From Painting Time to Painting Space
It was eight years ago when Lei Zirens painting first entered my view. At that time, he painted under the name of Lei Ming, and hosted an exhibition called Entry with Zhang Jian and his other classmates. The whole exhibition was a breath of fresh air, although it could not shake off the influence of college teachers. Another impression of mine about that exhibition is the painters all liked painting about people, but neither their oil paintings nor traditional Chinese paintings were portraits. More precisely, theirs works were more like figure paintings with scenes. Since then, a clear clue can be found among Leis paintings, whether they are about relations between pastoral scenery and figures, about changes of the urban landscape, about the eternal love between men and women, or about todays popular human body paintings and clay sculptures. At the initial stage of Leis artistic creation, he recorded dreamlike childhood and youth, insert urbanized environmental factors, and painted scenes generally and briefly, which conveyed a kind of nostalgia for the passage of time and formation of illusion. This was a prominent feature of Leis early works. We might as well say he was painting time. Later, during three years of his graduate study, there was a noteworthy change: while paying less attention to concrete scenes, Lei paid more and more attention to figures, which took up an increasing proportion of the whole painting. For this, we might as well say he was painting space.
Any painting, undoubtedly, consists of space and planes. The creating of illusions also has something to do with the distance between reality and illusion. Since the cognizance of distance is based on emotions, it is bound to be connected with time factors, such as memory, association, and empathy. Lei began his study at Central Academy of Fine Arts in the late 1980s, a time when New Wave Art was declining while New Generation Art and the Political Pop and Cynical Realism were rising. As a student, he did not take part in those art trends. Yet what his teachers had gone through influenced him. However, considering the overall circumstances, Lei should not merely paint in full accordance with the academic tradition, or follow suit. He had to follow his own road. Actually, this is an arduous road of no return. It seems that you have to overcome limitations of Freehand Brushwork Painting and Fine Brushwork Painting in order to achieve the combination of them in the overall structure and partial depictions of figures and scenes. In terms of the picture effect, Lei have indeed achieved the combination of Freehand Brushwork Painting and Fine Brushwork Painting. However, when looking more closely, we will feel that combination is too superficial. Whether the painting is about an outing in summertime, play in a moat, lotus-picking in Nantang, or the misty and rainy South China, besides the playfulness of youth, there is a hint of dullness, depression and absurdity in freehand scenes, realistic figures, and the overall painting. Lei takes down his feelings in many notes which clearly reveal the softness of the writer. He has innate sentiment towards the surroundings. Even trifles can trigger his serious thinking and finally lead to the feeling of being lost and sad. For a person so sentimental in life, it is easy to imagine how he would be during artistic creation. Chinese ink wash painting with extremely strong abilities to summarize in language and to integrate in spirit has always been a useful weapon for literati in history to escape and allegorize reality. However, today this language media, meaning Chinese ink wash painting, seems a bit inadequate to express tremendous change in contemporary society. Leis age and timing when he started artistic creation decided his embarrassing choice. He is bound to pursue his dream of art in a world of memories, experiences and emotions. Lei was like the philosopher Confucius who stood on the shore and said, The passage of time is just like the flow of water, which goes on day and night.
In fact, in the Lei Zirens work, there is also a continuous thread, which is the three-dimensional multi-angle observation method of Western-style sketch he mastered during undergraduate study. Being unobvious in his early stage of creation, this three-dimensional multi-angle observation method shines brightly in recent years. He now has clearly acknowledged the limitation on creating Chinese painting. In terms of the creation mode，Chinese painting is becoming more and more ceremonial. The primitive egoistic impulse was concealed by many seemingly mysterious tricks. Chinese painting was even deviated from the inherent qualities of artistic creation, and it is losing its expressiveness in depicting human minds. Instead, it is too ornamental. This is reflected in the limited choices of painting themes, the unreasonable show-off of painting kills, and the over-exaggeration of painting materials. He wants to rediscover the intrinsic expressiveness of Chinese painting. In Leis recent years works, we can find more and more confidence rather than embarrassment and dullness in the link between the language of ink wash and the real life. The confidence is based on the discussion of the forms of ink wash language. To take this important step, he did a lot of preparation, starting from exploration of clay figures physical modeling, the shade and wetness of ink coloring, and kiln technologies for porcelains. All of these efforts laid the technical foundation for his bold exploration and performance of figure-modeling capabilities in Chinese painting. We note that the previous scattered scenes and unrelated relationships have been replaced by appreciable free flips and combinations of figures. The figures are filling the entire painting, embracing or overlapping each other, and demonstrating vitality of life, which also add to the material solidity and thickness of the entire painting. It is noteworthy that, since the last decade, an exploration called Experimental Ink Wash dealing with the limitations of Chinese painting on depicting the physical properties of objects has been in progress and caught attentions at home and abroad. At the same time, Lei has been trying to improve the expressiveness of Chinese ink wash painting in his own way. From his works in recent years, we can see that only by smudging layers of ink or adding pigments like acrylics, we may not be able to produce satisfactory effects; if we can also combine specific images, there may be a better depiction of space. Even so, Lei never consider himself to be an experimenter in Chinese ink wash painting. Given his special expression of the spatial structure and shape of figures, we can say he has achieved very good results on the combination of content and form in a picture, and added features of ink wash and sense of reality to the whole painting.
At first, Lei became aware of the sense of the ridiculous and lost when trying to depicting reality with the traditional ink wash painting. Later, he consciously explored the expressiveness of Chinese ink wash painting, shed off plots and imaginaries, and paid more attention to figures. During the process, it seems Lei has lost the trueness of reality. However, what he has achieved is the trueness in a deeper sense, the trueness about whether painting itself can survive in the temporary life. If conditions permit and Lei continues to enlarge the proportion of this kind of trueness and rejoin painting with the colorful life, then that will be the day of the re-development of Chinese painting, or ink wash painting.