For Expo Chicago, Chambers Fine Art will be showing representative works by Wu Jian'an executed between 2013 and 2019. Born in Beijing in 1980, Wu Jian'an studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Beijing where he developed a particular interest in the traditional Chinese technique of paper cut. Between his first exhibition Daydreams at Chambers Fine Art in 2006 in which the primary inspiration was the fear aroused by the SARS epidemic in 2003, Wu has never deviated from his exploration of paper cut, elaborating it ingenious, multi-layered compositions that enabled him to give expression to his consuming interest in Chinese mythology and folklore. Deer-Man, 2013, in the current exhibition is representative of this direction in his work.
Another aspect of Wu Jian'an's practice is seen in a group of works from 2014, all from the exhibition Transformation. Nirvana of the White Ape, executed in coloured wax on wood panel, is inspired by the Chinese classic Journey to the West, and gives figurative expression to the theme of transformation from one state to another. Color Points I, 2013, and 792 Overlapping Color Balls, 2014, is an abstract representation of the same theme. In the former, each bubble in a piece of styrofoam is filled with a painted dot that is a mixture of several other colours so that theoretically, there are no two colours that are exactly the same. 792 Overlapping Color Balls, 2014, is a first-degree magnification of Color Points I that conceals six hidden geometric forms.
Also on view will be two striking works from the '500 Brushstrokes' series that began in 2016. For this series Wu Jian'an turned to ink on Xuan paper, the medium used in classical Chinese painting and calligraphy. Visitors to the artist's studio were invited to choose both brush and ink (or watercolour) to write a single brushstroke. These were then cut out and collaged on to large sheets of paper, a procedure that he likened to 'the liberation of the brushstroke,' a complete contrast to traditional Chinese painting in which the brushstrokes are highly regulated. They are technical tours de force.
Suspended within the booth will be Mask - Wisteria Yellow, a large buffalo hide symmetrically cut into a mask-like form. The piece is part of Wu Jian'an's recent series entitled Shadows of Knives - Plain Faces, first conceived for his 2018 solo exhibition Of the Infinite Mind ('Wu Wang') at the Guardian Art Center in Beijing. In the context of Chinese Confucianism, 'Wu Wang' is not only synonymous with 'truth', but also refers to the ideal state of perfect clarity of mind and purity of heart. When creating Shadows of Knives, Wu Jian'an used various sharp weapons to stab, slice and puncture soaked buffalo hide. The intense action and resulting catharsis was an attempt to access this ideal state of 'Wu Wang'. To Wu Jian'an, the resulting artworks bore a resemblance to ancient African or Southeast Asian masks, stimulating a feeling of kinship with these ancient human civilizations. He completed each 'mask' by painting both sides in bright colors, imbuing each with an otherworldly intensity.
Although Wu Jian'an's primary sources of inspiration are traditional, he has evolved in the last ten years as one of China's most distinctive contemporary artists, a fact that was recognized when he was chosen as one of four artists representing China at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. His work is held in the collections of the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan, Today Art Museum, China, National Art Museum of China, White Rabbit Collection, Australia, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), USA.