60 years form a cycle; to the Chinese, time is a cyclic phenomenon. In the same space, history is continually being reenacted. The space in which we now live was also once the location of the activities and games of our forefathers. Nowadays, we all use the Gregorian calendar to organize our daily lives and it would seem that the people of 2001 have something more than the people of 1900. However, some Chinese still have the habit of sharing the joys of the present with those already passed away. So what about painters? They too are willing to use the ancients as models to place midst their images and naturally, to Chinese people of today, these forefathers appear both unfamiliar and yet close.
The images Wu Yiming depicts are mostly of ancients standing accompanied at each side or overlapped by contemporary youth. Of these two kinds of people, one is neat in form and attire and the other charges into battle bare to the waist, each complementing each other with a primary and secondary response. He places these two kinds of people together and adds a solid color background and simple Beijing Opera style props giving the sense of a newly composed stage drama.
Wu Yiming was born in the mid 1960s and pursued his studies in the relatively liberal academic environment following reforms and opening up, his painting style gradually took shape in the 90s and this was the period of the city in which he lives, Shanghai's rapid economic development. This is certainly no accident.
Since the middle of Ming Dynasty, living in the same region have been a wide variety of schools and styles with Wumen, Huating and Yunjian as well as the Yangzhou Baguai and Shanghai style all displaying their level of artistic attainment. For 500 years, the Yangtse River Delta region has been China's most flourishing region for painting. The hills, plains and monsoon climate here have given birth to a naturally ingenious and freshly harmonious style. In recent times, the influx of western culture has also resulted in it becoming the leading edge of sino-foreign cultural exchange and developing an accommodating, practical, enterprising and open modern character. These rich cultural traditions have become a firm support to Wu Yiming both within and outside his works.
In his works between 1997-2000, Wu Yiming developed this kind of structure: on one hand is the unity of opposites of two kinds of characters in the same space and on the other hand is the geometric separation of the empty backgrounds of multiple layers of color shading. In order to stress the geometric form's control of the image, screen-printed letters or patterns are added to the images and the images attain structural unity in their ink and wash shading and the subtle control of coloring.
Observing his works, what most attract my attention are the edges of the images. Two kinds of images both have paradoxical outer contours as if the painter has deliberately painted in and then erased numerous details. The eyes of the observer often become entangled in their search for images and although there are large areas of solid color that afford some rest, there are no clearly defined boundaries between characters and space. Flying brushstrokes and ink coloring merge the background and characters together with great subtlety, drawing your eyes from the background back toward the characters. The main body created by these unrestrained brushstrokes and the multi-layered shaded backgrounds generate a slight tension and the image is finally enshrouded by geometric areas of distinct color tendencies. Observing closely you can discover many colors concealed within and these are also controlled within the chaos of the ink and wash.
Among all the efforts at variations in styles, the most captivating is ambiguity. In today's age of highly developed printing technology, people's attention is often guided towards meaninglessly precise details. Actually, finely defined details do not necessarily create a more perfect whole. Wu Yiming uses this kind of ambiguity to create a kind of space, allowing us a more profound experience of extremely impoverished modern images.
On the whole, Wu Yiming's images have both a traditional aspect and also a modern stimulating effect on the senses. They pay both homage to the spiritual world of the ancients and, at the same time, portray the "alternative-lacking" attitude toward life of modern people.
At times, the images give people the impression of a false show of peace and prosperity and these can easily lead one to doubt: "Is it really the case?" The artist replied in this way: "It would appear very beautiful". But actually?!
In Wu Yiming's recent work "Too Dark" and a series of ten works "The Second Performance", there are some obvious changes, the geometric structures forming his earlier works have been abandoned and even the rich gradation of hues has been forgone. However every group of works has a strong sense of being a collection. In some still images, there are hardly any differences among 10 works and in some other relatively lively images, the characters all seem to be floating in a vacuum. On the surface, the ink and wash effect maintains its dominant position. Could this be a sign of another of his "attacks" on Chinese tradition? I asked him and he replied: "I have no way of going where the ancients are and can only pay more attention to young people. The ancients are my sustenance and are not my object". In my view, what he wants to express is both a profound fascination with tradition and also the inability to avoid confusion of the real world.
Just as written in his works: "It's too dark, where to head to?" I think that midst this mass of dark ink, one can but head towards the inner recesses of the heart.
December 18, 2001