Personal Concept in Classical Language--Read Oil painting of Mao Kai Back

Zhao Zilong(art critic, curator;cross-boundary working in exhibition planning, art commenting, art market, media and electronic business. Graduated as a master in art history department of academy of fine arts in Tsinghua University. He was involved and took part in various big art exhibitions, served as the subeditor of ARTTIME, the subeditor of Demei Art Journal of Demeiyijia and composed art market comments for Securities Daily, Investor’s Journal and Shanghai Securities Journal. He also contributed to the exploration and practice of electronic business IEK. Now he serves as the deputy general manager of Artist Exchange).


Mao Kai, born in 1970s, carries the classic characteristics of the 1970s of China:deep-rooted idealism, quite familiar with the realism of Chinese ecology, formed a conflict dynamic value in the concept gap between planned economy and market economy. This kind of value makes his relationship with the world remain in constant mode of self-reflection,convince,doubt again and convince again, which also endows his way of thought a kind of open and uncertain feature. It seems to be very unstable according to people in 1950s or 1960s. While for artists, it is a very essential state. At the same time, it is also one of the really existed states in Chinese society: all previous solid and self-evident value basis have been dug out then been verified and confirmed again by their own experience; Being verified again by own experience implies an intense introspection consciousness itself.


This kind of independent and prudent quality always exists in Mao Kai’s oil painting creations, thus making the word he portrays carry a kind of free and self-sufficient feature rather than obvious assertion or conclusion. Led by scenes he portrays, audience can not obtain specific and appointed views, instead, they can observe the free recombination of some fractured images. Due to different life experience as well as world views, everyone will gain different feelings. In a word, the world he portrays possesses a kind of “sharing” consciousness. It not only refers to the unidirectional presentation of an individual world to the audience, it still invites audience to read and analyze the world together. In this sense,although the world Mao Kai creates is imaginary, it is qualified with objective self-sufficiency. This setting weakens artists’ impulsion of subjective telling and make people freely travel in the scenes created by artists where are more amiable.


This kind of intimacy firstly originates from the literary quality in Mao Kai’s paintings. Furthermore, easel paintings gradually turn to philosophizing when suffering modernity, while the literature which can bring a sense of pleasure in classic paintings is regarded as outdated and old-fashioned; Paintings turn from “telling stories” to “telling principles”. However, paintings which focus on “telling principles” soon suffer a certain dilemma, which is described as “the extinction of paintings”. As for the reasons, it is because that, as a kind of language system, paintings are not good at telling principles. Compared with words, paintings can not accurately construct an ideological model; As a kind of visual language, paintings are better at telling and expressing life experience and inner feelings which can not be told of artists. Thus we can see, when paintings step into a dilemma of extremism, words are required to explain the concepts. Mao Kai does not blindly pursue the conceptual features of paintings. In his opinion, concepts generate through simple transformation of painting language itself are very little today, while the true origin of concepts comes from specific life experience and ideas when artists live in the great times. Therefore, Mao Kai chooses the classic oil painting language which is easiest for reading, thus getting closer to audience and making it more convenient to invite audience enter his real painting world.


Therefore, it’s not very hard for us to understand that familiar symbolism temperament in Mao Kai’s paintings. Although inside art circle, it is proud of “contemporary”, this technique is not creative when compared with various fresh experimental techniques, I believe in Mao Kai’s opinions, “new” is not equal to “contemporary”. Moreover, this kind of “new” only exists in technical level. To be more objective, it is only a kind of new experiment, what we admit is just the possibility contained in it. In the current conflict state of easel paintings, Mao Kai is quite calm, because as for him, “the dilemma of painting” is quite exaggerated. This kind of dilemma will only happen to artists who are restrained by “painting language”. Painting is not originally supposed to turn “concept” and “language” into a debate which must be defined right or wrong. Changes of painting language are based on changes of concept. Although the change of language itself will generate concepts, while it can not provide specific and explicit concepts for this era. As for the current era which always lacks “individuals”, every thought of independent individuals is extremely important. However, many people prefer to endeavor to discuss painting skills in this era. Based on this judgment, Mao Kai tends to enter into a quite visually traditional language and express the feelings of a common person under the current Chinese society in virtue of people’s recognition of this style and the comprehension abilities. While in this way, all rhetorics become meaningful.


Mao Kai never taboos visual sense of joy, aesthetics, poetry or sentiment in his paintings. Although after expressionism painting, easel paintings disdain to create this kind of classic atmosphere, while as for the current society, political movements and wars have interrupted the transmission of western classic paintings among Chinese people, even the classic system of Chinese painting itself has been broken. When revolutionary ideology exists in the artistic and literary system for generations, bringing up beauty-appreciation and class ism again carries non-negligible realistic significance. We can see that a kind of humanity is visually presented in Mao Kai’s paintings, he never deliberately mystifies his paintings and portrays anything beyond audience’s understanding to puzzle them. His paintings are based on realistic techniques to stay in concert with “skills” in Chinese recognition of arts, thus giving a smooth communication channel between artist and audience, at the same time, avoiding the suspicion of being “unqualified”. Pragmatic and simple values are implied in his paintings. Ideology only expressed through paintbrushes can be admitted its existence. Those nominal and impractical techniques are never demonstrated in Mao Kai’s works. Therefore, Mao Kai’s paintings are firstly qualified with technical values and visual values. As for ideological value, it only can be involved after ensuring the former two basic matters. In the Distance, Qianqian, Judy all set female portraits as subject materials, which are visually complied with the classic paintings we understand. However, Mao Kai is never stingy to give abundant time and brushwork on backgrounds. The seemingly empty environment can usually be expressed with high-density component. What Mao Kai paints are not only those classic structures and shapes, specifically speaking, what he implies are human characters and inner qualities; while that kind of poetic backgrounds set by him are all closely related to human qualities. From this perspective, although what he paints belongs to classicism, there still exists intense modernism temperament. Flying birds released from the cage in In the Distance accurately match the eyesight of the girl who is looking into the distance, thus expressing the yearning towards freedom; While this work makes people associate Christina and the girl portrayed by He Duoling during the period of scar art. Wake At Spring portrays the world escapes from the severe winter from the bleak environment, which also makes people associate the quality in The Spring Breeze Has Awakened created by He Duoling. All these symbolic scenes are just like telling stories, actually outlining the idealism emotions in Mao Kai’s heart. However, this exactly acts as the most typical quality in 1980s: Sad, exquisite, tragic and warm.


In addition, what shall be mentioned is that, Mao Kai’s symbolism does not just widely refer to those grand and untouchable principles. Instead, it is full of personal emotions and is related to the reality. Unlike his teacher Liu Yi, Mao Kai does not exaggerate the literacy of this symbolism to a ridiculous and surreal degree. He chooses to keep it normal. Although we have to admit that there is a certain emotional conception in his paintings, the source of this emotion never deviates from his personal life. It is not imagination or paraphrase. In The Sadness of Butterfly, Mao Kai creates a surreal background. A naïve girl seized a butterfly, which composed a poetic and aesthetic scene. However, the barbed wire in the background also implied the situation the girl was in—there exist some similarities in her and the butterfly’s destiny. They live in an environment where they may lose freedom immediately—the barbed wire is just the metaphor of the realistic social principles. In the series of Dream Trip, Mao Kai utilizes several “tools” which possess fundamental significance to present the contradiction and complication of human society: shotguns symbolizing human power held by naïve and weak children, bird cages symbolizing taboos, peacock symbolizing charm and vanity, tiger symbolizing dignity, horse and armor symbolizing wars… Through these combinations of symbols, we can observe those problems touched by Mao Kai: human and nature, freedom, history, religion and so on. What he indicates are all the essential problems existed in the current Chinese society. And we, as normal people, are exactly living in these disputes. The heart of Mao Kai is as exquisite as his painting skills. Scenes he creates are not limited to lyric, instead, there are weighty and serious reflections in these scenes, also carrying bright reasons and questioning characteristics. Under his paintbrush, poetry moves towards complication and tragedy rather than emotional inundation. He remains the subjectivity of easel paintings by classic painting language. At the same time, he endows these paintings a kind of conceptual independent and individual ideology. In the dispute between concepts and techniques, Mao Kai concentrates on his real feelings and gives enlightening attempts as well as answers.