I always hold that in present China pure artists are rarely found, let alone the persuasive individual case. Yet, I may not be absolutely right, for there might be an exception!
Here Cai Xiaohua is such a case!
We have been friends for more than a decade, and I have gone into his studio many times (including three times to Weiqu Studio - one of his studios that is located in the suburb of Xian City). So many face to face communications made us very intimate friends! But if anyone asks me, do you really know him, or do you actually understand what he paints? Honestly, I dont have enough confidence in responding definitely. Interpretation is always a process, which calls for the risks of both experiences and intelligence. But we can have a try. Facing a case of weight, we have no other choices at all!
Born with a potential gene of art, Xiaohua has the excellent natural endowments. In the 1950s, the Cais family - the second generation of Lingnan School who lived in Fujian, came and settled in the great northwest, where Cai Xiaohua was born soon. When he was eleven, his father passed away. This was a devastating blow for him but made him suddenly realize his mission. Since then, with his mothers supervision and guidance, he embarked on a long journey in pursuit of artIt is his forty years adherence and unrimitting efforts that make him what he is today. During the long journey, his mother was always his enlightenment and guardian. Despite the fact that his mother had passed away for more than a decade, the voice of his mother and father still echoed in his ears. Father became an eternal flag that led him to climb the dimly discernible mountain ahead of him.
It has been more than forty years that he seldom paints for living, and almost never considers the need of market and painting-sellers.Regardless of the vicissitudes of the outside world, I only put my heart into my own painting. Therefore, the market for his painting was unsteady and tepid. However, he seldom cared about that. It was such a relatively easy and free attitude that made him realize hisWeiqu Reform, and finished the best works that I have never seen in China nowadays! Hence, I believe that: where there is pure and fear mentality, there is great art.
The course was extremely arduous and even torturous. He just depended on the crazy, boring and repetitive adherence through days and years. The so-called playing in the art is purely a kind of joy in the spirit level, while in the behavioral level, it is nearly a kind of endless torment and hurt! During the Weiqu Reform, one of his ears lost hearing due to the overwork and harmful chemical component for painting. His behavior was as great as Van Goghs.
The so-called course is one that needs constantly adjustment, one that needs to seek the best expression and one that makes the painting approximating perfection - almost flawless. All of these depend on cultivation, wisdom and understanding, but never simply diligence and seniority.
In the summer of 2007, an unprecedented experimental work went into creation in my studio on the Lower East Side of New York City. The news that the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games would be held in Beijing at 8 P.M. on August 8, inspired me to create the works of 8 PM, August 8, 2008 and 0:00, July 1, 1997.
There were three major adjustments happening to him:
Ever since we came into this world, numbers and symbols have provided us with certain communications or hints, which program our lives. The track of our life is made up of all kinds of numbers, which bring us happiness and sadness and also make some days remembered forever.
The first adjustment happened from the late 1990s to the beginning of the new century, which aimed at giving up realistic oil painting and decorative creation, and turning to the direction of constitutive abstraction. Although Xiaohua had never been educated in formal college, his teacher Zhang Rongguo was a realistic painter graduated from Central Academy of Fine Arts. It was because of his guidance that made him spend seven or eight years to accept the strict training of drawing, sketching and color sketching, then he went deep into different villages and created a lot of landscape painting works. In one word, he finished his basic painting trainings by himself. In the years of domestic New Wave Movement, he started to change the art concept, and turned to the experimental abstract creation. During that period, he studied in Shanghai Theatre Academy and Nanjing University of the Arts. In 1995, he moved into Art Village of Beijings Old Summer Palace, and his experience finally had some prospect of a solution.
At 8 P.M. on August 8, 2008, we believed that happiness and joy would bust into the atmosphere. The number 8 signifies good luck and great fortune, according to traditional Chinese culture; therefore, everyone will subconsciously release a positive energy for this number. It is not necessary to investigate how powerful or magical the number is; whats more important is that our Chinese people hope everyone in the world can feel our tremendous pride and happiness. However, where is the significance of the other numbers and symbols before we reach day No. 8? Who will care for or record these numbers and symbols? Therefore, I decided to make a countdown from April 30th, 2008 to record these 100 days through my own art forms, for every single day is important for fortune.
These constructive abstract creations were his first cornerstone of his independent creation. These works were masculine, calm in color and full of passion. Besides the pure abstract elements, such as lines and block mass, these works also consist of some image symbols: cave dwelling，facial makeup, etc. These were all his favorite images, but in the specific method of treatment, they had sowed the seeds for the future development, for example, he liked to paint a block of solid color layers, in which, something internal was hidden deeply.
I returned to Beijing from New York in February 2008, and started making preparations and ordering materials. At the same time, the production of MY 2008 was completed. On April 30, I started the countdown of 100 art works by repeating one method of creation and one kind of color to deepen the impression, which was similar to the colors of 1960s in China, when gray tunics and green army uniforms were everywhere. Red was my choice because it was the color deep in my soul that was dazzling and desirous, representing blood and loyalty. Nevertheless, the unpredictable Wenchuan earthquake of May 12 brought my work great and unexpected changes. The disaster and suffering of the people during the earthquake rescued my work from sole unity, pouring unforgettable memories into these art works.
His second adjustment happened ten years ago. At that time, we both lived in Shanghai Artists Village for two or three years, during which, he decreased his beloved images and constructive elements on the original basis and turned to more pure symbol abstraction. Through repetitive treatments, the background of the painting appeared profound, dim and penetrating. On the background floated some round symbols, which seemed bubbles or germs, now appearing in our eyes, now gathering together, and now separating from each other, meeting and parting with reluctance, delighted but helpless, which seemed to show us the ever changing and unpredictable life (at that time, China was suffering from the SARS), or compose his own song of soul: euphemistic but touching, sad but endless lingered for a few years since he left Shanghai. In this period, he acquired a lot in the experiment of comprehensive painting methods, which laid a solid foundation for the sprint in the future.
These 100 countdown works contain two kinds of scales, with several colors and numbers joined together to express information and feelings. They have been arranged in a certain order to be performed as a folk song, rising and falling in cadence, and with bright and shades of lights that tell the stories of the past 100 days.
His third adjustment was the Weiqu Reform that I have mentioned above, or named Weiqu Transformation Period, which started from the time when he moved in the Weiqu Studio until now. With the help of his friends, he owned this studio, originally a private courtyard of a rich squire with overgrown weeds and shabby rooms. Fortunately, the space was big enough, and it was a few tens of miles away from the city. Without the noise and the interference of mundane world, he could immerse himself in the creative atmosphere. Therefore, he worked day and night, just as crazy as Van Gogh. He threw himself into painting with his life and kept being busy until reached his peak state! ，During this period, he also shuttled between Beijing and Xian often.For the convenience of narration, I call the whole period Weiqu Reform.
Every page turned is worth our retrospection. When a common number or an ordinary calendar appears in front of you, it will bring different people different information, which may be most private. It is the very beginning of creation when these numbers or symbols start to communicate with your soul, try to enter your memories and involve your imagination.
Looking back upon the nearly 20 years adjustment of the three steps, we can make a brief conclusion: his works gradually stepped toward the direction of more brief, more pure, more implicit, more natural, and even perfect until breaking through the myth of flatness.
I myself once visited his Weiqu Studio three times during the period of 2011 to 2012. Each time I read his works and communicated with others, and I felt more and more excited!
September 28, 2008
To share my excitement of reading paintings with you, I make a brief abstract to the original state of reading paintings as follows:
The first time when I came into his Weiqu Studio (May 24, 2011):These paintings seemed very misty, and the color was relatively pure and unified. But when watching them carefully, I found that they were and have delicate changes and seemed like in a certain exchange of breathing and a transformation between yin and yang. The numerous times of painting process were just like practicing meditation over and over again, which could temper our will and settle our spirit. It was this kind of implication that made these works beyond the abstract or minimalist art of west.
The second time when I came into his Weiqu Studio (September 26, 2011):We can use Lessings typical words to describe Xiaohuas paintings noble simplicity and quiet grandeur. Noble simplicity means that the combination of purity and unification is out of mediocrity, steps toward magnificent, remote and profound realm and has a rare elegance. (It seems that there is little level, but in fact, there is rich comprehension in the inner level - which is a layering that hides in levels); quiet grandeur means that these paintings we see are in a perfect state where we are in extremely peace, at the same time, we can feel that there is a irresistible life vitality springing from the deep painting - just like breathing.
The third time when I came into Weiqu Studio (September 18, 2012):His new works transformed the pen and ink and texturing method with no trace, and abandoned the methods of great color gamut of the west and linked with Chinese culture. The ink and texturing means the most difficult unique stroke and ink. Now, Xiaohua made it. These subtle and tiny drawing techniques and the unique Texturing Method of Cai Family both reflect the oriental spirit unintentionally.
Actually, the oriental two-dimension painting differs greatly from western complete two-dimensional plane in aesthetic standards, and the style is even more different from that. This is exactly the point that we want to emphasize when we do abstract art and minimalist art, if not, we will be suppressed by the western style. Unfortunately, many Chinese artists are not aware of this point and its the reason why they cannot have great achievements. Cai Xiaohua is not only aware of that but also successfully makes it. Maybe the special meaning is in this point.
Till now, there are some points in these original ecology things that are not mentioned or explain incisively so its necessary to give some more explanations.
The key to Xiaohuas success of Weiqu Reform depends on the process of painting, materials and techniques. The process of painting is accumulated again and again even up to dozens of times. The creation habits of Xiaohua have been developed a decade ago. In this process through the constant adjustment of body and instrument, he makes dots, lines, planes and color sweeping the canvas and at the same time with a transformation of mental consciousness to inject occasional vitality and implication in it. Meanwhile, using the behavior of ones own instinct to make the acting force and counter force running through it so that to form the strength and rhythm. It can also reach the balance and expansion of structure and make the works produce and pervade a visual pleasure of conflict and soul collision. (See Cai Xiaohua autobiography: Breathing Is a Normal State of My Life) During Weiqu Reform, he propelled this process into an extreme condition, that is, until achieving the best effect he would never give up, which is called desperately pursuing the surprising lines. While in this process, the authors behavior and action is just like a sacrifice in a sacred ritual. The whole process is like cultivating him according to a religious doctrine and the people who complete that work is similar to the God! Essence of so-called accumulation is to temper and sublimate physical behavior (breathing and existence of life) so as to make it a pure existence of pure spirit - a kind of ultimate pursuit.
Why some domestic people take some similar methods while they cannot show the style and charm that Cai Xiaohua created in the present works? The answer is the accumulation and effort they make cannot reach a certain degree. The body, hand, heart and effort should achieve to some degree and then they can make achievements naturally. However, this process leaves some regrets: the whole process is exclusively enjoyed by artists. Readers can only depend on Gestalt which is the principle of psychology and partly restore and enjoy this process when they read. Otherness (unless there is a part of full record of image, which can make some defects up) always exists between exclusively enjoyment and sharing.
Materials and techniques are synthetic (Cai Xiaohua tested this methods of synthetic painting for a long time). No matter they are paint, propylene, Chinese ink, gold dust and freehand sketching, air brush, pulley and slurry, all of these can be useful in his hands. The unique God of materials and techniques is the effect- which is the only goal that artists intend to reach. Owing to the difference and techniques, the effects and styles will also have some differences such as the various styles solemn, gloomy, open and quiet, elegant and alike. They are like a landscape of lakes and mountains under the moonlight, resounding, bright and beautiful, warm and sweet, noble; or like the beauty in splendid attire in the sunlight. Whether the two effects, they finally both reach a suitable balanced point.
The second key point is the manipulation of flatness and depth of painting. Its more difficult and a big challenge to the attainment and talent of Xiaohua.
The so-called absolute flatness was the soul and supporting points of American abstraction especially the great color gamut painting. In the absolute flatness, all symbols are gone. And except it, nothing can be named extremely simple. There goes an old saying: Da Dao Bi Jian (the great artists must be simple in their works), and simplicity is the way. On the surface, the pursuit of simplicity of eastern and western art comes together while the essence is different. The western Rothko finally gives up all the things (narration, description and symbol) and indeed goes into the extremely simple, that is to say, we have solved this problem. Hence some Chinese artists come in great numbers and tread the heel of it. Reviewing our Da Dao Bi Jian (the great artists must be simple in their works ), it always stops at the doorway of similarity or not. How do we solve this problem? In Xiaohuas view, the best way is that: grasp their critical point and work it out. That is to say, to open a door in the interlayer of flatness and place soul in it.
Therefore, on one hand he goes into extreme condition in big strides: accumulating for many times, he keeps picture pure and simple simultaneously. And he abandons all the redundancy including texture and brushwork and let them hide in the effects of being virtual, thin,void and intangible; on the other hand, depending on microparticle and cilium texturing which are in the process, the new world of hidden phenomena (or potential phenomena) has appeared one by one. Hiding them in the deep of paintings, you can not only feel and breathe.it subtly just like illusion but its genuine and cannot be disturbed. The flatness of the whole work is real. So-called critical points come out here.
Thus the so-called flatness seems disappear. In the meantime, there is a dynamic and generative system produced. Its necessary to emphasize here: in a general layout, Xiaohua particularly enjoys using the method of polyptych such as triptych, pentaptych, and even more,among which the theory is interlinked. One is like internal circulation and the other is outer circulation. Its in this new system that breathing, the diffuse light, the vitality, the note, the rhythm, the process of creation and ruin, are created.
Tt is just as the universe itself (no matter its little or big), which is deep and subtle and open and inclusive. We can also say that its the first time that context with lively spirit and charm truly has a rebirth in terms of the modern meaning. Its the construction of this hidden phenomena (or potential phenomena) also the biggest secrets of Xiaohuas Weiqu Reform - that makes the existence meaning of vision surpass the breakthrough meaning of concept. Also he gets rid of the tangle of Rothko and ends a flatness myth, and let it become a real sense of oriental creation; the one can be called the great individual case of China.
The achievements that Xiaohua has got at the present, for his elder generation, are a kind of filial piety; while for the prosperity of a nation and culture, its a kind of great love!
This kind of filial piety and love will live forever.
Finished at Cao Lu Shu Zhai, Nanjing in July 2014