An Adventure of Narrative
--appreciating Lei Zirens paintings
Its almost a mission impossible to comment on works of Lei Ziren. I have switched several perspectives trying to give a view of the painter with all efforts ending up with failures.
The paintings of Lei Ziren trace back straightly to the very beginning of traditional culture and sees right through the hidden depth of humanity. The two traits echo with each other as deep chords, questioning the origin of life.
In Leis Meteor, an imitation of Hua Yans Capped Snow on Tianshan Mountain, a Chinese knight in cape shows up synchronically with a half-naked backpacker, constituting a proposition of Dadaism. However, what is confusing on the painting is the fire fly- a tiny but outstanding symbol. Even Lei himself may not be able to explain his purpose by adding this element or he is even not clear about the poetic and melancholy flavor of his own works. The images just occur to the painter, shattering artistic consciousness all of a sudden.
But it wont bother me because I know very well that Lei Ziren never allows himself completely possessed by blasts of passion. His intentional control of himself produces the unique peak-less tension in his paintings. Id like to say its a talent endowed by god. But the description still misses the key contributor of Leis enigmatic works.
Lei Ziren once sent me two books as gifts: Peoples Footprint on Mountains--the figures, structures and purports of landscape paintings in Ming dynasty and the painting collection of his personal art exhibitions Virtueo Leisure. Appreciating pages of paintings, I found myself embraced by ancient classics and modern charms while savoring the solitude and contradiction of the contemporary life. What the great masters could attain may be also no more than this. Lei Ziren definitely deserves such comment, but still, his fantasy cannot be expressed by praise.
The trial of identifying Lei Ziren may be compared to progressing towards skyline: I thought I have drawn near enough but only find him still faraway when I observe more closely. Thus, I failed once and again.
Renowned Venerable Puyuan once said: It will skip away the moment you run after it.Another renowned master, Monk Liji also gave the instruction: Detachment instead of obsession is the path towards accomplishment.
Under such guidelines, I didnt bother to talk about culture, beauty, symbol or pattern and simply tried to appreciate Leis paintings in a direct and detached manner without any assumptions. Out of my expectation, I found him taking risks. Lei Ziren selects various images existing deep under the sea and entrusted them with unprecedented forms, creating a charm of risk in fantastic atmosphere.
Red Dragonfly barely stands on the edge of a balanced structure due to casual brushes of an insect, from Qihuangs painting, which maks it possible to correspond with the internal secret of the human beings on it. Its a signature tactic of Lei Ziren to pick an image from traditional works as a symbol for his painting. Seemingly integrated with post-modernism, it is actually modernist feature. In Martin Walsers famous novelette Ein fliehendes Pferd ( A Runaway Horse), the German writer added a passage of intercepting a frightened horse, which in fact has nothing related to the whole plot line. This image could only exist in stories. With the help of Qihuangs insect, Lei seems to provide the viewers with a virtual key to understand but the real effect is just opposite. Without appropriate understanding of the up-flying girl in red dress, we are inevitably trapped in confusion and curiosity. While we can never define the concept of Tao, the intriguing Tao of the artists lies in their permanent sense of direction.
Re-creation of Banquet at Han Xizais is a patchwork combining Wassily Kandinskys style with Southern Tang legends. The painting in the form of color-ink puzzle reminds me of well-arranged boxes, each of which contains one piece from a complete series of classic books, such as the Twenty-Four Histories. Drawing on the cream of classical and modern masterpieces, each part of Leis patchwork is inspiring by itself, conveying a mysterious message as a whole. The fear represented in Banquet at Han Xizais has in fact nothing to do with politics but by retelling the artistic abstraction of political affairs, Lei did stake high --- any brush may lead to a gross failure.
Three Words of Chuang Tsu: Prophet traverses a journey from Fu-His to masquerade.
Rainbow, Dolly and Evening Primrose could be interpreted as imitations of dream scenes.
What you see is nothing but man and woman.
But you could also get the sense of Lei Zirens enduring courage to take risks by telling stories. Meanwhile, it is also a taste of leisure tantamount to the pleasure and composure Li Qingzhao got when she elegantly play with obscure rhymes. Lei Ziren is experiencing and questioning the sensory system of life through constant adventures. He expresses his loss, his confusion and his joy all by painting. At such moment, Lei Ziren becomes quite feminine, in a good way, however. Marguerite Duras always believes that novel should be feminine and she spoke highly of the male writer Marcel Proust just because of the corresponding features. Gentleness, intuition and sensitiveness are shared characters of many great masters: Li Qingzhao, Marguerite Duras, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Van Gogh, Monet, Cao Xueqin, Zheng Banqiao, Emperor Huizong of Song and Qi Baishi, to name a few. No trace of roughness is allowed in their works. This is also true with paintings of Lei Ziren.
After all, Lei Ziren is living in our contemporary society, where the awareness of modern art forces him to produce intriguing and enigmatic works. But we cannot help asking: Where is and what is the essence or core of modernist art? How to draw as close as possible is still an ongoing story. Concerning the modernity of Chinese drawings and its functions in value system, Lei Ziren may have a sense of awareness surpassing other talents in our time.
I understand that Leis pursuit of artistic purity and simplicity is as committed as religious beliefs. His humbleness, composure and indifference towards secular pursuits always betray him when he appeals to traditional ink paintings with unique charm, intuition and sensitiveness.
His humbleness comes from his awe towards tradition, composure, from confidence. Jung once argued that: there is no way a contemporary could be completely free from the past. In Lei Zirens interaction with tradition, he tends to behave like Ling Qingzhao, like Proust. Blending himself into the classics without diminishing his own ego, Lei has become an envoy inheriting, enriching and exalting the essence of tradition.
By doing so, he has his own way attaining Tao.
May I hit the bulls eye this time!