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A Conversation with Ding Yi: Finding a New Spirit in Painting

Interviewer: He Jing Translator: George Fleming Sep,2018

He Jing
30th June 2018
Ding Yi Studio

He Jing (HJ): perhaps we could start with “observing” rather than your finished artwork. For many years now, although you have experimented with many different kinds of material, one part of your work has remained unchanged – the creation of a particular visual effect. Your art is unique in this respect because it requires the viewer to remove all possible associations or final interpretations and instead be more present in the act of viewing. In the words of Frank Stella: “What you see is what you see.” If that is the case, how do you see the relationship between an artist’s work and the way it is viewed?

Ding Yi (DY): I’ve worked as an artist for thirty years. My work has been continual: I have been in my studio, working on the canvas, day in and day out. What that means is, I think I’ve been totally immersed in my work. I think the process is best described as a kind of “enlightenment”. You’re always asking yourself: why exactly am I so involved with my work? The most important thing is that over all these years, no matter what changes go on around you, you always stay focused on painting because you’re a painter. The only thing you need to think about is producing a good painting. And you need to fully live your own experiences and express or reveal them. You have to convey how you’re feeling to your viewers. How artists manage to ensure that viewers have a nice surprise when they look at the painting for the first time and then continue to discover new things and feelings on continued viewing is, I think, an important element in one’s painting. There’s the big picture to think about: the overall structure, coherence, effect and tone. There’s also the fine details to consider: you’re trying to get the viewer to continually find these and constantly draw their gaze towards different points on the canvas. As the viewer’s eye darts around the canvas, the painting seems to be changing every second.

This is precisely the effect I am aiming to create. I achieve it through the following method: I don’t create highly structured paintings. There is no obvious centre or focal point. There is no obvious sense of depth; the painting feels flat. The energy of the painting is thus dispersed. Traditionally, painters would guide the gaze of the viewer towards a particular focal point in the painting; peripheral details would be overlooked because everywhere outside the focal point was “dimmer” from their perspective. When you remove these focal points and make the painting “flatter”, everywhere becomes a focal point. Even the dimmer areas of the painting are created using similar brushstrokes and they follow the same structure as the other parts. This “flatness” or lack of clear focal points is how I differ from classical painters.

HJ: in the mid-1980s, you began from a position of “no confidence” in art as it has evolved in the context of western modernism and in traditional Chinese aesthetics. Given this double lack of confidence, you are seeking ways of thinking and an artistic style that are highly individual – in fact, ones are all your own. This includes finding a way to “make painting not seem like painting”. Would it be fair to say that your journey towards finding your own path began with a negation, rather than a continuation of, tradition? If you did indeed begin from a negation of the painting tradition, that would imply that you have a clear understanding of where the issues lie. Following on from that premise, your work would therefore have clear ideological implications – although “ideology” here would be in the sense of a conceptual standpoint on painting rather than any social or political agenda.

DY: Hou Hanru once said, “Ding Yi is perhaps the world’s most ideological artist.” I think what he was saying reflected a general state of affairs at the time. In the 1980s the whole nation was looking for ways to innovate; and art was perhaps the most sensitive or the quickest to act in this regard. I was a student at the time, hungry for knowledge about the unknown – for example, we had only a partial, fragmented understanding of Western contemporary art at the time and so it was really interesting for us. Apart from the limited number of artworks available to us, there was a very small number of translations of the history of Western art. One of these, A History of Modern Western Art, covered up to the end of the 1960s. It was very thin, with almost exclusively black and white photographs, but for me reading it in 1982, that book was enough to give me a basic understanding of the Western artistic tradition. After I finished it, I had the impression that over the past 100 years, the West had everything and had accomplished everything there was to be done. That’s why I wanted to find a new perspective from which I could create something complementary to the Western tradition, and which would differ in some way from the established Chinese tradition. While I was a student, I could tell that the Chinese artistic tradition was completely different from that of the West.  It contained traditional Chinese elements, but it also had some Soviet elements. It was necessary, therefore, to find a new path. By this point, I had in fact already begun private study of the School of Paris artists, the impressionists, and so on, and these influences taught me the basic techniques. When you examine mainstream Chinese painting at the time, for example the Shanghai Museum of Art’s continuing large themed exhibitions, you find an extraordinary ignorance of such techniques, and you begin to doubt their credentials. Moving on from that, you begin to want to start something of your own. When I was a student, I learned traditional Chinese painting. At the time many of our teachers were getting on in years. They were well-known in China and they were teaching us under the traditional master-apprentice system. Our teachers would paint, and we would copy them. After class, I would return to my rented apartment and paint experimental abstract work. I have to say, though, that at the time these paintings at home weren’t planned: it was all rather spontaneous. Sometimes I’d be inspired by something I saw in an album, or in a book. Because I wasn’t admitted to the oil painting faculty, I decided to take up something I didn’t know anything about – which is why I studied at the Faculty of Chinese Painting. However, it was obvious that I didn’t want to pursue traditional Chinese painting. During my years as a student (1986-1990), I was constantly experimenting with contemporary art.

HJ: When did you become a student of Yu Youhan?

DY: I had just been enlightened by the School of Paris, sometime between 1980 and 1983. At the time, Yu was a teacher at an arts school, but he had in fact already been teaching us photography for three years prior to that. He did not teach us painting. As early as 1982 I was introduced to Yu’s class by a classmate. I brought a large painting on canvas with me for him to give me some guidance on. I had a very clear idea of where I was going at the time: I wanted to be an artist. That’s why although my university major was actually decorating, my spare time including the weekends was taken up by painting. I returned to Shanghai once every month. The other three weekends I would be painting somewhere else. In those days, Yu Youhan was studying Paul Cezanne and the Impressionists. I would watch him paint lots of works and copy him – and that included my experiments with abstract art in 1981-1982. So in terms of our study of Western art, we were on the same timeline. At most we had a two or three-year experience gap between us, but Yu Youhan’s understanding was far more advanced than mine, perhaps on account of his age. By that by the 1980s, I had already moved away from the mainstream thought on contemporary art in China.

HJ: in your earliest work, you avoided all contact with the ideological and socio-political events around you. In 1998, though, you suddenly came to realise the effect the huge changes that were going on in Shanghai were having on you. That’s when you began your 12-year long “Fluorescence” series. In more recent years, it seems like you have returned to exploring new areas in painting. It’s as if you’ve come full circle after first being influenced by internal factors, and then external factors. How would you describe the path you have taken? Assuming the changes in society at the end of the 1990s taught you that artists need to have a conversation with the world around them, has your position on this issue changed at all today? Now that you have established your own system of art – and it’s increasingly mature now – do you see any change in the relationship between these internal and external factors?

DY: When an artist creates a work, sometimes it’s deliberate. Sometimes, however, you try to avoid a clearly defined strategy. I hold an extremely long-term view of things. I have a very deliberate strategy – as if I’m trying to build something that needs absolutism and self-control. I can’t be swayed by any sentiments. The thing I’m trying to build becomes very strict, and minimalist – or perhaps very rational. In the early stages, you have to establish your own style. You want to make your painting a very deliberate exercise in order to remain consistent. However, as you develop your work, you discover that such absolutism isn’t suited to all of your painting. You have to have a new perspective and ideas. As you get older, you have new experiences that alter your work in many ways and details. That’s why in my Fluorescence series, I was undoubtedly inspired by the tremendous social changes going on. My position on urbanisation became woven into my system of abstract ideas. So this process has indeed led to many changes in my work, particularly in the tones that I use.  I’m still changing my paintings today, only the fundamental changes have already occurred.

In recent years, I have been looking for something new. It’s difficult to define. I have a vague idea that I’m looking for a new social spirit, mainly because of the huge changes that have occurred in society. The changes in Chinese society really help me to put the world into perspective. In 1998, I’d view things from a Chinese angle, or the angle of my own experience. But over the past few years I hope that I’ve put my world, and China, under the international microscope. It’s difficult to describe because this is the first time I’ve talked about this idea to anyone. It’s complicated. In recent years, the places I’ve travelled the most have all been in the Third World, about which I once knew very little. In the past, we tended to focus on just the developed countries with the mainstream artistic world. These are still important today, but you need to have a more macroscopic view as well. My travels showed me many things. The cultures of the countries I visited touched me and gave me a lot of inspiration. I can travel to a lot of places today that I didn’t have the opportunity to visit previously.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the burgeoning power of Chinese manufacturing in the third world. Manufacturing is the mainstay of the Chinese economy, certainly compared to art and culture. How do you focus on art, then? When you have increasing ability to steer your own course in terms of economic development, can the same thing happen in culture? Chinese culture is very weak; there is a lack of cultural self-confidence. There are no truly global values that can engender the birth of a new culture, either. These issues made me ask myself what I was looking for in my painting. I asked myself what a truly global language and values might look like. It’s a very complicated issue. For example, the Belt and Road Initiative focuses on manufacturing and development of infrastructure. Economic expansion is part of the initiative; politics and the economy are the main areas of the Belt and Road. However, there’ s not much cultural input. But I think culture is especially important today. We need to consider why our culture and philosophy aren’t making inroads elsewhere. Why aren’t they influential abroad? It’s hard for a painter to change the way things are. All I can do is realise that there is the possibility of change and express it in my work. Perhaps that’s exactly the idea that I’m exploring now. I hope my paintings will have a certain energy – although they employ neutral, abstract symbols, they might be able to preserve some kind of cultural ambition for the future.

HJ: Hou Hanru once said that it the only place an individualist artist such as yourself could have thrived is Shanghai. One art gallery has also said that your work could only have happened in this city. Would you agree with that assessment?

DY: I am personally very fond of Shanghai. I have lived here my entire life and have never wanted to leave. I like the city possibly because I know the place well and am happy with life here. Of course, a lot of my inspiration comes from Shanghai. I personally feel every great change that happens in Shanghai. I don’t know how exactly Hou Hanru’s statement applies to my personally, but it makes good sense when you look at my everyday work. Shanghai exudes the bustling energy and opulence of a metropolis, but when you enter the studio you can disappear into your own world, forgotten. Shanghai allows me to simultaneously remain independent, and to connect with the whole world.

HJ: In terms of the relationship between an artist’s work and the city in which they live, your work actually calls to mind the close relationship between Shanghai and early craft and design in China. You seem never to have rejected the craft tradition, unlike so many painters and avant-garde artists. You also have some experience as a designer. Would you say that these elements that are closely linked to the metropolis (handicrafts and design) originate more from personal factors, or from Shanghai and the surrounding environment?

DY: Both Shanghai and my personal experience are important. In the 1930s, Shanghai was the most prosperous city in Asia. Prosperity at that time was a lifestyle; it was a kind of urban fashion that was in step with Paris, New York and Tokyo. In that context, people’s tastes were influenced by fashion: the objects they used, the clothes they wore, where they lived, all reflected a certain set of values. Why is Shanghai thought of by some as the most Western city in China? Because it was the city most akin to an international metropolis. When you look back at the 1980s, many Chinese cities didn’t live up to the name. They were like villages. In one sense, Shanghai is the epitome of a modern city. Of course, in addition to focusing on human character and the mind, contemporary art does have some formalistic elements – all of which are closely tied in with metropolitan culture. In Shanghai, it’s as if you are given an international mind-set from the moment you’re born. In a lot of cases, this means you don’t consider working in other parts of China. For instance, it doesn’t occur to you to exhibit your work in Beijing – instead, you go straight to New York or London. It’s entirely possible that this attitude began with my parents’ generation. I think it’s deeply entrenched.

HJ: One of the clearest features of your work is the sense of rhythm from your repeated brushstrokes. Of course, you’re not just mindlessly repeating exactly the same thing without any change; rather, you create change within repetition. What’s really fascinating is how, on the one hand, the way your repeated crosses make the whole painting more egalitarian, as Wang Min-an once said: “One painting resonates with another”; while on the other, your repetitions have actually led to new development. It’s like the static nature of the details of your paintings finally precipitated change in terms of the whole painting. Repetition (a lack of change) led to change. There is a strong sense of a philosophy at work in just the action of your repetition. Is it true that such a long-term and unique painting system such as yours has actually become more important than the painting itself?

DY: Sometimes after a day of work, I feel I’m just like a very traditional painter. I’m using my brain, but my behaviour is very traditional in that I spend a great proportion of my time immersed in my artwork. What is it that I like about this method of working? It inspires me. Each painting contains some element that I wasn’t able to finish or get right in the previous work. To put it another way, when I finish one painting, I start thinking about what to paint next. If one piece is unfinished, it exerts an influence on my next work. For example, take Appearance of Crosses 2018-1. When I’d got two thirds of the way through it, it suddenly occurred to me that the painting looked very much like the terrain at Yadan, in Dunhuang, where centuries of sand erosion has moulded the landscape in a particular way. I thought I should paint a similar piece, but larger, with more going on in the picture. Appearance of Crosses 2018-2 was also a breakthrough in that previously, my paintings had created a 3D visual effect. In 2018-2, however, I created an effect whereby the eye of the viewer is drawn diagonally across the painting. When I completed Appearance of Crosses 2018-2, I began to wonder how I might alter the basic foundation of my paintings. That’s why in the next piece, I began to reconfigure my colour scheme. In order to make the colours clearer, I thought some parts of the painting should be darker to create more of a contrast. So that’s how my paintings began to link up and how each began to logically influence the next.

HJ: So your paintings have been born of this logical process?

DY: Yes. The evolution of my work could be said to include changes in my materials, the palette, and techniques. What doesn’t change is the connection between one piece and the next, and the continued addressing of issues left over from the previous painting. It really is quite a logical, deductive process – and it’s been happening for three decades.

HJ: You have stated that you hope “painting can return to its true form – as form alone. Form is the very essence of painting.” I think that in the crosses, which form the basic component of almost all of your work, we can see that you have been faithful to the principle you outlined. From the very outset, you stripped your crosses, originally the Chinese character for “ten”, of that meaning. In other words, you de-anchored them from reality and turned them from an unit of meaning to a mere shape, or mere form that was used to construct the overall image of the painting. Your entire method of artwork was built on the multiplication and changes or logical progression of these shapes. In this respect, your paintings have been “minimalist” right from the beginning. At the same time, they correspond to the “minimalism” experienced by the viewer (as we have previously discussed). One might say that regardless of how complicated your paintings are in terms of the palette or the plethora of shapes, at their core they are in fact minimalist works.

DY: On the surface, my early work does indeed appear more minimalist than my more recent work. I had a very clear outline of where I was going: minimal and 2D. I opted for this approach because it was the simplest way and also because the canvas was completely flat. The requirements for the palette were also minimal. I still count myself as a minimalist artist, but my minimalism is different to that of 1960s or 1970s artists like Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich, or later on, Frank Stella.

Malevich, for instance, was creating truly minimalist works a hundred years ago. He had already closed the door to future innovation right then. Black on black, white on white – there was nothing left to explore. But for me, minimalism means discovering how to adjust different elements to create a painterly result in the most restricted conditions. I’ve used fluorescent colours for 12 years. There are only 4 or 5 fluorescent colours, and that’s what I’ve been working with for the whole 12 years. For the past 13 years, I’ve used only 2 symbols: either the cross (十) or the star (米). My work over this period, you could say, is a form of minimalism.

HJ: You’ve always emphasised the importance of being accurate because it is a product of painterliness. In your early work, you used rulers and ruling pens as a means to reach those standards of accuracy. In recent years, you have expressed the desire for accuracy in your paintings as a kind of formulaic imagery or metalanguage (composed of “十” and “×”). On that level, I have always seen a distance between your work and “abstract painting” in the traditional sense. Your work employs form and colour to resist portrayal and narrative. In recent years, your work has not only looked at form and colour, but also employs more contemporary imagery.

DY: I have constantly been thinking about the issue of iconology in contemporary art, particularly Chinese contemporary art. The main issue is that we need a “new” type of imagery. The same issue applies in abstract art. If we analyse more than three decades of contemporary artwork in China, we find that we’ve developed a problem in our iconology. The directivity of our iconology is short-lived because it’s just the expression of a minor complaint existing in society, or a reaction to a particular stage of development, so the icons it produces lack permanent value. In abstract art, because abstract images are not really directly connectable to reality, there is more freedom. In some ways, there is a low entry bar to abstract art, but at the same time, it is the most difficult form of art to excel at. From the very beginning we witnessed two phenomena: the rational, and the emotional. The emotional phenomena involved expressing oneself; anyone has a reason to express themselves and the power to do so. You can complete a work of expression in one attempt, but it is difficult to keep the creative juices flowing. Is it possible to control one’s creativity? Can an artist actually ensure that their ideas flow continuously onto the canvas? That’s not a tap you can just turn on or off. That’s why, at a lot of group exhibitions of abstract art in China, there are often pieces of art that are exhibited on the fringes of the event that, in terms of iconology, feature old and outdated images. They aren’t challenging in any way compared to what has gone before. Some people have raised the notion of “New York” abstract or “Asian” abstract, which adds a regional dimension to abstract art. This often happens in abstract painting. What I personally really care about, though, is whether there is an image that is new, relevant to our contemporary age, and which can epitomise my unique individual mode of expression.

HJ: If we turn to the issue of crafts, I think it’s fair to that your work does have some contradictory elements. Firstly, you have created paintings that combine physical exploration of the cognitive and direct imagery with linguistic structure. Secondly, you have developed a method of execution that follows the crafts tradition and which is all about tireless, purely technical skill. These two aspects of your work seem to have little overlap. How did they both come to be in your paintings and complement one another?

DY: I actually thrive on these contradictions. When I’m evaluating a painting, my first rule of thumb is “integrity”. A painting must have integrity; there must be no cunning little tricks by the artist. Don’t fiddle with the painting, don’t mess with its basic makeup or try to hide something bad inside it. A painting should be full of positive, upright energy. The principle of integrity applies to the artistic process, too: not hurrying to finish the piece is just as important. Second, under the principle of integrity, I have always tried to make my paintings “dissonant”. A painting should not flow too much, or be too easy on the eyes – too beautiful – I’m against all that. A good painting should be difficult and challenging to view. Elements of difficulty in a painting complement its overall upright, positive feel, and give it some quirkiness. When you mix design with painting to create this slight dissonance, the finished work feels like neither painting nor design piece; it’s somewhere in between the two.

A painting should not be too overt in its intent. There needs be a middle ground which could be ambiguous. Sometimes, an artist uses language which is difficult to explain very clearly, but the imagery they use is accessible to the viewer. The viewer may in fact have an ambiguous reaction to the painting. It’s not as clear-cut as a mathematical formula; there’s no absolutely correct answer.

HJ: Does that mean you believe that craft, or technical elements, actually help you balance out your “positive integrity” and your “dissonance”?

DY: Yes. Over the past few years, though, my style has been made up of a few elements. Firstly, there’s the grid formation which I’ve used in every painting. Secondly, everything is expressed using lines. Thirdly, there’s the 十 or the 米 symbols. These three elements, taken together, comprise my individual style and set me apart from other artists. Everything else in my art has come from my personal journey, but these three elements are my art’s basic building blocks. My grid, lines, and symbols have all been carefully designed by me. They have been with me the whole way.

HJ: As a painter, how exactly do you view the relationship between the body and your work? It seems clear that in your system, the body does not have the strong presence one sees in abstract expressionist painting, but at the same time, the body has an irreplaceable role in your work given the rational nature of your ideas and techniques. In fact, compared to expressionist painting and some very passionate painters, the role of “the body” in your work seems far more complex given your years of repeated, similar body movements (as you work).

DY: You’re right that the body has a more complex, and actually a deeper role to play in my work. The movements of an abstract expressionist artist are what’s on the surface; they can be effected. For instance, you can ensure your movement during the painting process are more rhythmic. However, it’s important to note that the kind of movements I make during painting are continuous and spread over a long time. The reason that abstract expressionism has become an art movement is that it requires large movements of the body. The principle behind bodily movement during the painting process is the same regardless of the style, though: I tend to move my arm or wrist more than other parts of the body. I don’t think art should be judged on its so-called “movement”; it’s not as if you can produce more powerful art by moving your body more violently. That’s not how it works – rather, the relationship between one’s movements and one’s art is very subtle – it’s micro-microscopic. You can find traces of an artist’s movements in their paintings, but mine are very subtle. Perhaps works of art with these minute details in the end leave a longer-lasting impression, because once you sit down to paint, you can be there painting for ten hours. In that space of time, someone like Jackson Pollock might have produced three paintings.

Over the last few years, I’ve really been in the zone. I’ve had a very strong desire to create, so strong in fact that I can’t stop myself. I can truly become lost in my work. I experienced a similar period early on in my career, around 1991, and I think the spark has come back to me. When you have the time at your disposal, you can really immerse yourself. In 1991, I would normally begin work in the afternoon and not stop until around 8 in the evening. Then I’d get on my bicycle and go see a movie. Then I’d come back at around 10 in the evening and continue painting, right up until 4 in the morning. In those days, the lines between work and life didn’t exist. Everything in my life was about my art. That’s really the best possible outcome. Right now, I feel very much like I did then. All of my time is taken up by one thing: painting new works. When I get tired, I take a half-hour break, but otherwise, all of my spirit, ideas, and time goes into my work. That’s why I think I’m in a really good place right now.

HJ: In your career, have you encountered any difficulties? In the past, you’ve experimented with many different materials and techniques. You’ve pushed the envelope and expanded the definitions of the genre. In the last few years, however, you don’t seem to have made so many changes in terms of the overall image or in technique. Instead, you’ve focused on how to deal with the structure of each work (rather than simply becoming “more and more abstract”).

DY: Yes, of course, there have been difficulties that I’ve constantly had to face. Firstly, within the creative process, you have ebb and flow; you have peaks. In recent years, the peaks haven’t been so obvious. I’ve been trying to use some external factors to inspire myself – such as exhibitions (one major exhibition a year) – because these call on all of my energy, passion and work attitude.

In every exhibition I have new work on display, and there are always changes compared to the previous year. But more than just changes in the paintings themselves, I need to have changes in the way I think, and in my vision. One thing I’ve always felt is that in the midst of this challenging environment into which I put myself, there is no hurdle that cannot be overcome. There is always a relationship between the image on the canvas and the spirituality you’re seeking. Sometimes, the more complex you make the image, the more you detract from the content of the work. I keep thinking about Malevich’s white-on-white work. When I compare my work with his, I can’t help but feel my own is full of waffle. It’s really difficult to attain that kind of absolute standard, as he did. My reaction to that is to ask: where’s the new spirituality? How do you express it? What method should you use? The answer of course, is to use your own method – not Malevich’s – and use it to extract something more powerful for your painting.

HJ: As you began your career with “form” and gradually worked towards the noumenon of painting itself, would it be correct to say that your work has picked up the baton dropped by early Chinese modernist art from the first half of the 20th century? It was early modernist artists like Lin Fengmian, Zhang Guangyu, Wu Dayu, and Pang Xunqin who initiated the modernist style in China, before it was interrupted by the war in the 1930s. After 1949, the spirit of modernism was further obscured by the political lens of the time. Do you think that your identity as a Shanghainese “Haipai” artist is even more relevant, given this context? What we’re actually examining here is the continuing development of modernism within a cultural bloc centred around Shanghai.

DY: When I was at craft school in the 1980s, I studied Western modernism. It’s interesting to note that at that time, works by the cohort of old artists who had returned to China in the 1930s were being brought out and featured in exhibitions. The artwork on display was by artists like Liu Haili, Guan Liang, and Wu Dayu. I’ve actually always been interested in early modernism. For example, I paint scenery using Maurice Utrillo’s technique, and I often add in some Guan Liang-esque elements like when I paint pine trees. I really like how Guan Liang dealt with pines, or bamboo fences next to Western-style houses, in his work. I learnt from Guan by studying his work. But at the same time, I don’t just follow the work of these artists. I analyse it. For example, I’ve never thought of Wu Dayu simply as an abstract painter – he seems more like an imagist to me, and that’s how I would view the artists of his era. When I saw Zao Wou-ki’s work for the first time at the then Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Art) in 1983, I was really excited because I saw Zao Wou-ki as the first ethnic Chinese to have made such a tremendous breakthrough in abstract art. I employed his techniques in a few paintings to learn from him. I have consistently mentioned Zao in the media, but today when I see his work I don’t like it at all. The biggest problem with his work is it’s too sweet, too saturated, too pretty. I like his work from the 1960s, or from 1971-1972 – but nothing after that.

These artists were the first to bring in Western art to China and to localise it. My study of Zao and Utrillo happened at the same time and their work had a strong formative influence on me. I didn’t complete my study of oil painting; in my second year I applied to join the traditional Chinese painting faculty. At that point I had already come to the conclusion that my future path lay in some combination of Chinese and Western art. Going to study traditional Chinese painting would give me a grounding in an area of which I knew little. However, once I graduated, I no longer had illusions about fusing East and West because I believed to do so would only be a stage in the journey. Even had I managed to do so, I would not have revolutionised the state of art in China. It was too great a challenge for me; I couldn’t find a breakthrough point. If you look at Japan, you’ll find the same issue – there was no breakthrough there, either. I do hope though that when change comes, it happens on an equal footing with the West. Japan, on the other hand, has defined itself within the Western value system; you see this in Japanese manga or erotic culture, where what is produced is rather exotic in a way that mirrors the exoticism of the 1930s. When we say “fusing” of East and West, what we actually mean is exoticism. For the West, that exoticism comes from the East, but the language used comes from the West.

Today, everything has been turned on its head. People’s understanding, perspective and vision are all different. Nevertheless, I hope that at some point, the Chinese spirit will be able to find its voice. As for exactly what language it will use, perhaps its will adopt some enhanced language or a new form of language. I’m not sure. Perhaps there will be some huge change in the future. This is an issue that means a great deal to me. It’s truly difficult to resolve. If you explore the issue, you have to talk about the wider picture and things like the state of the economy, China’s place on the world stage, or the extent to which art has prospered. Why was such a transformation not possible in Japan? I think the key reason is that they didn’t build their own platform for it: they spent all their money on importing Western works of Impressionist art. That meant they were unable to construct a localised context and thus nurture an environment for art to grow. For China, I feel that there is the possibility of change.

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6784.Ding Yi: 十×30 Years


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