The Cultural Pop: Wei Guangqing and his "Red Wall"

Zhu Bin Lu Hong

When discussing the fine arts of the last ten years, we are mostly surprised by the fact that many people are conceptually mixing the vanguard with the new trend fine arts. In fact, the so-called vanguard art is not running after the international trend of art, nor the art only labeled "new". On one hand, according to the opinion of a Japanese critic, the important principle of vanguard art is to set out from the realistic basic problem; On the other, a vanguard artist must be able to convert the culture problem he or she proposed into a concrete artistic one and successfully settle it. It is meaningless dwelling on the simple transplanting on concept and technique here. It can only bring a brief news effect for the artist at most, not to say a major breakthrough in the field, nor to virtually enter the international art circle or the hallmark of art history. Based on the above understanding, we give special importance to the recent art experiment made by Wei Guangqing. Because in these works, the painter has embarked on something new that possesses clear regional feature by emphasizing the cultural bearing of his medium and formed something different in the explanation depth of the basic concepts of the vanguard art.

Although these works are not without flaws at the moment, we feel they have already been very hard to have in present time.

As a later comer to the new trend art, Wei Guangqing has once attracted the concern from home and abroad. But due to the hasty and utilitarian mood that swept over the whole art circle in running after the trend of internationalization, Wei Guangqing's works, same as many new trend artists', had clear traces of imitation, be it in the conception or the artistic expression.

For example, their expression concepts remind one of the Western thinkers such as Sarte and Freud, etc, the techniques bring you to the paintings of Western modernist masters like Bacon and others. We can say this shows the lack of originality or regional characteristics.

Realizing the thread of above problem to his true existence in the artcircles, the painter gradually revised his approach in his later art making and successfully addressed his own artistic problem which is how to use the Chinese popular visual symbol to react to the cultural problem facing China at present. Doubtless, the proposal of this problem arose from his careful study of art history and, more accurately, the pop art in relation to the present Chinese culture. Then, the painter has thus found a solid starting point surpassing his predecessors and others, and made a virtual progress in his art making. The enlightenment of Wei Guangqing's recent works lies in the fact that, like a child needing parents, every artist needs influence from outside and must deviate from that influence. Only in so doing, one can establish oneself in the contemporary art circle.

If Wei Guangqing's ready-made visual language and his concern on the reality are quite identical with the pop art, then his targeting culture problem and the expression method are clearly different from the pop art in their actual experiment scheme. Firstly, he is setting out from the special social and historical situation and has deviated from the theme motivation of the American pop art in the direction of its commercial culture and taken the traditional culture as his theme motivation consciously. Secondly, he chiefly uses the visual symbols from the traditional culture for his art expression and often combines them with modern and written symbols, for the sake of the connection of visual experiences between reality and history. Comparatively speaking, his recent work series named "Red Wall" looks more successful. This is mainly shown in its clear theme orientation and the originality of art style.

The visual symbol of "Red Wall" is taken from the traditional moral classics "Zhu Zi's Family Maxim" and "The Virtuous Words", and its themes are targeted at the traditional morals.

As everyone knows, starting from the entire advantage of feudal officials group, the ruling class consistently emphasized the importance of the monarch's framework of father and son, the superior and inferior, and the feudal class order in successive dynasties, and advocated feudal ethics such as "the three cardinal guides and the five constant virtues" and "the three obedience and the four virtues" etc.. Especially in the Nan Song Dynasty, Zhu Xi made the feudal ethical morals hightly completed, and brought them down to simple languages so that they penetrated through every social corner. Adding that in his effort to philosophize Confucianism, he put forward the viewpoint of "reason differs minutely". Soon, the feudal class orders and ethical morals are looked at as the utmost justice, and people can only act accordingly. So, the tradition morals have almost become a law of incomplete law form, and exert an invisible and huge pressure on people-up to now, people still can not break away from this entangling pressure. As is pointed out by many scholars, the biggest symptom of feudal ethical morals is its strangling of people's individuality and the creativeness with the entire doctrine of the feudal system, and its hindering the healthy development of society. As a man highly conscious of his Chinese cultural background and tradition, Wei Guangqing has found out that many of the modern problems are rooted in the feudal ethical morals, and thus has been his introspective approach to the status quo, not like the American pop art by direct intervention. He is seemingly to remind people: all the realistic problems are historical problems, any settlement to them must be from the clearing up of historical problems, otherwise we would just step on the old road of our reform predecessors again.

Nevertheless, Wei Guangqing is not a "critical realist", and he is not directly extracting his source material from the first reality, and bemoaning the state of affair and preaching. Oppositely, he formed a basic composition for his paintings using the source materials from the second reality and the red wall symbol. Interestingly is this kind of technique mutually dissolved history and reality, and has cleverly cleared up the original meaning of the traditional symbol, making it an abstract symbol symbolizing the feudal norms, and hence anyone having a bit of interests in his works can perceive the theme projected. Wei Guangqing is smart in that he changed this cultural problem from which no one can exempt being involved into a visible graph, and enlisted it openly under the illumination of consciousness. Certainly this would possibly stimulate some spectators to make open inquiries about, for example, the morality of the feudal norms made in the name of being moral itself? Did the moral mythology that the feudal society created show those constrained desires and anxieties? Seeing the painting, one understands that the painter has given the right to answer these questions to the spectator and history. And this is where the new artists differ from their predecessors. Frankly speaking, we appreciate the former more. Because the new artists do not like lecturing to people, and their biggest hope is to use a more perfect artistic means to let the spectator able to coordinate with history, and they would be perfectly content as long as such an aim be achieved.

The more study on the artistic experiments made by Wei Guangqing recently, the more people feel that the borrowing of the ready-made symbols formed his artistic style. Perhaps, according to traditional viewpoint, this kind of borrowing is naked plagiarizing. But we feel discovering the deep cultural meaning in the ready-made symbols and then taking them into a surreal, absurd and poetic context is, in itself, a new kind of creativity. It surely possesses the piercing power through the turbid layer of our present culture when the traditional visual symbols are flexibly borrowed as is the fact in "Red Wall", and this naturally makes the works gain a special kind of formal beauty and aesthetic significance. Thus can be seen, the so-called "appropriation' is essentially a development and screening, and it needs the mind's eye. Seeing from another angle, borrowing the readymade symbols has more culture consideration than formal consideration. If we do not understand this point, we may make mistakes considering it from the art morphology, not from the value system on which it is relying. About this, the painter's words are very provocative: "Contemporary art is to concern society, history and culture. It can be said, for the contemporary artist, the so-called artistic language is only an expression means and has no meaning to itself. So, this involves two criteria weighing the artistic language. The first, whether the language accurately reveals the culture problem the painter wants to show. The second, whether this language possesses the special power to move the audience. In my opinion, if such criteria be met, creation or appropriation mean nothing."--quoted from the painter's "Art Notes" Then, what reaction the idea of Wei Guangqing will bring about in the contemporary art circle of China? Or, will it attract attention among the many creations of art Today? This obviously can not be immediately answered. But one thing is for sure. The painter has provided the Chinese art circle with a new enlightenment; namely when painting drops its supreme goal in style and turns to reality, it is more penetrable to human culture background. Because so, we eagerly hope all those concerning themselves with the development of today's art should sincerely study the realistic issue for China's art history raised by "Red Wall", though judged by past standard, it is not artistic. We believe, along with the constant laying out of the issue and with the formation of a new viewing background, China's contemporary art must have a rapid development and win a more extensive audience. Because people hope to find for themselves the moral and meaning from art works they have been so anxiously searching in this world.