Images between Dreams and Poems
-Reading Lei Zirens Paintings
By Yi Ying
Lei Ziren once mentioned a feeling. He saw a young couple riding on a bike going through the Sanyuan Overpass. It was a warm and bloomy spring day. The girl was sitting on the front bar of the bike while the boy was pedaling; roadside lawns were just turning back green; the spraying from faucets in the lawns was like rain and fog. Their bike was cornering behind that rain and fog-like spray. The sky was extremely bright and trees and flowers on the roadside were extremely beautiful. Lei said that feeling clung to him over one year. He was eager to express the feeling by painting, yet failed. Later he drew the painting A Warm and Sunny Day with No Wind (《晴暖无风》) in which he composed a love scene with the background set in a park and by a lake which was imagined and does not fully reflect the reality of that spring day.
Lei Zirens works carry a touching feeling. He has a desire to manifest the reality of life, especially the reality of emotions. He does not record the reality of society or comment on social issues from the perspective of one certain concept; rather, he understands reality from the depth of heart, from the depth of memory. When the understanding is obtained, emotions are naturally conveyed. His works are not realistic, not romantic, or to romanticize daily life; rather, hi works have a tendency towards expressionism. Only when scenes in life or subjects in reality trigger emotions and memories in the depth of heart can that strong desire exists. As for ink painting, the traditional language can hardly have the possibility to straightly manifest such reality subjects and emotions; while new traditional ink figure painting realizes such a language too much, lacking expressions of emotions and descriptions of the inward world. Lei Ziren, instead, searches subjects for a history of his own heart and soul. For instance, when he saw the couples on the bike, he was eager to record that picture, yet actually it was the picture that touched his innermost memories which are connected to his life. He might recall his childhood and boyhood life, the patches of bloomy rape flowers in canal towns south of the Yangtze River, butterflies and dragonflies dancing among the yellow rape flowers. The forgotten childhood memories are activated by scenes of reality which echo with the remote and blurred memories, thus becoming symbols that mark the course of life. From this perspective, the form is of special meanings to Lei Ziren -- he is neither recording nor being realistic; rather, he is expressing the history of heart and soul, therefore he pays much attention to way of expression. This group of Lei Zirens paintings with the subject of love has some distinct characteristics: the pictures are very intangible and transparent, and a lot of blankness seems to be a huge world of imagination. The characters only occupy a small proportion of a picture; moreover, they are drawn with fine lines with very light colors. In addition, the distortion of characters reminds people of Marc Chagalls style: not to pursue accuracy of an individual character, but to pay attention to structural relationships between characters. This inaccurate character modeling is like a feeling in dreams, is blurred memories; but overall, it is carefully designed and arranged. Whats more interesting is that all backgrounds of his paintings are like very illusory scenes -- characters are in parks, gardens, and urban greens. He imagines cities as villages in metropolises, thereby linking childhood and boyhood memories with realistic scenes. If we call Lei Ziren a painter of urban subjects, he must feel confused, for he seldom cares much about urban subjects; rather, what he focuses on is individuals mind and the language of the brush and the ink. Before Lei Ziren, some ink painters have achieved sound achievements in the discovery and expression of urban subjects, which have provided him with references and made him realize that as a young painter he cannot follow others roads but to find his own way even it is experimental ink painting. For Lei Ziren, the most important fortune is his individual experiences, his own childhood and boyhood memories. This is the approach he understands a subject, which is different from other painters. If he can accurately master such an approach, then he can come out with unique expressions. Escape is an important subject in contemporary art, which seems to have a natural bond to traditional ink painting. The pleasures from natural woods and mountains and the carefree feelings from the wild are contradictory to metropolises. Metropolises themselves become noisy and crowded and human beings living environment is getting worse day by day. His paintings, when expressing urban subjects, manifest the uproar in Li Xiaoxuans paintings, the monotony in Liu Qinghes, and the longing for rural life in Tian Limings. We cannot say that these painters have no influence on Lei Ziren, but Lei himself did find his own way. He combines feelings toward metropolises with scenes hes seen and his memories of rural life. He is neither passively recording memories or experience, nor cutting traditional images from his own paintings and leaving only his individual traces. Instead, he is discovering his own language on the basis of ink painting, and continues the tradition of ink painting with the ink language. Lei Ziren also intentionally tried oil painting and the most important feeling hes got from it is colors, senses of volume and space of oil paintings. These senses are very real feelings of the reality. He said when you drew a cup, oil painting can draw a real subject while ink painting can only draw an image; however, the reality and the image should be combined into one. It was under the domination of such feelings that he drew indoor scenes -- a young lady in the front of windows is surrounded by colors, and heavy ink plays an important role in this color relation. Only the heavy ink can suppress such gorgeous colors and make the picture solemn, which forms sharp contrast with the light and elegant paintings of outdoor love subject. However, there is some connection between the two. Still, the young lady in the front of windows is set in a dream and her image is not specific but being surrounded by colors and light from the outside of windows. We can hardly say that Lei Ziren is reforming the linguistic form of ink painting in purpose. Whats important is that he wants to improve means of expression by such a form, so as to not only master that light feeling but also manifest his realistic experience.
In this new discovery we can see another kind of subjects of Lei Zirens paintings, indoor subjects. These paintings just like the Nabis Schools paintings in the end of the 19th century -- a young lady in the front of windows and sceneries outside windows in gorgeous colors and heavy ink, which are greatly different from his outdoor subjects. Another subject is human body, which is quite rarely seen in current ink paintings. The body subject is actually combinations of male human bodies and female human bodies, which seems to be a variant of his love subject. However, this kind of characters with no time, no environment and no identity, better reflects his tendency to conduct experiments on pure brush and ink and discovery. During the process of such discovery, we can see that at least three elements have influences on Lei Zirens discovery, namely, pottery, oil painting and sketch. The three elements actually have had a powerful influence on him in recent years. He specifically practices these three aspects rather than just absorbs some superficial factors. Pottery, generally, is a class arrangement by Mr. Li Shaowen who demands postgraduate students from the school of traditional Chinese painting doing pottery so as to experience a special modeling means. The class mainly is an experiment to express and grasp emotions. Whether the material or the technique, pottery is strange to Lei Ziren. During the process of making pottery, one can just follow his feelings, and have no control of the material as well as the result. However, the process of experiencing is rich, asking for only its meaning rather than completeness. This characteristic is manifested very obviously in Lei Zirens paintings, especially in the modeling of characters. Practices in art rooms demand accuracy of shapes which is usually realized through certain norms. As a result, emotions of the individual are overwhelmed by such norms. Arbitrariness is fully manifested in Lei Zirens paintings, in which he is not confined to the accuracy of shapes at all and draws freely. This coincides with the underlying subject of a painting, that is, memories of impressions and dreamy feelings.
The last element is sketch. Just like pottery, sketch is also a class arrangement. For a period of time Lei Ziren did a lot of life drawing (sketch). His aim, of course, is not to draw shapes more accurately, or to sketch better, but to do a discovery of feelings and form a new visual language or expression means which can be finally applied to the language of ink painting. The subject of a combination of a male human body and a female human body seems to be the extension of his love subject. Compared with outdoor subjects, it does not have that elegance and intangibility of outdoor subjects; compared with indoor subjects, it does not have that gorgeousness and solemnness. It brings another kind of feelings. A structural relationship is formed between the two human bodies. This structural relationship consists of lines and planes, becomes integral in the picture and the two human bodies are melted into the relationship. We can see that during this period of time, Lei Zirens change in subjects also results in the change in form. We can also sense a contradiction: is he expressing subjects or does he want to explore the form? Concerning the unity or the solution of such contradiction, Lei Ziren has a natural advantage. He has a natural mastering ability that when he sees an objective target, he can express it in a unique way, which has been reflected in his early paintings. His experience from sketch is not only reflected in his paintings of human bodies but also reflected in the relation between dark and light. He has drawn some very casual cityscapes which are subjects that many ink painters seldom touch, for they are of great difficulty -- linear structures of geometrical shapes, crisscross streets, orderly-arranged windows, all do not seem to be express objects of ink paintings. However, Lei Ziren enters the field of such subjects. Landscapes of those architectures are blurred, and contrasts of light and heavy ink are remained. He segments architectures and trees into color lumps and forms jumping rhythms by crisscross contrasts, and then interweaves some colors, bringing special vitality to paintings. With his painting brush, cities become poetic expressions and buildings are turned into black woods. This may be another kind of escape.
Lei Ziren is a serene dreamy poet. Indoor scenes, or life drawing or cityscapes, no matter what it is, is actually unifying his innermost poetic feelings. He is always in transitions, changing form one subject to another. It is in life that he encounters these subjects; he does not search for them in purpose. Every subject is reformed by him into murmurs and soft and sweet songs, and reality becomes symbols of memories and traces of life. His form and language are always becoming more and more rich and sophisticated as the subject changes; however, he can always manifest the subject in the purest way. Someday when he walks out of the dreams and indulges himself into this secular society, the poetic feelings will disappear. By then we may see his experienced and sophisticated skills, however, that is of much less fun.