A figure, clearly a young girl from the nineties sits supporting herself, somewhat uncomfortably before us.  Beside her is a pottery figure that seems to have gained a new lease of life from its special surroundings, in an unsettling way. An apartment block looms up behind the girl; whilst the McDonald’s logo and the vehicles passing below give us to a greater or lesser extent an angry and vivid sense of possibility. Members of the audience familiar with the locality of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (SFAI) where the artist teaches, will note at a glance that the fly-over and mottled flats close by are the kind that may be seen all over Chongqing. These are images from the oil painting “The Nostalgic Series, Youth” which was completed by Zhong Biao in November 1994.  In the catalogue for “The Fable of Life” from his first solo exhibition in 1997, Zhong Biao added the following lines next to the painting, “Imagine you had to use one word to some up your faithful advice to the youth living in the year 2000, what would it be? The three most prominent words appearing in answer to the survey are: Live, Love, Learn.” Could the audience looking at this work find in those words an answer to the riddle contained in the structure composed of simple contrasts? Can they identify in the three words beginning with ‘L’ the point the artist was trying to raise? Can they perceive the meaning of the artist’s actions?

 

In his ‘Self Introduction’ written on the 21st March 1998 and published in the “Fine Arts Literature”magazine of that year, Zhong Biao explains, in a somewhat cumbersome fashion, the true beginning of his artistic system.

 

The noise of the transformer on the fluorescent light continues, the roadsweeper’s broom begins to polish the streets, the blue sky turns pale, I am used to such sleepless nights. As I complete the final brushstroke I know that my rebirth has come for certain. I name the painting, “The Nostalgia Series: Youth”. This was a morning in November, 1994.

 

That morning in November, 1994 was certainly a turning point for Zhong Biao, because it was that painting which demarcated his basic style and the formation of his way of observing the world.  The basic traits of this painting are that it is transposed, illogical and un-related, along with its transcendence of everyday living.  Although in later works Zhong Biao will utilize more complex compositions, those paintings rich in imagery are but an extension and expansion of the content that this painting set out to describe.

 

For his first solo exhibition, Zhong Biao wrote a lengthy self-introduction, starting with his birth, in a writing style extremely uncommon amongst his contemporaries. We understand that his descriptions of his birth and early years come from his later questioning his parents, however it is the psychological drive of curiosity and thirst for understanding itself that is crucial, because Zhong Biao’s art and his considerations of the past, present and future are intricately connected. To a large extent, Zhong Biao has a penchant for unrelated experiences, wherever possible he will collect all kinds of images from different historical periods and geographical locations. He raises the concept of ‘pursuing memory’, but how is one to pursue the indirectly related events of long ago? Inevitably, imagination or fantasy become Zhong Biao’s tools, which are the principle causes of his art in later years.

 

Zhong Biao was born in November 1968, when the military struggle in Chongqing was at its fiercest. His personal name ‘Biao’ was chosen by his parents from the elegiac couplet dedicated to those lost in the military struggle “The international funeral march begins to sound, like a hurricane (biao) descending from the heavens”.  A connotation of the word ‘biao’ is the word for storm, its component word in english is hurricane, it describes a powerful and unstoppable force. It is however, a word with little relation to Zhong Biao’s later stature and physical appearance.

 

Zhong Biao’s love of painting is innate, which led to his experiences of copying illustrations from picture books, drawing cartoons and painting propaganda pictures. In 1978, the eleventh plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party was held in Beijing, the meeting decided for the movement of the focus of Party work to the establishment of the economy.  Although this event has no direct relationship to Zhong Biao, it decided that Zhong Biao would have the opportunity to see “Scar Art” and “Nativism” in 1982.  He recalls, “The first time that I went to the SFAI I was inspired by the oil paintings that I saw, and from that moment began to wander away from the scientific route my parents had marked out for me. (“The Fable Of Life - Zhong Biao’s Oil Paintings”, published by Schoeni Gallery, 1997.)

 

In 1983, Zhong Biao attended the SFAI secondary school, and was able to begin specialist studies. While at the school he became familiar with the expressionist artist Munch through his own own interest. Although the artist describes the effect of Occidental thought on China in 1985, we cannot ignore the fact that it is merely a development of his own psychological factors that year:

 

That day at midday, the sun shone piercingly. I don’t know how I got to the museum, but when there, Rembrandt’s paintings struck me, they moved me. I thought to myself: What can I do but admire them? “Young lad! Those paintings are your own.” I turned my head in surprise, but I could find no face for the voice. I believe they were words of truth, I was overjoyed.  Unfortunately I woke up and found that it was, after all, a dream.

 

Like a mirage!

 

Just as I was thinking, another even more attractive idea was forming: Even if those paintings are Rembrandt’s works, even if I’ve seen nothing to compare with them in the world, perhaps they really do belong to me – and will be my future works. I struggled to remember, but the actual images of the paintings were fading fast.

 

Again, it was like a mirage!

 

But what could not be erased was a final aesthetic ideal amidst the chaos, I thought: these paintings are the dream and answer to the riddle of my life.

 

It was a point I realised years later. (“The Fable of Life – Zhong Biao’s Oil Paintings” 1997 published by Schoeni Gallery.)

 

It was obviously a psychological phenomenon like a daydream, and it is this kind of psychological activity that is the driving force behind his later explosive creative world; it is this that explains why he is so different from other Sichuanese artists of his age amongst his colleagues at SFAI.

 

In August 1987, Zhong Biao received an admission notice from the China Central Academy of Arts (CCAA), he saw the ‘doleful and delicate young maiden’- the West Lake; an image that he had yearned for and been unable to cast off since his youth. That kind of mental satisfaction isn’t born over night; the natural environment of the West Lake, as well as its historical and traditional qualities, the ‘rippling willows and oriole calls’ that surround the Lake, described as ‘a pot of fine wine’, the artist himself has even used “Drunk for 1987” and such descriptions, which once again indicate Zhong Biao’s intense interest in history. In later pieces, we see so many historical images and references, which are directly related to that interest.

 

His studies at the CCAA did not mean any special resources, as Zhong Biao is more concerned with his own psychological and emotional worlds, he unconsciously drinks at the very spot of the “broken bridge in the snow”, and without giving any specific reasons, he felt that “his home was far away on the horizon, whilst the West Lake shimmers, close at hand, yet intangible” (1988). This shows that Zhong Biao is yet to be clear about his artistic direction, he is yet to extract the concrete visual elements from reality and history.

 

In his “Self Introduction”, Zhong Biao writes in detail about historic events in Beijing during the year 1989. He records the passing of the former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party on the 15th of March, however he also makes a record of inviting his girlfriend to go mountain climbing; he records extremely personal events alongside the students from Peking University, Beijing Normal University, Renmin University and the University of Political Science and Law gathering on Tiananmen Square to mourn the passing of Hu Yaobang. He does not, however, give any explanation to or contrast between either of the two events.  He describes the experience of climbing the mountain, “the peak of the mountain was like a stage, in the distance there was only the sound of waves beating the cliffs”, this is an interpretative experience of society; he pays attention to the aim of the students, to the editorials and martial law featured in the Renmin Daily newspaper, he is also frank about his own feelings: “Three years later I stood on Tiananmen Square for the first time, with no trace of June 4th, on a clear autumn day of brilliant sunshine.” Nevertheless his summing up is analytical. 

 

The bells began to sound, eventful 1989 will leave us never to return, the eighties will leave us never to return. How many moments and events will be forgotten, to be recalled at a later date, perhaps even to change the direction of our lives. All I know is that: every one of us hides their joy and sadness at the bottom of their hearts, many moments that have been dismissed from our minds, but have existed previously create a sediment, like the light fragrance of a mellow old wine, to become the preferred beverage of our later years in the armchair.

 

(“The Fable of Life – Zhong Biao’s Oil Paintings” 1997 published by Schoeni Gallery.)

 

 After his graduation, Zhong Biao visited various cultural sites.

 

From Xi’an to Lintong, Xianyang, Fufeng, Fengxiang, Linyou, Baoji, Tianshui, Maiji Mountain, Meng Yuan, Fenglingdu, Ruicheng, Tongguan, Luoyang, Suzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou. In my journey, ‘History’, this weighty presence has left me speechless. As I stood gasping before the murals at the Yongle Palace an idea sprung up: Time. The corrosion, the weathering, the fading colours, the pieces dropping off, the removals, the destruction or war and the publicisation by media.  These murals that had been endlessly crafted by the hands of man and nature, throughout the changes of time, they have already surpassed the original capacity and content, they are like an enormous diary, recording the progress of time, and being endlessly created, following the passage of time.

 

 (“The Fable of Life – Zhong Biao’s Oil Paintings” 1997 published by Schoeni Gallery.)

 

Such ideas and feelings bring history from being hidden in the subconscious up to the level of consciousness.  At this point Zhong Biao begins to develop a linguistic understanding, he associates “patination” with “time” and thereby attains a fuller understanding of ‘perfection’ in art, and so classical notions of ‘perfection’ are once more overturned, which opens the door to Zhong Biao’s independent creations.

 

In 1991 before his graduation, Zhong Biao begins to cement his ideas about art, he completed “City Passer-by” No’s 1, 2 and 3 as his graduation pieces. Although the artist describes his feelings on the day of his graduation as, “an intense feeling of separation, those three paintings were like my children, they had their own independent lives to lead, and were no longer a part of me”, however, he gives little evaluation of the works themselves. He records, before leaving Hangzhou, “On a summer evening in August, at the foot of The Mountain of the Jade Emperor in Hangzhou, after Laozi, Zhuangzi, Confucious and Mencius had taken turns at brain-washing me, I went to the courtyard to look at the stars, the air was busy with the sound of cicadas, creating a sound that seemed unreal. The constellations moved along on their own orbits at high speed, whilst being hidden in the human stillness of vision. The constellations were a lot higher up than an aeroplane, an aeroplane is a lot higher up than the peak of Everest, and Everest is a lot higher up than we are; our measures of height are really a matter of your point of view. Struggling to be higher is meaningless, what is important is to find one’s own position and route. This is an alternative explanation to my first word, “Height”. (“The Fable of Life – Zhong Biao’s Oil Paintings” 1997 published by Schoeni Gallery). Such thoughts are just a dissolution of the essentialism of the eighties, in fact it is because he has not had the experience of being directly related to the history that artists born in the fifties feel, that allows Zhong Biao to cast off with such ease the urge to seek meanings that persists in Modern Art.  As a result, it is natural that he finds a connection with the “New Generation” of Beijing and “Playful Realism”.

 

The “City Passer-By” series comprises of three paintings, the first of which is an interior view, the second an exterior view and the third is a painting of a street scene. Anyone with experience of art history will be able to interpret the language of the triptych, it is a format that makes surrealism easily identifiable. However, apart from the first two paintings that remind us of the recent forms of his teacher Xu Mangyao, the composition of the third painting is crucially different in one aspect to the two previous paintings: illogical positioning. Although the figures in the third painting are images from a mural, it is not a mere case of visual error,however, as an attempt to bring the ancient together with the present day, the two images are arranged in an effort to attain a logical positioning. It is an arithmatic process to do with ‘connections’, it does not in itself bring about a new way of viewing, and has nothing to do with the innateness of perception that the artist feels unconsciously. In the third painting, realism has been suspended, unless we are certain of a temporary benchmark, we are unable to form judgement about the pottery figure that recalls the ancient world. A sense of possibility and freedom makes itself more or less felt. In the same year, Zhong Biao made some experimentation with what might have been sketches. There is a figure that could have been taken directly out of “City Passer-By: 3” in the composition of  “Sense of Loss”, again we see the rubbish bin in the shape of a lion. Despite this, “City Passer-By: 3” in its concrete representation preserves for us a sensitivity of viewing. The method of placing together images that seem unrelated, along with the deliberate use of symbols by the artist does not seek to explain an as yet undiscovered secret, but rather presents something that he has perceived, perhaps a reality that is visible in the daily life of his friends. Therefore, once the psychological support is found, this sensitivity will continue to find corresponding derivative forms.

 

In September 1991, Zhong Biao began teaching at SFAI. Through an experience in which he purchased a counterfeit vase, he became fond of collecting antiques. In fact, he seeks to maintain a connection with history through such antique objects. Which also explains partly why the artist frequently includes such “antiques” in the compositions of his paintings. After having “stuck it out” through a placid 1993, in 1994 Zhong Biao completed the “Nostalgia Series” and “Travel Notes from the Dressing Table”, these pieces are of crucial importance, the artist himself said, “it was as if he had found a reason to live”. Just like the result of his marriage, in 1995 the artist started on a new phase. The artist found that the ‘mirage’ he had felt in the past had become a reality, and now he was about to develop this daydream that filled him with excitement. He felt as if he could construct a Heaven based upon his own ‘logic’ or order: “It is the mirage of earlier days that I seek, and attempt to combine myself with into a non-self. I am stunned because the state in the paintings is my own state of existence, the private and the fable.” (“The Fable of Life – Zhong Biao’s Oil Paintings” 1997 published by Schoeni Gallery). The important change that has taken place here is not the confirmation of a mode of language, but that the artist has realised that these strange and unpredictable images are a record of his own existence, he has made his own state into a world of imagery, and made that world of imagery into a mirror for reality.

 

The title of Zhong Biao’s first solo exhibition was “The Fable of Life”.  The basic connotation of “fable” is “ficitonal” and “symbolic”, as if it were something that did not exist. However, what is existence? What is real? These old questions have been overthrown by reality, and are often doubted by the people of today. Such upheaval and doubts have already transcended the determinism of modern essentialism, therefore Zhong Biao has been walking on a post-modern road ever since his personal artistic style originated, following the tendency of his inner mind quite naturally, he has moved away from the ever-remaining modernism born in the ‘90s in South-West China.

 

“Attain Enlightenment” from 1996 is just what the title promises, the young girl has changed from her forced position, she stands smiling, as if she has discovered something. The background is a scene of folk fortune-telling that looks as if it would be more appropriate in the pre-1949 era, when in reality, such a scene can still be found up to this day. The artist presents the scenery of Chongqing in a concrete fashion, whilst the advertising slogans remind us of the developing economy. What is worth paying attention to is that Zhong Biao executes the whole background in a charcoal sketch, a style more often seen in an artist’s preliminary sketch before the oil painting is completed. In 1997, at the same time as producing works covered completely in oil paint, Zhong Biao continues to utilise this method, he was experimenting with his notion of “perfection”, which is to say, whether or not the painting can transcend the accustomed principle of “completion”. In the years that followed, Zhong Biao made increasing experiments with this method, up until the year 2005 when he used a charcoal stick to write up his personal explanations to the old questions he has constantly been considering, upon a canvas:

 

What is Great Art?

 

For art to be great, it must possess the following three qualities: Accuracy, Realism and Freedom. 

 

Accuracy is the abililty to express your aim with concision.  It incorporates the combination of your knowledge, technique, intelligence and experience.

 

Realism does not refer to form, but to the fusion of artistic reality and the truth of life in the deepest parts of your heart.  It rejects the traps of the insubstantial, utilitarian and foolish, it is the pursuit at the beginning and the end of art, even the reason to exist as an artist.

 

Freedom is the state that finds comprehension and realization along the path of constant breakthrough from the boundaries of ‘self’ and ‘history’. It is the ambition of art.

 

The words above were written in 2005, but the questions involved had been persistently bothering him ever since his days as a student at CCAA. His teacher Jin Yide had raised and answered such questions in the lecture hall, but it only served to confuse the student with his knowledge of 20th century art history, because it is not as easy to explain works from a hundred years ago as it is to explain pre-19th century works, whether they be Western or Chinese.

 

Zhong Biao made a bold departure in approaching the concept of “Greatness”, with his explanation of its three component elements: he changed his view of “accuracy” to make it include a multi-faceted ability to express one’s inner targets, rather than a mere question of technique; he changed the meaning of “reality” to emphasise its close-knit connection with inner needs and targets; he changed the usual meaning of “freedom” to emphasise the importance of “state”, he said that attaining one’s “state” is the “ambition of art”. Approximately five years after leaving university, the question “What is Great Art?” continued to entangle Zhong Biao.  This state of mind originates from his fascination with the possibility behind art. In reality, his mountaineering, visiting ancient sites and even his views on traditional art, to a large extent were his desire to experience the “state” in which art makes us aware of our demands.  “State” is a very Chinese word, which has much to do with psychological demands and linguistic models. However, Zhong Biao is clearly not a man to pay too much heed to things that are already lectures in logic, he would rather be like Hesse, becoming a Steppenwolf, seeking those possibilities undiscovered or unnoticed by other people. He collects, dissolves, disperses, rearranges and borrows, He has said that this is the world as he sees it. Therefore, a visual “state” naturally appears. On this point, Zhong Biao has not fallen into the hole of conceptualism, he very naturally agrees with the idea of the ancients, that a state in itself is a view on the world, changes of state are changes of concept, an artist has no need to concern himself too greatly with whether or not his concept is novel –this is a problem shared by many young artists. Therefore, to a certain extent, “What is Great Art?” (2005) is the sign of a turning point, which signals Zhong Biao’s decisive judgement on “completeness” and “possibility” in art.


It is difficult to say whether Zhong Biao’s transcendental experience of nativism is instinctual or not, but what we may be sure of is that it is China’s economic market and the globalisation of  information that drives the artist to seek new outlooks upon the world that seems at once familiar and strange to him. What we cannot answer here is, why artists such as Guo Jin and Xin Haizhou, as well as other artists who also live and work in the Huang Jueping area keep their point of view on such a relatively narrow corner. During 1998, Zhong Biao laid out the facts: when he left Sichuan to study in Hangzhou, he experienced the mysterious transcendence of location.  ‘Movement’ showed him that no one should indulge themselves too much in one ‘location’, he was pleased with experiencing changes in ‘means and situations of existence’. He said.

 

Whether you go from Beijing to Chongqing, or from New York to Egypt, from the city to the countryside, from other places back home … the differences we face are all on the one planet, all that changes is our point of view, therefore it is in movement that we are able to come closer to reality. Movement is not only geographical, it is psychological as well. (Zhong Biao’s Self Introduction 1998, from “Fine Arts Literature” 1998)

 

Doubtless, this experience is just as special as Guo Jin’s intense feeling of the “patination” of life, or Xin Haizhou’s experience of the moment in which the eyes of youth are opened. In 2005, Zhong Biao wrote a short essay on Parisian Impressionism, although it lacks coherency, it may go far to express Zhong Biao’s very coherent feelings about Paris. As early as the year 2001 he had stated that what he was seeking was an “order”, however this “order” clearly stems from his personal experience, what looks varied on the surface may have its own innate cause and effect, this seems to be Zhong Biao’s undying belief.

 

Indeed, those “incomplete” pieces that “return to the sketch”and developed all the way up until 2006 finally had a“complete” explanation. In fact, over thousands of years, neither Oriental nor Occidental art has sought to regulate the form of art in any way, it is understanding and state that have created new art. Zhong Biao, in his process of collecting images found repetitions, derivatives and variants, and even some means of agreement in order to recreate a new art space. Therefore, in the exhibition “Beyond Painting”, exhibited at Xindong Cheng’s international art space, he makes a comprehensive conclusion to his previous experiments, by seeking new explanations of space and time. 

 

It actually makes no difference whether it is ancient or modern, western or eastern, our present includes all of our yesterdays, even those things that we have forgotten about; to put it another way, today is in fact the sum of all of our yesterdays, and all things of today will be carried forward and enveloped in the future.  Conversely, as we face the many possibilities of things to happen in the future, those possibilities too are enveloped in our present day. This moment and this place, Yuan dynasty antiques, a chair from one hundred years ago, a sofa produced just last year, this year’s freshest batch of tea, or bread just out of the oven, these things are only differentiated by the time of their production, they have their own possibilities which exist naturally, changing all the time.  Therefore, the past, present and future form an indivisible whole and as we pass through, we are making an entrance upon part of it, and nothing more.

 

The above words are printed upon the exhibition catalogue, in fact these descriptions are another instance of his defence of past paintings. What indicates a new attitude is the explanaiton of the exhibition itself:

 

The “Beyond Painting” Project goes beyond a mere pictorial representation of real life.  The very existence of the visual work creates another version of real life.  Through the innate logic of my paintings and our entry upon the scene, we are connected to our society from a different perspective.  As we rush on by, with just a glance, such paintings will affect the way we see everything else in life.

 

 The title of the exhibition is translated as “Beyond Painting”, indicating a transcendence of painting.  Indeed, Zhong Biao has sought to transcend painting, he is dissatisfied with “Great” art completed and hung in a frame. For this exhibition he collected source materials, and composed them within a large space, at the same time he broke down those materials, indicating to the audience that parts of the painting could be seen from another point of view.  He utilised picture frames within the painting to signify the repetition of space, signalling to us that a work of art in one frame does not designate the finalisation of that piece of art, signalling to us that as the audience to this work of art, we also become part of the artwork. The premise for such signals can all be traced back to the changes in conceptual art since the 1990s and new artistic practices.

 

The form of the exhibition seems somewhat fantastic, the artist asks us to form thoughts and responses to the entire space, asks us to cast aside concepts of “painting”, “completeness” and “themes” and form our own judgements. The artist has created a new reality, that he needs us to participate in, to feel; in the process of experience or feeling we cease to be onlookers, in this way alone can the artist unfold the question he seeks to bring to light.

 

Paintings within paintings have something playful about them, however, apart from the question of visual interest, the frames in the painting are symbolic as well.  They are a complex that has stuck with Zhong Biao throughout his contemplations of art, as well as being a symbolic description of “transcendence” and “state”.  The critic Pi Li analyses Zhong Biao’s work,

 

In the new “Beyond Painting” project, space has two layers of meaning. Firstly the layering of space in the paintings has begun to show signs of moving away from logical lines. In Zhong Biao’s early works, he would always try to make the non-existent spaces more objective when opening up the arrangement of images along the temporal dimension.  This idea is reflected in the layering of different images as its key technique, leaving empty spaces to create a feeling of spatial depth.  At present, Zhong Biao uses the form of paintings within paintings, moving a part of the background painting directly to a central position on the canvas, whilst using a clear-cut framing to establish their distance from the background. Compared to earlier creations, his present series of works no longer seek to create a certain logic, but wilfully emphasise the illogical. One space full of paradoxes after another is produced. Through the repetition and layering of different spaces, we feel as if a certain point in time has undergone a real and objective repetition, and has been visualised and captured. (“Beyong Painting” Xin Dong Cheng Publishing House, 2006.)

 

In truth, Zhong Biao’s experimenting with paintings in the past have not created a space that was previously non-existent, and today’s space does not strengthen the “unreasonable”, because the “reasonable” is validated by the artist’s innermost needs, from his judgements on artistic standards and from the direction of his spiritual tendencies. In the exhibition, the audience may experience an illusory sensation that would be difficult to find outside of the exhibition hall, and yet the reality and truth of that illusion has already been set down by the power of the artist, and moreover he wishes to tell those with doubts in mind that surely this is nothing but true and realistic life laid before you? Using source images in this way, forming derivatives in an attempt to create new space appears once more in the exhibition “Revelation” in 2008, however, it is this exhibition that seems already to have revealed the artist’s original feeling towards art one step further.

 

In terms of interest, “Revelation” made a departure from the content of painting outside of frames; the images of much greater dimensions than a standard painting frame become a part of the surroundings, whilst the frames themselves are left standing empty. Whilst our surroundings are filled with the drama of life, drama of such a vivid nature, sometimes the content enters into the frame, magically linking it to its surroundings. One could say that “Revelation” is a fuller development of an artistic state already revealed in “Beyond Painting”. Both exhibitions are an independent summing up of the artist’s practical experience over the years, in “Revelation” Zhong Biao has clearly demonstrated his understanding of the inner logic of art. Indeed is there such a great difference between ancient times and the present day, between Occidental and Oriental? Surely the present day, past and future aren’t so lacking in unity? Zhong Biao uses a statement that rings of essentialism on the flyleaf of the catalogue, “The present – the result of the past and the cause of the future.”This idea has its equivalents in Western philosophy as well as Buddhist thought. The point is that at this moment Zhong Biao’s use of such a sentence stems from his inner experience, when he takes the present, the past and the future and places them together it appears perfectly reasonable. Must we strive to define the distinction between today and yesterday? Is it necessary to deal in shocking truths? Zhong Biao explains the word “Source” saying, “the future already exists, waiting for us in the distance” when in fact according to Zhong Biao’s understanding of “coincidence” the future does not yet exist, unless it is made by us ourselves. And the artistic space he creates today is the future of art unseen by us yesterday. Standing upon the certainty of faith, Zhong Biao’s writing on “Image” reveals for us the psychological state he has maintained all along:

 

Each moment is a representation, the true appearance lies between the movement and traces of change.


This is a repetition of a truth that Zhong Biao has realised. Of course, it could also be seen as a historical topic, humanity always longs to catch a glimpse of that forever elusive ‘Truth’. However, the truth has already become an inner drive, a starting point for an idea of the world, even a psychological source for the images of that world. Are we really the collectors of fragments?  Do we really only roam through the world of representations? Surely those endlessly emerging representations are not the endless revelations of the truth? Zhong Biao gives us an answer in the affirmative. In this way, the Olympic Games in Beijing, avalanches on Everest, the election race for the American presidency and exchange rates are not so difficult to master. The events are separate, but they show a basic tendency.

 

However, Zhong Biao persists in his certain formula: “Everything is pre-existent, revealed only in passing.”

 

Most crucial is not these formulae, the revelation of the ‘truth’ leads Zhong Biao to question more deeply the sources of his images and their innate basis, this is the key to understanding the artistic changes in the artist.

 

The domain of painting has always been the scene of discussions about the forms of abstract art and realism. In the 1980s, Shanghainese artists had a period of experimentaiton with abstract art, but the expression of philosophical thought in the 1985 Arts Movement was yet to lead art absolutely in an abstract direction. South-western China’s art having passed through stages of “Scar Art” and “Nativism”, ended up with the vocabulary of Expressionism holding the dominant position; member of Kunming’s “New Realism” movement, Mao Xuhui, and Zhang Xiaogang right up into the early nineties, all use an expressionist vocabulary to describe the questions troubling their souls. Pan Dehai had a period of pure abstraction, but he quickly united his memories of the North and feelings of the mystery of the South and moved away from his abstract period. In Chengdu, Zhou Chunya’s human figures and stones are executed in an absolutely expressionist technique, it is only since studying in Germany that his work begins to show the influence of Neo-Expressionism; no matter what, his powerful brushstrokes have not departed from identifiable visual images. As for Ye Yongqing, his transition from the expressionist Diary to “Big Character Posters” have not seen him cast off imagery, he always includes in his compositions recognisable images and symbols. Sichuanese artists only slightly older than Zhong Biao such as Xin Haizhou, Guo Jin, Guo Wei and Shen Xiaotong all use their individual means to construct their own realist worlds. The difference between them is a matter of style and character. Abstract art has almost no tradition in the South-west, but in the late ‘80s in the North of China, artists such as Meng Luding have had periods in “abstract form”, back then “abstract” was understood to be a method of criticising graphic solutions and a “purifying” of “rough” painterly language. Throughout the ‘90s abstract painting barely raised its head, because regardless of whether in the vein of the spiritual tradition of modernism or the advocation of post-modernism, it was difficult for abstract language to find a concept of its own existence and a real linguistic realm of its own. When the work of a previous generation of artists such as Mao Xuhui and Zhang Xiaogang stresses even more the importance of the image and “Gaudy Art” born in Northern China out of “Playful” realism and political pop emphasises the use of ready-made images and symbols, the foundations of abstract art become only more shaky. However, for those artists fascinated by symbols and essentialism, abstract art may still be an opportunity,just as we are ready to be buried under an avalanche of borrowing, collaging, lending and altering, “abstract”art appears like a pure haven. However, it is not simply interest and the spirit that determines whether a particular language is reasonable or not, as a linguistic standpoint “abstract” was being described gradually in France in the ‘20s, in America in the ‘60s and at practically the same time in Taiwan, each time relying on contemporary thoughts and a realistic context. If a symbolic system does not indicate a thorough change in concepts, the value of its existence deserves to be queried, because it cannot explain the reason that its reappearance differs from its past incarnations. This is the reason that recent “Abstract Art” exhibitions failing to come up with new concepts and new visions find it difficult to be influential – what the neo-abstract meets is the same old questions, individuality of spirit emphasises a mutual relationship entirely lacking in reality.

 

Zhong Biao’s creative powers and sensitivity to images cannot lead his paintings towards abstraction, but when those abstract brushstrokes create opportunities for derivation and extension to the realist form, an abstract expression becomes a new structure for realist imagery, forming an organic whole together with those down-to-earth visible images. In recent works, full of abstract expression, we see the characteristics of an abstract plane, in agreement with realism, becoming a world full of illusion. The artist first allows the abstract application of paint to be freely executed, almost automatically.  When these applications have reached a certain point, or have occupied a certain amount of the composition and indicate a sort of furtherance or possibility, the artist concludes the possibly endless abstract expression, and amongst those explosive abstract brushstrokes he lays down different images.  What he seeks to express is that these images are inseparable from those abstract forms. The abstractions that remind us of explosions, clouds and ruins have already made a total departure from the system of abstract painting, and interact with the realist images to transform from the abstract to the realistic, he reveals the inner power of abstract forms of expression in realistic images.  His new works once more break away from created ‘Perfection’, this time the artist uses not charcoal lines but free abstraction.

 

The artist’s inner self verges upon the ecstatic because, previously, he had been struggling with the relationship between representations and truth.  If we take the visual fragments that inundate the composition, the concept of a ‘cause and effect’ relationship seems difficult to express. The artist has emphasised over and over the unity between the ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, that we are not to see the present day as the most contemporary, when in fact each period of time is contemporary in its own sense. However, how can this kind of innate unity be expressed clearly? Abstract artists have already provided us with many cases to explain that by expressing inner secrets we can attain the ‘essence’, but in what sense do these individual “essences” have cultural historical value? What symbol can become the proof of the inseparable relationship between the representation and the truth? Abstract artists are yet to successfully answer this question, therefore to a greater extent pure abstraction either falls into a matter of personal taste or decorative designs. Zhong Biao does not fall into such traps, he is only seizing an opportunity. He agrees with the fundamental principles of abstraction, and the psychological element that can be expressed through the form of symbols, but he doesn’t believe that abstraction alone can describe the ultimate power he speaks of, only by visible images can that ultimate power be presented with a mutual foundation.  To put it another way, the ultimate power of these times can be demonstrated by images and their composition.

 

Zhong Biao has discovered a new possibility of expression.  He possesses an abundance of source images, and yet he chooses to return to that expression of a power that moved him early on, this power exists in all representations, without being a representation itself. Any single representation is no more than a concrete, partial revelation of that power. From Zhong Biao’s earliest brainwashing by the philosophers Laozi and Zhuangzi, from the influence of his love of the novels of Hesse and Marquez, to his constant and diligent attempts to find the answer to the question of representations in traditional material evidence, we have to believe that Zhong Biao is a cautious essentialist. He can release his view of the world, but he maintains that the questions of life itself are the most difficult to cast aside. This state of mind and quality of character were set in him from early on, his open outlook on the world brings new thoughts and methods into his mind, but as we have seen, this does not mean that the artist ever gives up entirely on his personal concerns: his love of living and of life itself, his belief that it is this kind of love that allows us to commune with the ancients, with people from different places, with men and women.  In describing the notion that Chinese people have of ‘state’, we could use the words “freedom”, “open-minded”, “leisurely”, “unrestrained”, “placid”, “elegant”, “frank”, “bold”, “easy-going” and “transcendant”, of course what is known as “riding the wind”, “walking on clouds”,  “climbing the heights”, “looking over the lake” and “watching the sea” are also descriptions of that ‘state’.  Looking at Zhong Biao’s works, these descriptions all find an echo, only Zhong Biao has broken down the character of the ancients in his newly-created world, he uses the stories of today to talk about eternal truths.

 

Innumerable stories take place in the world every single day, but Zhong Biao believes that they all come down to the same things. The logic of cause and effect is the truth that Zhong Biao perceives, what is often referred to by others as a “tendency”. Even though it may be a definite conclusion that Zhong Biao agrees with, he would like to add that each person’s understanding of a ‘tendency’ comes from their respect for the notion.  There it is, we can only reveal it with the help of our own ‘state’.

 


Tuesday 10th March 2009

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