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【2014】Appreciation of the Paintings of Wang Yin (2010 - 2014) — Bao Dong

The painting practices of Wang Yin can be categorized into three progressive stages. Rethinking in the background of 80’s overall cultural radicalism and from the standpoint of his personal experiences of fine arts education, Wang Yin in the early 90 grasped art historical resources of the left-wing Realism from the May Fourth Period, started exploring issues of Chinese modernity in fine arts, and further determined the diachronic orientation of conceptions of basic issues. Around 2000, Wang Yin experienced a short period of ‘Dada’, in which he diverted, parodied, collaged, pastiche and fabricated various painting and imagery resources, painting styles or approaches, and in turn established an painting pleasure value that was synchronic intertextuality based. In 2003, Wang Yin again directed his attention to the investigation of Chinese fine arts’ modern discourse context, including how exogenous discourses, such as western Realism, Modernism and Sovietism impacted contexts, and how endogenous discourses such as localization and nationalization constructed contexts. Wang Yin completely fell into the archaeological excavation of discourses that lie in this two interlaced branches of veins.


Therefore, Wang Yin’s paintings keep a distance with the “contemporary” or the “reality” that people often talk about. His paintings insistently deal towards the past. However, Wang Yin’s works cannot be thus interpreted as a research of histories of art. His aim is neither clarifying the facts in art histories nor establishing a kind of art historical narratives. On the contrary, “events” such as manipulation, pastiche and fabrication are frequently represented in his paintings. A series of problematic nodes that occurred in the course of Chinese pictorial modernity is being solved, and being re-weaved for an extremely personal but occasional reason. At bottom, the initiative of Wang Yin’s art practice was experience rather than knowledge based. In this context, the interpretation of his works should not come to a halt at restoring the objective knowledge nor at the abstract level within the theoretical system, but to get the experience-based “sympathy of acquaintance”, which is beyond knowledge and theories. Consequently, Wang Yin’s paintings have a kind of creativity of experience community. But experiences are often subtle and implicit. Viewing Wang Yin’s paintings requires people looking into each of them in detail.


In fact at the present third stage, Wang Yin has changing the focus of his works as well. It is first of all reflected in the style of works. Since 2009, the dominance of brushworks of the Soviet School in his works has been weakened, the general relation between colours and light and shadow in images has been emphasized, whereas details of brushworks and modelling have been rejected. Take Self Portrait 3(2009) for example, the relations of proper colours between different objects are precisely differentiated, details such as facial features are omitted. In a series of works with the same subjects, the disposition of simplification is very explicit if compared with the Self Portrait from 2005 and 2007 respectively. The disposition of continuous simplification is also reflected in the series On the Train . If simplifying details of modelling of 2009’s On the Train 2  was for highlighting the holistic order of the pictorial space, then 2013’s Russian train  pictorial elements such as compressed space and shapes could be highlighted, along with this is the large colour-block scumbling technique’s gradual replacement of the small colour-block modelling technique.


However, the practice of Wang Yin is not absolutely formal. For such a stylistic change, it reflects the shift and the deepening of the investigation of art history: from traditions of the Soviet School (the Soviet-Union-based painters and the Maxunban Oil Painting Training Class) to traditions of western realism and modernism (France-based painters), and ultimately to the early traditions of Japan-based painters. Before studying abroad in France becoming a fashion, the way of studying western painting for Chinese painters was indirectly study modern Japanese paintings, including reading Japanese translations of western publications of art histories and studying abroad in Japan. To some extent, the evolution of modern Japanese paintings was almost a rehearsal of the modernity progress of Chinese painting. Arguments, such as dispute between the New School and the Old School, and debates between the classical Realism, Impressionism and Modernism, had all taken place in the Japanese art world. For Japan-based Chinese painters, Japan not only served as a platform for them to get in touch with the West, but also became a model for them to learn about the approach of Japan accepting western fine arts, especially its localization of western Modernism. The mature style of FujishimaTakeji, who was the most influential figure for Japan-based Chinese painters, follows the Picinairism School using Realism as the basis, and also has the ideology and decorative style of Modernism. In fact, the Realism-based simplifying approach of Wang Yin’s recent works shares the similar pictorial conception with FujishimaTakeji’s idea “bearing the general goal in mind and paying attention to the entirety”.


The Portrait of Dressing up from 2013 reflects Wang Yin’s close relationship with Japanese modern fine arts to the most. This painting has features such as his nearly monochromatic brushwork, the decorative “oriental style” and the classical Japanese genre subjects. but what represents the Modernism elements to the most are the cool red colour-block in the background and a piece of green based bathrobe on the hot tub in the foreground. These two areas mirror Matisse’s techniques in his middle period: using the means of complementary colours and tiled patterns to strengthen the pictorial planarity. Certainly, reproducing a kind of pictorial style in the history is not the aim of Wang Yin, but a sort of approach at most. From the early series of the Novel Monthly, he “retrieved some interesting pictorial styles and methods like picking up second-hand goods, which in turn he disassembled them in order to absorb energy from the outdated pictorial languages”. Actually, the style of this painting implicitly represents Wang Yin’s crossover towards genre subject matter and linguistic style. Explicitly integrating the dress, make up and bath subject matter with the style of Japanized Modernism in a kind of “Dada” way is his consistent approach. However, using Japanese style to paint Japanese people resembles the way he employed Soviet style to create The Soviets. Narrating at the overlap of the collective experiences is exactly his consistent starting point.

In the general trend of continuous simplification, Wang Yin has been dealing with a number of issues in the field of the history of art since 2010. Birthday 2 (2010)  is a simplified version of 2008’s work with the same title. Two females dressed in ethnic costumes appear inappropriately in a western-style restaurant. The ornate table decorations and hanging masterpieces from artists such as Xu Beihong and Li Tiefu in the original work are all omitted. The key of the work shifts from the contrast between western and ethnic feelings to the contrast between figures and context. In terms of the use of lights, the lighting in the space is directed by the candlelights, but for the figures lighting is directed from the side and above. This makes figures seem to be collaged and visually against with the environment. The same method can be observed in a portrait of Woman and Senior in 2013. These implicit manipulations keep the style of painting away from the Realism. By the means of exposing the approach intentionally, painting is not merely a representation of one imaginative setting.


Two large-scale works with the title “Folk Dance” ,  from 2012 and 2013 respectively were all simplified in space, modeling and colour. The faces of figures were either cut by the edge of painting or blurred by erasing features. Subjects’ representative poses of folk dance seem to be the only thing left. Just like the only thing left after ruling out the most details in these two paintings is the normal form, an aesthetical form about the minority ethnic subject matter. In the progress of Chinese contemporary arts, there was once a connection between western and ethnic painting, namely the nationalization of the style and the localization of the subject matter. The minority ethnic subject in oil paintings is right at the intersection. A classical ethnic painting includes features of ethnic customs, such as ethnic costumes, architectures, songs and dances, and stylistic ethnic features such as decorative colour-blocks, bright tones and strong colours. Namely, minority ethnic painting frequently wraps a kind of stylistic form and ethnic-visual form. The stylistic simplification and content tailoring in these two works of Wang Yin are ways of ruling out some kind of familiarity. Exposing the normal from in isolation in an unfamiliar status.


The normal form in the history of artistic styles and the subject matter in the social history of art always represent an affiliation that covers each other. Wang Yin’s job is to tear them apart, reviving their discourses through forcing them to separate from their natural status, and then grafting them with each other with their genealogies of discourses. As a result, we have seen many examples of folding art histories, such as the Picinairism and ethnic subject matter, human bodies, still objects and landscapes, self-portraits and plaster figures. From ruffle and rupture of the discourse stratum raised by them, painting released its internal energy. Wang Yin also applied this kind of process, which requires opening experiences by constant wrapping and assembling, on him. He keeps re-creating previous paintings and self-referencing constantly, so that mangos, woman bodies and even a kind of special green are spread onto the field of painting. In a word, every painting of Wang Yin can not only regarded as critiques for each time he paints, but also an introspection to the history of art and readjustment of self painting experiences.


In the past two years, Wang Yin began to use an extremely “regular” pictorial language to describe daily scenes, including seniors basking under the sun and locating behind desks, and girls at the foot of a wall or on a sofa. Although some images were inspired by the intellectuals who were forgotten by the majority, Wang Yin consciously erased traces of any pictorial knowledge in his painting. All elements are served for representing a kind of “regular” experience, which exactly is out of the mind of the majority of contemporary artists. However, from these “regular” elements, we can detect the subtle control of Wang Yin: the senior basking under the sun wears a pair of black sunglasses while playing with a red and a green bowl; the girl at the foot of a wall is turning into a tree(...)