• 2024-06-29 00:03:57

New Gongbi: A Contemporary Art Movement Taking Place in China--Dandeli's Exclusive Interview with Art Critic Hang Chunxiao

Judy Liu: You are the first Chinese art critic that showed your interest in "new gongbi" , are you?

Hang Chunxiao: Yes. I created the term and developed the concept.


Judy Liu:   When and why did you come up with the concept of "new gongbi" ?

Hang Chunxiao: I came up with the idea of "new gongbi" when I was pursuing my master's degree in Nanjing. During my study, I noticed the development of a new style of gongbi paintings. Since I moved to Beijing in 2003, I've been discussing this trend with my friends, and then gradually formed the concept of "new gongbi". In 2005, I planned a Chinese painting and calligraphy auction section for Poly International Auction Company ("Poly"), in which I included a number of grey-tone gongbi paintings. In 2006, I wrote an article titled “Grey Silhouettes—An Overview of the Value of Collecting New Gongbi Paintings" to promote a "new gongbi" auction section by Poly. In this article, "new gongbi" was officially introduced to the public as an art genre and concept. The concept was well received in some of the cities in China, including Nanjing, where relevant events were held. In recent years, "new gongbi" has gained attention and this new art genre been promoted across China.


Judy Liu:  Did you ever attempt to define "new gongbi" over the past years? In other words, what differentiates the new gongbi style from traditional gongbi style?  

Hang Chunxiao: I define “new gongbi” on two levels. First, on the appearance of art, the new gongbi style abandons the brush techniques of traditional gongbi painting, in which the artists first draw the outline then fill in the colors. Instead, the new gongbi style adopts the colors and tunes of western paintings. It has been a practice of  traditional Chinese paintings since the Song Dynasty (960–1279) to use unmixed colors. It is an important technique for traditional gongbi artists to paint the transparent colors and the opaque ones, both of which are unmixed colors, on top of each other. This practice was particularly popular since the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911). Although western paintings were introduced to China in the twentieth century, the color language of western paintings was never well received or followed by Chinese paintings until the1980s. The Impressionism gained wide attention among Chinese artists, who began to use grayish tones in traditional Chinese paintings. The use of unmixed colors gradually gave way to the application of blended colors in traditional Chinese paintings. To me, the most successful attempt is the paintings by Jiang Hongwei, whose works not only introduce new tones of colors but also carry forward the freshness, elegance and nobleness of the paintings of the Song Dynasty style. Through my further observation and researches, I discovered that Zhao Xiuhuan, a respectful and iconic gongbi artist, relocated in the U.S.A and developed her new gongbi style during 1980s.


I gradually realized that the evolution of color language and brush techniques alone does not powerful enough to propel the reform of traditional Chinese paintings. The transformation of the artistic representation, which was resulted from the reshaping of color language, is a stronger drive behind the emergence of the new goingbi style. Chinese artists started to switch to a new style of art representation, which portrays people’s life style in a realistic and factual manner, from the naturalistic and abstract depiction of inner feelings with the images of the external world, which is what traditional Chinese paintings do. The industrialized and modern life style has placed people under substantial pressure. People worry about the reduced living space and the conflicts between the man and the environment. However, this kind of concerns cannot be found in traditional Chinese paintings created in the ancient time, when people’s life style is simpler and more relaxing.  Therefore, the esthetics of ancient artists is no longer compatible with the modern society. Chinese gongbi paintings must adapt to the new life style.


Later, I found a group of middle-aged artists and their gongbi paintings. Their art work does not only applies new color tones, but also communicates directly the spiritual world and life style of the modern day. This character shows that the new gongbi style has experienced transformation in both the appearance and the soul. This kind of transformation also induces the birth of a new genre of Chinese art.


Judy Liu:  Do you think the transformation of artistic representation driven by those middle-aged Chinese artists is revolutionary?

Hang Chunxiao: I would not call it "revolutionary". Cultural movements can be carried out in two manners -  gradually or radically. A moderate cultural movement reshapes the existing culture little by little.  However, a radical cultural movement overthrows the groundwork of the existing culture and rebuilds an air castle above the ruins.

Unfortunately, most racial reforms in the human history failed. The successful reforms were most likely those transformed the existing system or rules step by step and created the new system or rules on top of the groundwork of the old ones. I never think the new gongbi artists are revolutionary, but I do believe that they have furthered the development of Chinese paintings and what they have done is constructive. Therefore, I would rather say that they are moderately transfiguring the goingbi style, and, at the same time, they are carrying forward the traditions.


In other words, what differentiate the new gongbi artists from other contemporary Chinese artists are their connections with the traditional Chinese paintings. On one hand, their paintings show a combination of oriental mysticism and a rational way of thinking, which is different from the Chinese artists paint in pure contemporary western style. Unlike the explicit emotions in oil paintings, the colors, tones, brushworks and lines in new gongbi paintings communicate the artists’ emotions in a more implicit manner. Such kind of indirectness is a typical representation of oriental style of thinking. On the other hand, the traditional genetics enable the new gongbi paintings to possess a more refined quality and additional elegance compared with other types of contemporary Chinese arts. In my opinion, new gongbi paintings are successful in implementing a self-motivated modernization of Chinese culture instead of a mechanical union of the western culture with the Chinese culture.


Judy Liu:  What is the background of the new gongbi artists? Do they share any education or art experience in common? 

Hang Chunxiao: Most of these artists are new academists. They have received systematic training and postgraduate education at art colleges which allows them to obtain solid understanding of traditional Chinese paintings. Apart from the Song Dynasty style paintings and other Chinese styles of paintings, new gongbi artists also have extensive knowledge on the history of western oil paintings, and have gained visual experience from the classicalism, the modernism, the post-modernism, and even from movies and other types of visual arts. At the same time, they have been trying to break the bottleneck of the traditional Chinese – its indirectness and implicitness in communicating the theme, which is not very efficient to portray the modern life style


Judy Liu:  So can we say that "new gongbi" is open and international, asit is different from the traditional goinbi style which is rooted in the relatively exclusive traditional Chinese culture?

Hang Chunxiao: That is for sure. It is impossible for an artist to become a Su Dongpo  like artist in this age. Su knew nothing about Europe or America, the only two things on his mind were the Song Emperor and his countryside life experience. Su's spiritual world is also representative of that of most ancient Chinese intellectuals and artists.  Today, artists no longer think or live that way. An international perspective is a prerequisite for an artist to create arts reflecting the modern life. The new gongbi works are undoubtedly created with an international vision, and nurtured by various art genres.


Judy Liu:   New gongbi artists have already held a number of exhibitions in China and gained a increasing amount of attention from scholars and collectors. Have they ever held exhibitions overseas?

Hang Chunxiao: To me, "new gongbi" is never limited to the said group of artists, and there will be a long way for it to go to boost Chinese paintings. It has been five years since Poly first introduced the new gongbi style in 2005. New gongbi is still in its infancy, although Poly launched a special auction section for new gongbi paintings, and new gongbi exhibitions were held according the country in the past years.  New gongbi is yet to develop a unified artistic style, as the styles of new gongbi artists vary from classic to contemporary, or even conceptual. The diversity indicates that "new gongbi" remains a self-initiated domestic art movement at this stage. Nevertheless, new gongbi is reaching out to the rest of the world. For example, Xu Lei has recently held a solo exhibition in Library of Congress in the U.S., and attracted local attention in America. I expect that such internationalization will extend from individual artists to the entire new gongbi community in the near future.


Judy Liu: How do you see the future of the new gongbi style?

Hang Chunxiao:  think new gongbi painting will remain traditional and Chinese in their appearance but the artists will attempt to communicate their spiritual world in a more straightforward and modern manner. 


However, the transformation will take some time, which, I believe, will this emerging Chinese art genre additional charisma and opportunities. The new gongbi style has tremendous potential as it is constantly evolving and improving. It is very likely that new gongbi, eventually, will become an international contemporary art movement, since this experience of the Chinese artists may provide new possibilities to the international art circle. Moreover, China has wowed the world with its breath-taking paces of economic development in the past years. Yet, China's contemporary cultural and artistic achievements do not parallel its economic boom. The rest of the world is only familiar with China’s artistic achievements in the ancient time. China desperately needs iconic contemporary arts to manifest its position as an emerging economic power. To me, new gongbi have the potential to become one type of China's iconic contemporary arts.


Judy Liu: What new gongbi projects are you working on now?

Hang Chunxiao: I'm working on two projects at the moment. One is a book series titled New Gongbi Artists – a Case Study. I'll write a book for each artist. This series not only show the artists' understanding of traditional Chinese art but also explore how they broad their vision to create new gongbi painting. Two, I want to establish a nationwide fund to sponsor the emerging new gongbi artists. Every year, a committee will assess the works of these artists, most of whom are art students, and select 5 of them to sponsor. The fund will also sponsor a group exhibition for the 5 artists.  By providing the sponsorship, I hope to encourage more young artists to do new gongbi.


Judy Liu:  You want to establish the new gongbi fund, is it because you have seen some art students'efforts on doing new gongbi?

Hang Chunxiao: Yes. I've seen many. I want to let these students know that they can stick together and make joint efforts to promote the development of this art genre. With some guidance and organization, these artists are able to better work out where they want to go. Some students decided to learn or mimic in the new gong style, just because they saw some new gongbi books or exhibitions. However, they don't understand why they should paint that way. This fund will help them understand the ideas behind new gongbi. I believe this kind of education will help talented artist to improve themselves.


Judy Liu: What books are you reading recently? 

Hang Chunxiao: I'm reading two books. On is From Husserl to Derrida, which is a bit heavy and profound, as it talks about two philosophers. The other is Secret. This book talks about how to develop one's potentials. For example, according to the book, a successful person has to be confident first. I think it makes sense – if you believe you can become someone, you will work towards that direction.


Judy Liu: So you are saying that one will get support as long as he has faith in what he is doing?

Hang Chunxiao: Yes. In 2005, I was so determined to promote new goingbi. At that time, I did not know what supported my belief. Now everybody accepted this concept. I eventually received support from others on the new gongbi style, which I believe has significant artistic value.  People will see the value of a genre one day, if the genre has real potential.


What is new gongbi?

The name gongbi is from the Chinese gong zheng meaning tidy (meticulous brush technique). The technique uses highly detailed brushstrokes that delimit details very precisely and without independent or expressive variation. It is often highly colored and usually depicts figural or narrative subjects. The term gongbi is also used to refer to paintings that are generally more descriptive than interpretive.


Before the Tang and Song Dynasties(618 AD - 1279 AD), traditional Chinese painting emphasizes realism and preciseness. After the emergence of the Southern School, the fresh and ethereal became the distinctive style and the landscape became the main theme of traditional Chinese paintings.


From the beginning of the twentieth century, some traditional Chinese artists started to explore new artistic possibilities to protect traditional Chinese arts against the impact of the realism movement in the West. They made efforts to prove that Chinese painting is as descriptive as western paintings. One of the representative artists in this period is Jin Chen.


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