Wang Gongyi (王公懿) is a Chinese artist known for her contemporary adaptations of traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting techniques through an ever-expanding practice that encompasses woodblock printing, lithography, installation, and painting.
After studying at the Affiliated High School of the Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing, in the early 1970s, Wang was assigned to work first on rural farms then at a publishing house in her hometown of Tianjin. She enrolled in Hangzhou's Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now China Academy of Art) in 1978 and graduated with an MFA in Printmaking two years later. Wang gained recognition in the early 1980s for winning first prize in the second National Youth Fine Art Exhibition, for which she submitted a series of seven black-and-white woodblock prints commemorating the 19th-century Chinese feminist revolutionary Qiu Jin.
In 1986, Wang became one of the four Chinese artists to study in France as part of a cultural exchange programme. There, she realised her lack of familiarity with traditional Chinese culture that had been neglected in schools during the decades following the Chinese Revolution of 1949. Wang's newly found interest in her cultural background led her to experiment with a wider range of media, incorporating Chinese calligraphy and ink painting techniques into her work. For the installation Listen, Look, Taste, Smell, But Do Not Ask (1993), for instance, the artist used ink to write Chinese words and phrases such as 'why?', 'because', 'but', 'also', and 'do you understand?' on a large sheet of Xuan paper, overlapping the calligraphic characters until they merge into an incomprehensible cloud of black.
Around the same time, Wang's paintings also grew increasingly abstracted and intuitive as a result of the language and cultural barriers she faced in France. Instead of trying to understand her environment with logic, she sought to experience it through her instincts. In 1998, Wang adopted the Buddhist symbol of the conch shell—signifying introspection—and painted it once a day for 140 days. When considered together, the 140 ink paintings of the conch shell in the 'Seashell Diary' series highlight the significance of random chance in Wang's oeuvre.
Continuing to expand her practice, Wang began working with Winsor Blue in 2005 to make watercolour paintings. She favours using Xuan paper which, in a traditional Chinese painting style, requires a careful application of watercolour pigments to prevent them from congealing at the edges. Subverting the convention, however, Wang allows paint to dry unevenly to create a sense of depth and direction in her work. In Melisma (2018), for example, is that the blue gradates from dark to light as it rises to the top, resulting in lyrical yet serene depictions of waves or mountains.
In her watercolour landscapes, Wang traverses figuration and abstraction to capture the sentiments of warmth, nostalgia, and affection embedded in the memories of certain sites. Memories of West Lake, a 2017 solo exhibition at Galerie du Mondu in Hong Kong, presented a series of 11 landscape paintings inspired by the famous West Lake in Hangzhou. Wang lived in proximity to the lake while studying at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts and became mesmerised by its springtime softness that contrasted with the sandstorms of her hometown during the same period. Her fascination with the beauty of West Lake is captured in Peach Blossoms (2016), an 18-panel painting for which she layered ink wash to produce gentle, radiating clouds of pink and white that denote flowers in bloom, while the vitality of spring is conveyed through powerful strokes and rhythmic waves that form the lotus flowers in Lotus (2016).
Wang has held solo exhibitions internationally, notably Wang Gongyi: Winsor Blue, Chambers Fine Art, New York (2018); Wang Gongyi's Prints at PNCA, Portland Art Museum, Oregon (2018); To See a World in a Flower, Yuting Art Gallery, Hangzhou (2017); and Wang Gongyi Artworks, Zhejiang Art Museum, Hangzhou (2013).
Wang lives and works in Portland, Oregon.