Today’s China is like an open valley to the influences of Western art where different voices from different sides contradict each other, which easily excites enthusiastic people but makes quiet individuals like this artist feel awkward. In a time filled with constant updates and developments, any introspective choice inevitably seems conservative. What motivates Du Saijin, apart from personal feelings, is strengthening a connection with the earth.
Since meeting him in 1998, I have known Du Saijin to paint portraits of the poor, a population often socially disengaged from general society. His subjects use meager incomes to buy liquor and meat in the dimming light of sunset, much like Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Though challenging to examine on a sociological and economic level, this population reveals to the artist the simple greatness and solidarity of the human spirit through the absurdity of predestination displayed by their real lives. This is what attracts the painter, inspiring humility toward his craft and a commitment to remain honest to the canvas. Du Saijin paints vagrants, scavengers and laborers as individuals instead of using them to represent emotional concepts or as boxes to hold ideas. His paintings show that without baring clothes, the artist can extract the essence of people standing firmly on the earth.
Sophie Pan holds a doctorate in Art History from Nanjing Normal University and is now a professor at Nanjing Art College.
The Pingyao International Photography Festival is an annual event held in Pingyao, a small city in Shaanxi province. It's a great experience viewing photography in industrial exhibition spaces like a former cotton mill and needle factory. Some art in context from the 2008 festival...
I first met Huzi at his hybrid store/workshop/drinking hole across from Mesa/Manifesto on Julu Road. He was slumped on one of those wooden stools that barely exceed ground-level; so low that they're more qualified as squat supports than a proper seat. He wore a boxy Chinese jacket made with coarse material and matching trousers. The consummate Northerner, he was a friendly bargainer, a long-winded conversationalist, and an avid drinker -- he kept a stash of cheap liquor in the corner. His face wore a crooked smile and thick black glasses that showed off the quirky squint of his eyes.
Huzi : untitled detail (2008), ink drawing
When he offered me a business card I accepted, then waited while he produced it...literally. After making an ink illustration on a piece of scrap leather, he used clear nail polish to seal it. On it was his name in an outdated form of pinyin and the shop's phone number. No mention of an address or what I might call him about, though admittedly it's hard to forget someone with a leather calling card.
Huzi : leather calling card (2008) 7 x 4 cm
The last time I saw Huzi, he was huddled against the wall at a recent gallery reception, seemingly laughing at the jokes in his head.
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Due to the decorative and delicate nature of the medium, paper cutting is commonly viewed as a feminine skill and traditionally taught to marriageable Chinese girls. Artists Bovey Lee and Swoon are two females whose works elevate a traditional art form to a dynamic, multi-dimensional medium capable of delivering powerful political and socio-economic messages.
Bovey Lee approaches the craft of paper-cutting from a painting and digital imaging background, thus her process includes developing digital templates before cutting the patterns by hand. In most mediums, negative and positive space can play upon a flirtatious tension with each other. But in paper cutting, the added pressure of forming each work with a single sheet results in a relationship that is both visually and practically co-dependent. In Bovey Lee's work, she uses a "wallpaper" of pattern (e.g. a storm of clouds, a chain link fence) that serves as a contextual backdrop upon which she directs scenes filled with un-precious characters such insects, pigeons, jellyfish, and lightning bolts. Yet, the work still manages to exude an elegant and composed demeanor.
Like a street urchin, Swoon scavenges and collects mediums, treating paper cutting like the pushcart that contains all her finds. She began pasting life-sized paper cutouts in 1999, using the same canvases as the city's graffiti artists to leave work simple in form but detailed in the narratives printed on the paper bodies. These works would be left to decay on the street, incorporating yet another vehicle -- time-based art -- to express her concept of the city and the people who inhabit it. Her art has become increasingly three-dimensional and more heavily based in paper cutting until finally evolving into stunning and complete installations. Instead of treating paper like a medium that needs to be handled with care, she chooses to beat it to a pulp.
Friends and Family, Main Street in DUMBO Brooklyn. June 15, 2003. Photo courtesy of GammaBlog
Installation view, Newton Building Miami Design District, 2005. Photo courtesy of Jasmine Levett
Installation view, Newton Building Miami Design District, 2005. Photo courtesy of Jasmine Levett Installation view, The Luggage Store in San Francisco, 2008. Photo courtesy of Super Touch Art