Tang Contemporary Art Bangkok is proud to present Mount Gui: Mao Xuhui and His Students, a group exhibition by an iconic artist in Chinese contemporary art history. Curated by Dai Zhuoqun, the exhibition features a range of works created over the span of more than a decade, all of which were inspired by Mount Gui (Guishan) and the Nuohei village, located on the Yunnan Plateau.
Mao Xuhui has earned a crucial position in Chinese contemporary art history, recognised as the leader of the avant-garde community in southwest China in the 1980s, and is also one of the figures in China Art Power 100. Often experimenting with the use of symbolism and metaphor, Mao Xuhui reflects on the social reality and the existential value of an individual's life. He uses everyday objects, such as scissors and chairs, as recurring motifs, which originally was a metaphor for the central authority or paternal power, in response to the historical and cultural context in the 1980's.
Due to its artistic value and unique atmosphere, Nuohei village, at the foot of Mount Gui, comprised of stone houses built by the Sani people, is often visited by many artists. Art professionals have ventured to these rural communities as early as the 1970's, and Mao Xuhui, as a young student, also made his way to Mount Gui for this reason in the late 1970's. On Mount Gui, Mao Xuhui savored their reverence for a simple life, surrounded by nature, which greatly impacted him as an artist in the years to come. Mao Xuhui continued to bring his students from Yunnan University to Mount Gui year after year to allow his students to explore their creative voices and artistic processes, and these trips to Mount Gui have become an integral part of his teaching method.
Mount Gui: Mao Xuhui and His Students will highlight pieces from not only Mao Xuhui, but also Chen Chuan, Li Rui, Liu Renxian, Liu Yu, Liu Chunliu, Guan Saimei, Ma Dan, Su Bin, Tao Fa, Wang Rui, and Xun Guipin. Each piece will reflect each artist's insight into Mount Gui, while also expressing one common observation, as curator Dai Zhuoqun states, 'Time on Mount Gui is frozen time, repetitive time, reflective time, and as a result, it has become eternal time. There, the painters, like the villagers, set out early and return late; they paint dawn and dusk, the cornfields at high noon, cattle and sheep returning from the pastures, and dreamscapes of the land and village houses. Because Mount Gui had been frozen in paintings, it had gradually come to represent a spirit, a punctual, independent, and solitary artistic attitude. It is a diligent approach to the language of painting - perhaps art can only be so calm in a place, where nothing changes.'
ABOUT MAO XUHUI:
Graduated in 1982 from the Yunnan Art Academy, Mao Xuhui is an iconic artist in Chinese contemporary art history. He is one of the figures in China Art Power 100 and the leader of the avant-garde community in southwest China in the 1980s. He also formed the Southwest Art Research Group with several artists in the following year. These achievements have earned him a crucial position in Chinese contemporary art history.
Mao Xuhui has widely exhibited in Euro-pan-Asian cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, San Francisco, Barcelona, Bologne, Paris, and London. His artworks are included in influential exhibitions, such as the milestone exhibition in Chinese contemporary art history, Inside Out: New Chinese Art (1998) co-organized by Asia Society New York, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco and Hong Kong Museum of Art.
ABOUT DAI ZHUOQUN:
Dai Zhuoqun is an independent curator and art critic. In 2007, he founded Contemporary Art magazine, where he served as chief editor and art director. He was also the executive director of White Box Museum of Art. In 2009, he launched and jointly curated the 'Warm Winter' protest project in Beijing, one of the most important art events in recent years. He has since planned exhibitions and lectures with numerous art institutions, art academies, and museums.
He has also published articles in international art magazines and other publications. He has curated exhibitions such as Games and The Awakening of Things (White Box Museum of Art, Beijing, 2011), Superfluous Things (Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2013), Old Bloke (Gallery Yang, Beijing, 2013), Conscious: Twelve Views on Painting (Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2014), and Civilization (White Box Museum of Art, Beijing, 2013; OCAT, Xi'an, 2014; Hubei Institute of Fine Arts Museum, Wuhan, 2015).
ABOUT CHEN CHUAN:
Chen Chuan works in a contemporary mode of painting, but one that is infused with countless traces of the spirit of Chinese traditional painting. From his early graduation works to his work produced when he returned to art after graduation to his sketches of landscapes at Mount Gui this year, he has been constantly streamlining and purifying his technique. His coloUrs tend toward the bright and his forms tend toward the abstract, but the traditional aspect that lies at the core of his work has been commendably preserved. In the light of modernity, his work appears both new and old. As someone with strong ideals, when confronted with spontaneous realiSations about painting and the collisions of different ideas in the current environment, he constantly dissolves and collapses them, attempting to give some of those traditional questions a contemporary answer. This answer is preliminary and insufficient, and tends toward pure abstraction, but it also opens a new path—whether the traditional spirit can find relative balance with this highly rational place and continue to produce flowers of reason still remains for the artist to explore.
ABOUT LI RUI:
Li Rui’s art sings in concert with Mount Gui, rather than being influenced by it. Here, nature becomes nature with an animistic side. The intensity of Li’s art lies not in the abundance of the natural landscapes, but in the enlightenment of re-awakened poetry. Hölderlin wrote, 'Full of merit, yet poetically, man dwells on this earth. But no purer is this shade of the starry night … than Man ... Is there a measure on earth?' The pursuit of a spiritual dwelling may actually declare the loss of this measure, and the comfort of the soul and spiritual life itself once again become the measure of all things. The underlying logic in Li Rui’s work is the order, movement, and poetry with which the human soul imbues all living things. The spiritual world of art lives to create beauty.
ABOUT LIU RENXIAN:
Liu Renxian has always explored and studied the expressiveness of painting as a medium, and he closely follows people and things around him. He says that he studied painting because he thought it was a very joyful thing, so every painting he paints is happiness. He does not paint 'grand subjects' or pandering paintings; he simply and seriously paints the people and things around him. He praises the ordinary brilliance of his subjects, but he also seeks out methods and techniques that might better suit him. He patiently works and reworks a painting, experimenting with the different effects produced by various coloUr combinations.
ABOUT LIU YU:
Bright colours very seldom appear in Liu Yu’s paintings. Whether black or grey, the paintings seem to be exploring very deep philosophical issues. This visual experience was primarily inspired by the Baisha wall paintings in Lijiang, a cultural site that has been preserved for more than five hundred years. The Baisha wall paintings were primarily line drawings with flatly-applied colour; the use of colour is rough, plain, and simple, but the works emphasise the rhythms of the colours and the intensity of their contrasts. The most famous of the Baisha paintings are the black wall paintings. With black as the ground, the artists employed many harmonies of black, grey, and white. Prior to graduation, Liu visited the Baisha paintings to conduct research, and when he returned to the university, he began to work in black and grey tones. Even when painting on Mount Gui, he still uses this type of colouring. He may reconsider a piece several times, and it takes him many days to complete a painting. We believe that, in the near future, he will successfully create his own formal vocabulary.
ABOUT LIU CHUNLIU:
Liu Chunliu received her bachelor’s degree in animation from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and her master’s degree in oil painting from Yunnan University. As a result, she has created a unique style by infusing animation with the acceptance and freedom of modern oil painting. In her work, massive trees symbolise life. Good and evil, beauty and ugliness are gathered and presented here. The various living things around this tree compete and become entangled with one another. This is an illusory world and a symbolic world that fuses animation and oil painting, fantastically presenting the juxtaposition between the vitality of living things and revelations full of evil energy. The power of angels and demons, beauty and ugliness, creation and destruction are presented directly to us, attacking our outdated, intuitive impressions of the world.
ABOUT GUAN SAIMEI:
Guan Saimei was born in a county in Dali, a city steeped in Yunnan’s Bai culture. Living close to nature since she was a child and the ghost stories her grandmother told have had a deep influence on her art. In her paintings, we can see the influence of Western modernist schools such as Symbolism, Expressionism, and Surrealism, but we believe that the magical atmosphere and the idea that all things have a spirit are innately and deeply rooted in the depths of her soul. Her works are often situated within a child-like fantasy world, permeated with contentment. Her paintings are very candid expressions of her experience and free explorations of the realm of human instinct. Looking at her paintings does not require theoretical preparation or strained logical interpretations; we simply need to put aside all worldly preconceptions and allow our minds to wander freely amidst the profuse colours and rough modelling, as they resonate with or alienate our senses.
ABOUT MA DAN:
Ma Dan’s green fairytales come from the dreamworld of Mount Gui’s days and nights. The protagonists of these fairytales—large sunflowers, cute children, little yellow ducks playing in the sunshine, and meandering red earth roads—are immersed in their own fantasies and fairytales. The works are reminiscent of the fantasy worlds created by Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). For Primitive painters, the world always fits with their fantasies. This type of artist is instinctively innocent, and art is the best way of preserving and developing this nature. The chaos of reality is easily removed, so it cannot make its way into the paintings. This artistic domain only nurtures pure and quiet things.
ABOUT MAO XUHUI:
Mao Xuhui is an important Chinese contemporary artist and one of the leaders of the Southwestern Art Research group. In the 1980s, he led the New Figurative Painting movement, cementing his position in recent Chinese art history. During the ’85 New Wave, Mao Xuhui moved from works centred around scissors and parents to his 'Everyday Epic' series, and he has been well-known for his symbolic works involving scissors and chairs for more than thirty years. Mao uses pairs of scissors as symbols of power, which arose from a circumstance having to do with his own body. While he was ill, he developed a sensitivity to line and form. The simple, real form of a pair of scissors and the pale, cool colours of the background inspire connections to the passage of time, with which the artist must find a balance or coexistence. The meanings of these symbols shifted from reflections on the nation, feudalism, and power to become metaphors for life, death, and love. Mao Xuhui began his 'Mount Gui' series in the 1980s, and he has worked on it for decades, showing his concern for human feeling and his native place.
Mao Xuhui’s work has been exhibited in major cities around the world, including Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, San Francisco, Barcelona, Bern, Paris, and London. His work has been presented in influential shows at important museums, such as the Asia Society Museum in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Hong Kong Art Museum.
ABOUT SU BIN:
The landscapes in Su Bin’s work have the strong, deep lustre of western Yunnan, but they also incorporate the red earth villages and winter walnut trees of the area around Mount Gui in southeastern Yunnan—they are strong, profound, and unusual. He infuses a rural child’s first impressions into the particles of oil paint; he combines the pools of his hometown in Heqing County with the volcanic forests sitting on the red earth of Mount Gui to create a safe, quiet, and peaceful home. The works express his resolve and desire to defend his home from invasion.
ABOUT TAO FA:
Tao Fa is a rebellious young Miao artist. His works are not limited by any specific artistic school; they are wild, frenetic, emotional, and full of mystery. He loves nature, and he imparts his soul to all living things in nature; he draws spiritual nourishment from the world and transforms it into powerful brushstrokes on canvas. His way of experiencing the world is perceptive, urgent, and authentic, and painting has become a powerful medium through which he presents a private world. In his work, Tao is very seldom fastidious about painting technique, relying instead on intuition and spontaneous inspiration. He uses bold colour and powerful calligraphic brushwork to depict the mysterious charms of the natural world. In the content and form of his paintings, there are very few traces of society; he has always preserved his own inherent qualities, which is laudable in a contemporary society that respects logic, theory, and socialisation.
ABOUT WANG RUI:
Wang Rui’s mountain forests appear soaked in spring drizzle and sentiment. However, when he first arrived on Mount Gui, he felt that it was not that different from his hometown, and it was not as impressive as his teachers had described in their paintings and writings. Many students feel this doubt and loss on their first visit to Mount Gui; he learned the true essence of the primitive vitality of Mount Gui, as well as its loneliness—this is how the mountain influenced him. Munching on local walnuts, Wang Rui set out on long, meandering hikes around Mount Gui, where he learned that everything is calm when the heart is calm and he came to appreciate the quiet distance of Chinese literati landscapes, which allowed him to depict Yunnan landscapes with infinite tenderness.
ABOUT XUN GUIPIN:
After a long period of diligent study and testing out many different methods and styles, Xun Guipin was finally ensnared by the charms of pure colour. His work is magnanimous and full of life; he conceals his poetry within the physical logic of colour, and he built a colourful world populated with poetic figures. However, his experiences living in rural areas mean that he is able to make very insightful observations about the simplicity and vividness of nature, which makes his visual world more substantial and dignified.
Press release courtesy Tang Contemporary Art.