We had the chance to interview the artist Wang Yi about his work and his process of creating them, on the occasion of his exhibition "Inside and Outside", a dual show between Wang and French artist Claude Viallat, presented by HdM Gallery. Though at first glance, the geometric abstraction can be easily taken as mechanical, rigorous and precise, there is the element of spontaneity and uncontrollability in both the process and the finished pieces. The geometric shapes overlap with each other in seemingly perfect order and put forward mesmerizing views into the domain of abstraction, yet there is much more to this visual language than is readily obvious. Read on and find out more about the style and Wang Yi’s intention behind his works!
I minimize the painting elements (color, composition, brushwork, symbols, etc.), which are used in the paintings, to try to create the purity of painting itself in this way. The color I usually use are three primary colors or contrasting colors and complementary colors; the composition of painting is symmetrical or divided equally. Instead of creating an abstract symbol, I divide the big structure into smaller geometric color lumps. In the process, I follow the ‘glazing’ which is used in Chinese and western traditional painting, which is quite a slow technique; the visual effect that is achieved after hundreds of glaze is trembling but stable. It is also part of my backtracking and salute to the tradition, although the painting reflects a modern geometric abstraction.
Any painting certainly contains two levels: visual and conceptual. While exploring pure formal languages, I also try to explore the sociality and naturalness of abstract painting. An abstract painting which seems pure is indeed divorced from reality, and it does not depict figurative subjects. But actually, abstraction already belongs to conceptual art. In terms of visuality of painting, there are certainly many aspects in painting that are common across geographical boundaries and cultures, like some basic painting elements and aesthetics. In terms of meaning and concept, differences in culture, history, politics and lived experiences cannot be avoided. The audience's understanding of the same work in different national contexts is certainly multifarious, just like how a liberal advocate cannot reach an agreement with someone who believes in centralization and authoritarianism. Certainly, it is possible that people look forward to the stability when in chaos, but look forward to disorder when in order. I see something good and beautiful in the different understandings, or even misinterpretations, that people in different culture backgrounds have.
Large works must have overwhelming vigor, and small works must have attractive details. This is what Guo Xi said in Song Dynasty.
The spikes you can see are not intentional, but the uncontrollable factors even under high level of control. During the process, I use very thin liquid pigments, so usually frames, aluminum plates, mirrors and other bases are horizontally placed. In the process of continuous layering, it is like the generation of ‘stalactites’ due to the geological effect of flowing water in the cave; the more times I overlap the pigments, the longer pigments will drip from the edge. It is a witness of time. I restrain and reduce the traces of brush, to apply and overlap paint in a single direction, so that the final effect looks machine-made even though it is not. Many people think that I use print or inkjet to paint when they only see images of paintings, but these spikes are the ‘evidence’ of my painting process.
There are many potential interpretations from the visual and inner meaning of the painting. For example, ‘a set of two’ means unity, completeness and circulation.
‘Commentary on the Waterways’ derives from my devotion to geography, which is written by Li Daoyuan in Northern Wei dynasty, recording historical research, myths and legends about rivers in the world. Many scholars who studied ‘Commentary on the Waterways’ marked and annotated on it, becoming ‘Image of Commentary on the Waterways’. Because I usually use self-made pigments, uncontrollable contingency would occur even when I try to control; so then I wanted to amplify the automatic and out-of-control characteristics of liquid pigments or resins. I cannot use ‘painting’ to define this series, because I did not ‘paint’, I spread about the transparent pigment on the canvas over a large area, and tilt or stand the frame to allow gravity to guide the pigments. The texture and particulates on rough canvas would change the direction of pigments from time to time. It is like a river erosion or a river changing its course. Doing these repeatedly finally leads to a model of river from the beginning to end, which brings the nature of water into abstract works.
I backtrack to classical painting, from stretching the canvas, making sketches and the base, measuring and marking, to glazing. I also like some older mosaic painting and fresco painting; I adore this devout attitude. ‘Soft fire makes sweet malt’—it seems to be outdated in the current era when painting has been marginalized, but this is my small resistance.
The painting in progress is about expressing the relationship between individuals and groups, order and disorder, replication and dissimilation in society or networks.
Click here to find out more about the exhibition.
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