1950s and 1960s where Eastand West clichs were bantered back and forth on both sides as if to concealmajor economic and ideological differences, the meeting point between thehemispheres today appears to stand on a firmer ground, perhaps, related tothe accessibility of information from Internet sources, both official andunofficial. Therefore, when the role of electronics is questioned in terms ofmaking art, I am not entirely convinced that Lans heavy ink paintings wouldhave the open cultural reception they appear to have today withoutelectronics, even though electronics has little to do with how they are made.Ironically, the immateriality of the Internet has, if anything, promoted a vastacquisition of material, including works of art. Given the absence of spiritualconcerns among those who have matured during the informational age ofglobal entrepreneurship, one might inquire as to whether is was still possibleto think of art as a spiritual phenomenon -- as I understand the intentions ofLan Zhenghui -- removed from their material (marketing) function? The factthat Lans paintings can now be shared by populations both in the East or theWest suggests that some glimmer of evolution has become apparent where theseparation of hemispheres appears unnecessary through the perennialexchange of open cultural ideas. Assuming this evolution is happening (thoughin a nascent stage), the energy and beauty that many viewers ascribe to Lanspaintings retain an ineluctable mystery and qualitative assurance capable ofopening doors to a primal world of basic spiritual understanding that was castaside at the outset of the Industrial Revolution. Now is the time to regeneratethe possibility of such ideas -- that paintings, like those by Lan Zhenghui(among others) -- can lift the lid from repression without being directlypolitical or offensive and form the basis of a new aesthetic where theembodiment of basic human values overrides the temporary seduction ofmarketing trends that are likely to repeat ad nauseum unless our experiencewith what is significant in art begins to take the upper hand.
Robert C. Morgan is Professor Emeritus in Art History at the Rochester Instituteof Technology and is Visiting Professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.He has written extensively on contemporary Chinese art and has been directlyinvolved with Chinese artist since 1989. In 2005, he was a Fulbright Senior
Scholar in the Republic of Korea. In addition to his research, he functions as anartist, curator, and international critic and lecturer. In 1999, he was given thefirst Arcale award in Spain for his work as an international critic.