Commonly rendered in a style reminiscent of classical Chinese ink paintings, Peng Wei's paintings have appeared on an eclectic range of surfaces including silk, rice paper, cast paper sculptures, fans, and music stands.Read More
Peng's concerns with the crossing of Chinese and Western cultures and art date back to the early 2000s, during which paintings of embroidered shoes proliferated in her work.
Using coloured ink, Peng typically portrayed a single shoe against the white of rice paper, capturing in detail the shoe's unique pattern and decorative parts. The object varies in style from European, such as the Rococo-styled heel in Embroidered Shoe No. 1 (2001), to Chinese, with the flat-heeled slipper in Embroidered Shoe No. 73 (2002).
Paintings of embroidered shoes associated with women also reflect Peng's interest in the historical conceptualisation of the feminine body as a site onto which symbolic and cultural values are projected.
In the ink-on-silk work Landscape of Mount Putuo (2007), the artist depicts an ancient Han Chinese women's robe and, within its silhouette, a Buddhist pilgrimage to the sacred mountain in the title, using a subdued colour palette and swirling brush strokes that evoke Chinese painting traditions. Peng's cast paper sculptures, first made in 2007, show scenes of war, daily life, and women performing domestic chores in ancient China rendered on forms based on the feminine torso, bust, legs, and boots.
Women's roles and positions in traditional Chinese society also undergo a reconsideration in Old Tales Retold (2019), a 50-metre-long scroll painting revolving around images of exemplary women in ancient Chinese texts such as Paragons of Feminine Virtue. Removed from their original contexts, however, and existing in the ambiguous white space of their support, Peng's women are independent of societal categorisations that have dictated their behaviour.
Peng is also recognised for her expansive approach to Chinese ink and landscape paintings, which she often combines with Chinese translations of Western texts. The installation series 'Letters From A Distance' (2012), for example, sees the artist reproduce historical landscape albums and scrolls, but with their traditional inscriptions reaplced by letters, diary excerpts, and poems by historical and modern Western writers, creating letters that have traversed continents and multiple time periods.
Letters continue to feature dominantly in 'Migrations of Memory', another installation series begun in 2017, that consists of music stands. Instead of conventional musical scores, however, the sheets depict landscape ink paintings on one page and letters by Western composers that have been translated into Chinese calligraphy on the other.
Migrations of Memory—Wild Geese Descend on Level Sands (平沙落雁) IV (2017–2021), in which nine music stands are arranged into the V-formation reminiscent of birds in flight, added a new layer to the series when it was presented at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio between November 2021 and May 2022. In spite of isolation and limited exposure to in-person entertainment in the midst of a pandemic, music and the arts remain crucial to life.
The work also shows Peng's ongoing 'tweaks to classical conventions', as Tessa Moldan wrote in an Insight for Ocula Magazine, that involve the artist shifting the focus from male characters in traditional Chinese paintings to women.