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【评论】Elegant Desires

2013-04-09 09:49:12 来源:艺术家提供作者:Yin Jinan

  From Liu Xiaodong*s oil painting The Metropolitan Hunter (1992, on canvas, oil color) came Xia Xing, a hunter carrying a shotgun and leading a hunting dog. This is not the only time Xia Xing has shown up on Liu Xiaodong*s oil paintings. Xia Xing lives in a metropolis that is undergoing legal rationality and orderliness, and in a society immersed in the modernism movement.

  Xia Xing first jumped into my radar screen because of a dazzling girl beside him. She was always seen coming in and out of the China Academy of Fine Arts. The gorgeous girl was soon seen again in the painting he modeled her at the Marching Forward China Youth Painting Exhibition 1985 at the Chinese Art Gallery. An ancient Chinese saying would say it was a peach blossom destiny.

  Xia Xing was portrayed as a sort of wolf in another painting entitled Lovers (1991, on canvas, oil color) by Liu Xiaodong, featuring Xia Xing and his girlfriend. Liu Xiaodong*s wolf in my heart was probably made to resemble Xia Xing, expressing a migrating love relationship through a miraculously precise composition, yet in a satirical style.

  As a matter of curiosity, I would like to borrow the pair of sharp eyes of the wolf in my heart from Liu Xiaodong to glance over painter Xia Xing and his works.

  1. Love Characters

  The theme in Xia Xing*s paintings relates to women. These women live in a world of illusion and reality, and they are nude and open. This is an overt expression of the erotic affections in the works of the classic Chinese literati. With the classic western realistic approach, he expressed the privacy of the classic Chinese men of letters and their poetic passions.

  The Eastern Chamber Happiness (1996, oil painting) provides the best example. The Eastern Chamber Happiness came out of an imagination of the popular Chinese classic drama West Chamber. The imagination was realized through the illustration by Chen Laolian in late Ming Dynasty for the West Chamber of the playwright Wang Shifu in Yuan Dynasty. The free love story of Student Zhang and Cui Yingying is widely known in China. With Chen Laolian*s illustration as a backdrop, Xia Xing*s Eastern Chamber Happiness featured maid Hong Niang in the absence of mistress Yingying. Cui Yingying has, according to the painter, walked out of the picture to engage herself in a clandestine rendezvous with him. The painter is, however, tattooing her, implying that she is in his possession.

  Xia Xing*s attitudes toward women are embedded in the stereotype of male chauvinism. He gazes women with warmth, recalling the love experience of the past Chinese literati. He lives in his own world of fulfillment, a world with almost no other men but him.

  The most typical male-centric painting is the Moonrise Joyous Union, a triptych oil painting in 1995. The painter puts himself at the center of the triptych in the form of self-portrayal. Beside the painter lie various poised women to whom he is handing out the same heart K he is tearing up. The egocentric philosophy runs through most of his works, and it serves to strengthen the power and will of the artist. The painter has an obvious tendency towards self-love. In his world of subjectiveness, incremental change and tranquility, there is no sunshine and bright sky. All his paintings are enshrined in an indoor stage. The landscape setting, if any, seems quite closed, indicative of his intention to repel the realism and truth that emanates from exterior light.

  2. Plum, Apple and Peach Blossom

  The evasion of political themes is evident in most of Xia Xing*s paintings. In his works are mostly women, kids and dogs without political and social identity. As the most recurrent figures, dogs are portrayed as human companions in such paintings as Awaiting Rain at South Gate, Spring Kids Cursing Heaven, Celestial Mating on Virgin Isles, All Quiet on the Western Gate, Lungless and Heartless, and Overnight Plum. In the paintings Greedy Eaters and Couples in Menopause, however, dogs are the targets of torture and slaughter (stripped for dishes). Dogs are thus employed to reveal human issues.

  As a sex symbol, plum is conspicuously highlighted in the Overnight Plum to convey a special message. In the painting, secret plum eating methods are described on a green ceramic vase to reveal the implicit meaning of the painting. The virgins beside the man are the special tools used to ripen green plums. The relationship of clean collar to the red jade jewelry symbolizes the relationship between the vagina and the plum. This paining was originated in a modern legendary story about the recipe for male health, a story that is destined to attract sharp criticism from modern feminists. Xia Xing*s male chauvinism is latently drifting in this painting. Green plums could be the symbol of teenage girls. In the poem Ballard of a Trader*s Wife, Li Bai, a poet in Tang Dynasty wrote: *On a hobby horse you came upon the scene; Around the well we played with plums still green.* The white dog has, however, become a bystander in the event.

  Apple is another symbol. In Xia Xing*s painting Gay at Heart, the apples eaten by men can be traced back to the biblical story of Adam eating apples in the western culture. The metaphysical attachment to the apple is also evident in the painting Looking for Apple, in which two innocent children with angel wings are searching for an apple, a quintessentially *uneaten* apple. Uneaten apples symbolize spiritual purity. Beside the nude girls deep in sleep are four eaten apples, perhaps suggesting the completion of love making beforehand. The late coming *angels* acted to witness the outcome of the sexual affair.

  Peach blossom has never been found in Xia Xing*s paintings. It is me who arbitrarily ascribes Xia Xing to the *peach blossom destiny*. In the ancient Chinese culture, peach blossom refers to fairies and romantic women. A famous Tang poem goes that: *I do not know today where the pink face has gone; In vernal breeze still pink peak blossoms full-blown.* In the Chinese folklore, an affair between men and women is dubbed peach blossom destiny or sex scandal. Peach blossom has nothing to do with revolution, which is rather related to plum (winter), sweet-scented osmanthus (summer) and azalea.

  Interestingly, Xia Tongguang, the grandfather of Xia Xing, provided illustrations for the drama Peach Blossom Fan by Kong Shangren, a noted playwright in the Qing Dynasty. The drama involved nationalities, love, literati and prostitutes. Peach blossom represents a prostitute superior in writing aptitude and national integrity, and it resembles the prostitute Ball-of-Fat in the works of the French writer Guy de Maupassant. In the era of revolution, national integrity is a virtue that cannot be overemphasized. The Peach Blossom Fan was brought onto stage and screen after 1949, and it spread far and wide among the masses. In fact, the ingenious prostitutes in ancient China were always tied to men of letters.

  Xia Tongguang, the illustrator for Peach Blossom Fan and the grandpa of Xia Xing shared the preference of eating the Beijing honey peach with Mrs. Xia who *wore a qipao almost year in and year out*. In 1996, Shao Dazhen, a professor in fine art history, wrote an article named *Thinking of Xia Tongguang*. The article started with the sentence: *Whenever the juicy peaches reached the season for sales, I would think of Xia Tongguang. Had he still been alive, he would be 87 years old.* It continued: *I remember that the summer we moved into the new dwellings, Mr. Xia used to bring home a tuck net of big sweet peaches and would praise to us how fresh and tasty Beijing*s peaches were.*

  I am wondering whether Xia Xing may employ the traditional Chinese mentality to perceive these indirect associations. Might Xia Xing change Lu Xun*s verse *What else do I desire albeit Hua Gai* into *What else do I desire but peach blossom*?

  3. Acting as the Occasion Requires:Dodging Political Parody

  Sitting to the South (1993, oil painting) is a rare painting by Xia Xing on a political subject matter. The painting featured Mao Tsedong. His special note to the painting *Amateur Meandering over Politics* indicates that he is not a professional political painter.

  In 1968, Xia Xing*s grandpa Xia Tongguang hanged himself at home because he could not withstand the counterrevolutionary charge and humiliation. With her hands bound behind her back, his mother Shi Meiying was put into jail soon after his grandpa*s death on the same charge (see Fleeting Spring, Lingering Autumn in December 2002). She was later inflicted with schizophrenia. In the Chinese proletariate cultural revolution, two counterrevolutionaries showed up from the same family. Xia Xing later added: *While sorting out her belongings, I was moved by a photo of the then female artists: through this photo and the line of tiny characters marching forward forever under the flag of the Communist Youth League at the foot of the photo, I sensed her positive view of life and an upwardly mobile and healthy state of mind. From this I learned the reason why Mother, who was not flexible with the authority, would develop schizophrenia in pursuit of her ideals.* (Same reference as above).

  Acting, as the occasion requires, is a kind of political savvy. According to the Chinese historical story, Zhu Geliang, a Chinese statesman in the third century AD, was probably endowed with such a prowess. Not only did Zhu Geliang achieve the triangular balance of power among the three kingdoms Wei, Shu and Wu but he gained the edge of uniting with Kingdom Wu to fight Cao Cao, the ruler of Kingdom Wei as well. Beneath the painting Sitting to the South wrote *Tripartite Balance of Power of China*. Undeniably, this painting was related to Xia Xing*s perusal of the Three Kingdoms in his childhood.

  The influence of the Three Kingdoms recurred in Xia Xing*s another painting Youth Plot (1997, oil painting). The painting featured painters Liu Xiaodong and Yu Hong who extended a hand to each other showing the character fire on their palms (in the same way Zhu Geliang and Zhou Yu did during the era of the Three Kingdoms). As it turned out, the fire on the hand of Zhu Geliang in the Three Kingdoms not only burned out Cao Cao*s awesome warships but ended the life of Zhou Yu who also held the fire character in his hand as well. The Youth Plot may be understood to mean love plot or sex plot, yet without a specific connotation. In the ancient literature, sexual relationship was often employed to denote power or political relationship.

  As a political novel, the Three Kingdoms permeated the orthodox political philosophy of Liu Bei, the proclaimed ruler of Shu Han. There were triple kingdoms, tripartite balance of power, and triple siblings yet of different family names. Recently, I have been at a loss as to whether the sworn brotherhood of the three heroes Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei in the peach garden (historically known as *Peach Garden Sworn Brotherhood*) in the Three Kingdoms constitutes a peach blossom incident?! In my opinion, peach garden is the symbol of youth while sworn brotherhood is purely a political plot. So, the Peach Garden Sworn Brotherhood may also be interpreted as Youth Plot.

  4. Wolf and Literati

  Xia Xing*s paintings are elegant, and the elegance is attained using the classic realism technique with which we are familiar. Subjectively, he nullified the tradition and realistic expression force of painting ever since the impressionism school of thought. In his paintings, the sense of time highlighted through exterior light was denied with as little trace as practical of any time related stage property. The subjective painting expression is, to a large extent, overwhelming the objective photographing description. The non-contemporary or counter-contemporary philosophy dominates wherever possible. In his abstract male world, his female figures are, in his eyes, rather an eternal historical symbol than the individuals who live in a specific time-space. This historical symbolism is the symbiotic result of painting elegance and lasting male desires.

  I made another glance over Liu Xiaodong*s two paintings Metropolitan Hunters and Lovers about Xia Xing. In the painting Lovers, Xia Xing was indeed portrayed by Liu Xiaodong as a wolf, a metropolitan wolf, and a wolf dreaming of counter-modernization male chauvinism while living at the pace of modernization. The era he is dreaming of is gone forever. The imperial examination system that engendered conventional literati en mass was put to an end in 1905. Xia Xing is a man of letter indulged in an illusion divorced from its erstwhile setting, just like a wolf that is denied its prairie. The wolf is being chased by modernization, pursued by democratization, hunted by informationization and globalization, and gunned for by women rights movement and feminism.

  A man of letter in wolf*s clothing is intoxicated with his exotic dream in a peach blossom paradise insular from his own world.

Yin Jinan

Art Critic, Dean & Professor

Department of Fine Art History

China Academy of Fine Arts

On December 17, 2002 Tuesday

In Nanhuqu Study Room, Beijing