A recent graduate from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, Cui Xinming approaches the canvas as an extension of his cognisance, mind and memory, casting upon it incredulous scenarios and hypnagogic happenings. In Memory of a Blackhole Series – Home in Autumn (2012) an endless sea of grass blades jabs and leads to a procumbent mountain in the far distance. In When I woke up, everything was not there (2012), destitute figures huddle in the darkness cast by the canopy of a secluded forest. Memory of a Black Hole Series II (2011) reveals an older lady, cocooned in bed, solely accompanied by the traces of adjoining natural debris, whilst Memory of a Black Hole Series I (2011) portrays a forlorn individual, who bowing his head and clutching a letter, is surrounded by the detritus of what would seem to be home.
Privy to Xinming's deepest memories and thoughts, one feels approximate to a trespasser, an infringer upon a terrene that is very much the artists own; these are visions from his childhood, a collage of his youth, laced with personal tremors and inveterate hauntings. Yet, Xinming's work very much lends itself for observation by virtue of its monumental scale and panoramic composition. Indeed, true to the Greek roots of the word 'panorama', Xinming places all (pan) on view (horama): we are witnesses to every infinite detail, from the bulbous crepuscular sky in Memory of a Blackhole Series – Home in Autumn (2012) to the rough texture of the sheets in Memory of a Black Hole Series II (2011) and the delineated aghast faces in When I woke up, everything was not there (2012). And although the subject of Xinming's work may not oblige to the strict tradition of panoramas, that of depicting national military battlefields or public events, one immediately recognises that these are the scenes of a much more personal conflictual history.
As an omniscient viewer, one is not alone. Xinming is himself an observer, attentive to detail, composition and light. The skies in his paintings, with their vivid rouge outlines, are a burst of colour and a vivid break from the sombre monotony of his primary palette. Xinming's clouds, finely created and animated, are comparable in their vigour and precision to those of the English Master John Constable, who not so much painted but ceaselessly studied the nebulous formations and their shifting articulations. Xinming's skies, however, are not to be aligned with those of the picturesque landscape painter; on the contrary, the artist's luminescent veils serve to heighten a running dramatic kinesthesia and to propel a certain sense of Edmund Burke's sublime, a degree of horror which is "dark, uncertain, and confused' (E. Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, 1909-14, Part I, Section VII).
Such employment of chiaroscuro, vivid contrasts between dark and light, propels a running sentiment of foreboding and serves to emphasise Xinming's creation of scenarios that bare an element of the surreal. In Memory of a Black Hole Series I (2011), one is uncertain as to whether the overlooking bearded figure to the right is a statue or indeed an eerily detached living figure. In Memory of a Black Hole Series II (2011), overlaying trunks of wood span the rightmost floor, seemingly suspended in time and space. These scenes are not figments of a universal reality; rather, they are dramatic and subliminal visions that Xinming's mind has concocted and which he has sought to portray.
Xinming has thus created a body of work that is strikingly unsettling yet cathartic, traditional yet reconsidered, private yet exposed, each oeuvre being a step taken towards creating a new wave of visual intimacy.
The unprecedented convergence of the 11th Shanghai Biennale opening and two major art fairs as well as numerous exhibitions makes the Chinese city the focal point of the Asian art world this week. The West Bund Art & Design Fair, opens tomorrow (November 9), followed by Art 021 on Thursday and the biennial on Friday (until 12 March),...