The most interesting painters today are those who remain compelled to advance the medium’s potential through experimentation and innovation. In this regard, Xie Nanxing is a maverick. Xie Nanxing’s portraits reveal new possibilities for one of painting’s most traditional forms. Rather than creating a carefully rendered likeness of his chosen subjects—a technical exercise Xie Nanxing could perform with ease—the artist offers up something far more interesting: for each work, a particular person is distilled and transfigured into his or her essence.
As the German cultural critic and architect Siegfried Kracauer (1889–1966) observed, “Spatial images are the dreams of society. Wherever the hieroglyphics of these images are deciphered, one finds the basis of social reality.” For Xie Nanxing, these hieroglyphs are etched in the fashionable rooms appearing in the pages of Dazzling Colorful Home Furnishings, a look book for would-be interior decorators whose images the artist has appropriated and customized for some of his paintings. These are not “about” the tastes of China’s nouveau riche. Instead, Xie Nanxing investigates how even the most innocuous pictures are crawling with symbols and associations.
Xie Nanxing, Postcard No. 8 (2015) (detail). Oil on canvas. 220 × 150 cm. Courtesy Galerie Urs Meile.