After five solo exhibitions organised at the gallery since 2015, Ma Desheng presents White dream, black soul, a personal exhibition punctuated in three stages: a new opus of unpublished abstract vinylic paintings (room 1), an exceptional selection of inks on canvas from the 1980s never shown before (room 2) and acrylics on canvas on a very colourful background (room 3).
The unprecedented series of acrylics on canvas is the result of the last two years of pictorial research marking a creative renewal in the career of a visual artist whose 70th birthday will be celebrated this year.
'Ma Desheng started in Beijing as a self-taught artist in the mid-1970s, first as a draughtsman and then as an engraver. It was the time of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which had brought the military into line, but also the arts. The Four Olds (old ideas, old customs, old habits of mind and old culture) were attacked in order to found a new order, under Mao. The death of Mao in 1976 lightened the horizon somewhat, and the Xing Xing group was formed, whose ranks included other illustrious exiles, such as Ai Weiwei, Wang Keping and Huang Rui. Xing Xing means 'stars' in Chinese, because, as Ma Desheng explains, 'There is only one Sun, but an infinite number of stars', a phrase which, behind its poetry, has an obvious political slant, the sun referring to the Great Helmsman.'
'Art can not be separated, it always bears the traces of traditions. '
Against boring socialist realism, Xing Xing advocated individualism and experimentation. A group like an emergence, which escaped censorship by exhibiting in the homes of diplomats or directly on the gates of the China Museum of Fine Arts in 1979. Two glorious days during which crowds flocked to see the work of these artists of a new genre before the police took it all away. Xing Xing was an itch in the faltering machinery of the Chinese dictatorship after Mao's death. When the revolution became institutionalised, we might as well propose another one.'
—Clément Thibault, Art critic
Ma Desheng's new pictorial opus reveals an aesthetic inspired by the genesis of his career, a return to the roots where black and white were married on paper to give birth to the marvellous inks made between 1970-1992. To restore vital breath to Qi, Ma Desheng immerses his brush in three colours of vinylic: black, which he calls the queen of colours, white, which he calls the king of shades, and grey to reveal abstract forms that each of us, depending on our point of view, could relate either to rocky bodies in balance or to dancing women.
Renewing the use of the pictorial tradition, the forms move in space, find their reflection in the gesture of a man whose contemporary plastic maturity is no longer to be proven. The gesture freed from any traditional technique is mastered and becomes more alive without being a victim of randomness. Abstract formations are born under the brush to find the absolute balance between fullness and emptiness, between soul and matter. It is here again that the whole Taoist philosophy from which Ma Desheng draws his energy takes on meaning. The Full connected to the drawn forms gives rise to figurative elements (mountains, rocks, human beings etc.). Emptiness is synonymous with the absence of form, giving way to dreams and imagination.
Ma Desheng's monumental bronze sculptures show us depersonalised figures that transcend the human condition and weave the links between the palpable elements (the earth), on which human beings stand and grows, and the immaterial elements (the sky), with which man rises and begins to dream. For Ma Desheng, the stone is the catalyst of all beings animated by energy, the witness support of eternity.
Ma Desheng is a painter and sculptor of stone, seduced by its permanence and its 'soul' because it is born of telluric forces and altered by the millennia. His heavy and unbalanced stones are the images of a paroxysmal moment, of a fall announced or in progress. The fragility of stones that spill, like a response to a broken body.
—Clément Thibault, Art Critic
Ma Desheng participates in the renewal of Chinese painting by giving a central place to the human body, where the landscape dominated in an ancestral way.
The inks on paper bear witness to the style and subjects he has loved since the early 1980s. The broad brushstrokes, the rejection of academic rules of composition, the stylisation of the landscape and the female nude, with obvious sexual connotations, underline Ma Desheng's wish to renew the traditional use of ink painting through a technical and thematic breakthrough.
'Ma Desheng carries with him all the nuances of the fragility of balance. In life, everything is like hanging by a thread that should be climbed, knowing that at all times we can fall. This is what inspires me. These rocks which pile up in this flagrant instability, paradoxically so soothing ... From his first stone laid in China to those painted on his canvases, Ma Desheng has never ceased to incarnate the 'stone beings.' Like the small pebbles that compete with the mountain, the artist urge to reach the top. His resistance of granite, he is also its fallibility.
Ma Desheng paints stone beings with sensitive hearts on large canvases, Pebbles for some paintings and rocks for other works ... No scale allows them to be placed in a measurable field because the background is soberly textured or, sometimes smoothed by a solid colour. Only these salt and pepper architectural masses generate space. Their gibbous—lunar appearance!—is rendered by energetic strokes of brushes and fingers, visible both in the outline of the gesture and in the density of the pictorial material.'
—Anne-Laure Péressin, Art critic
Press release courtesy A2Z Art Gallery.