Huang Min
Biography
Work Gallery
BMCA Exhibition
Essays
Publications

Huang Min

1975  Born in Sichuan, China

1998  Graduated from Oil Painting department of Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts with bachelor degree.

2006  Graduated from Oil Painting department of Central Academy of Fine Arts with master degree.

      Now works and lives in Beijing.

 Solo Exhibition

2014

Heiqiao Village: A Micro-Narration, Being 3 Gallery, Beijing, China

2010

View, Review, Huang Min solo exhibition, Michael Schultz Contemporary Gallery, Beijing, China

 2007

Huang Min solo Exhibition, L.A. gallery, Frankfurt, Germany

 
Group Exhibitions

2016 

Historicode: Scarcity & Supply, Nanjing Bai Jia Hu Art Museum, China

Onions meet pomegranate, German Embassy to China, Beijing, China

2015

Myth, White Box Art Center, Beijing, China

Daily life in china’s metropolitans through Chinese and German perspective, German Embassy, Beijing, China  

China 8, Hagen Osthaus Museum, Germany

Dusseldorf NRW-FORUM, Germany

Recklinghausen Kunsthalle, Germany

2014

 Metamorfosi: Biennale China-Italy, 798, Su 3 District, Beijing, China

2013

Works on Paper, Michael Schultz gallery, Beijing, China

2012

Do a Book, White Space, Beijing, China

2011

The New Beginning, Meissen, Germany

China Welcomes You, Michael Schultz Contemporary Gallery, Berlin,Germany

2010

China welcomes you, Oldenburger Stadt Museum, Germany

The Touch of History, Bethanien, Berlin, Germany

2009

Monuments in Time, Michael Schultz Contemporary Gallery, Beijing, China

Chinese garden for living / Illusion into Reality, Old Parliament Palace, Brussels, Belgium

2008

More Yum Cha, Ray Hughes Gallery, Sydney, Australia

Addict To Paper, Lelong gallery, Zurich, Switzerland


Awards:

1997  Annual Silver Candle Award at Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts;

1998  First Prize of Graduation Works at Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts;

1998  Bronze at National Stars Fine Art Exhibition;

2006  First Prize of Post-graduates Graduation Works at Central Academy of Fine Arts;

2006  Wang Jialian Oil Painting Scholarship at Central Academy of Fine Arts.

 

Conversation with Wang Chunchen: A Thousand Years of Incidents in the Allegory of Landscape

A Thousand Years of Incidents in the Allegory of Landscape

Wang ChunChen

August 7, 2010

Wang ChunChen and Huang Min


Wang ChunChen:
I was very pleased to see your new group of works, which continue to advance the transformation in your ideas and creative language. Please first speak a little bit about how you selected this creative path.

Huang Min: When I was a graduate student at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, I tried many different media in addition to oil painting. I experimented with all kinds of paper, wood boards, glass, album leaves, and fan covers. In 2005, I visited Jingdezhen. In an environment infused with culture that accumulated over the past thousand years, I confronted a new material, porcelain. In that instant, an idea came to me and I discovered that I had much to say. Originally I planned to stay there two weeks, but in the end I stayed for more than four months, and it was only because of an urgent matter that I returned home. I painted directly on vases or pieces of porcelain using blue and multi-colored glazes. Because the pieces still needed to be fired, when you painted you needed to rely completely on your senses, without considering anything else. I think I painted in a very relaxed way, with very natural results. I was greatly inspired by this process, and my work was technically and conceptually transformed.

Wang: People think that those who graduated from the Painting Department at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute paint in styles appropriate to animations, cartoons, puzzles, even illustrations. Some also paint in a hyperbolic style; all of these styles seem to form a popular language and an overall pattern. But you’re completely different. After you graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, you came to Beijing to study. What was the inspiration for your painting in this new environment?

Huang: I wasn’t very concerned with what other people were doing or what was popular in the art world; I only cared about my own feelings. In the four years that I studied at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, I took time every day to go to a teahouse and sketch; drawing became an important part of my daily life. Every day I made myself work through a sheaf of paper; I didn’t draw based on the number of pages. Since then, I have always made large numbers of drawings. I’ve drawn every kind of person. This has had an important influence on my art, because I discovered that I have always focused on the exposition of a person. After I arrived in Beijing in 2000, I was inspired and assaulted by all kinds of art, so I could never again be satisfied with my previous direction. Coming to Beijing was an important turning point in my artistic path, because this place caused me to re-examine my artistic direction. In this period, I did a lot of experiments, but no matter what changes I made, people were still my focus.

Wang: Some people like sketching, but because they were just drawing for the sake of drawing, they have abandoned it now. Creation does not come from sketches; many times creation comes from other images. These images and the version that the artist has sketched are not the same. You sketch every day; have you learned anything from the process of sketching? Do you learn about painting? Do you learn about observing life?

 

Huang: Perhaps this has to do with my personality. I’m a rather introverted person; when I was in school I always liked to read books with pessimistic themes, like the ones Nietzsche wrote. Although the books were very serious, they became a comfort for me. Where does a deep understanding of a person and the difficulties of life come from? Where does it go? My sketches also have a certain relationship with my experiences growing up. On the eve of my college entrance exams, my mother died unexpectedly. I was in Chongqing taking the exams. Because of this event, perhaps I recognized that human life is very special, so I worked hard at sketching, drawing each vital life. I hope that the things I draw have life-like qualities.

 

Wang: Artists experience growing up differently; they are more sensitive than other people. If you choose painting, those exquisite feelings will be expressed through painting; this is very important for creative work. When people re-explain or re-describe a work, they not only need to look at it from a lofty theoretical position, they also need to return to life itself to re-evaluate painting.

       In the current environment, many works carry the traces of academic training, and artists want these works to become the avant-garde art in the market. In fact, the works instead become the popular paintings in avant-garde art or the new paintings in popular art, a set model for everyone. Everyone is somewhat on their guard against questioning this model. This kind of painting is separated from life, but not all art is a reflection of life. Different artists have different choices; the key is the desire to transmit something to prompt this generation to think about relevant issues. Artists all use the subject of a painting to express their own logic. People will certainly be interested when you put people from real life in an unreal environment. As an artist, what do you think? What is the goal there?

 

Huang: My grandfather painted in the traditional Chinese style; he graduated from the state-run XiNan Art School in the 1930s. During World War II, he actively participated in resistance propaganda; he painted posters and wrote plays. He was a traditional Chinese intellectual who had integrity and a strong sense of ethics. During the Cultural Revolution, he ran into trouble. As a result, he became unemployed and spent his time at home, painting and writing every day. Eventually I began to paint and write with him, listening to him share his thoughts on art and life. I grew up in this kind of environment. The subtle influence of my grandfather’s traditional painting was an important factor in my entering the art world. Later, when I went to university, I learned oil painting. This was very different from what my grandfather had taught me; they were completely separate. The medium of oil painting and academic training all came from the West, and so, having studied two different kinds of painting, when I had to create, I felt conflicted and confused. I removed the real landscape and changed it into a traditional Chinese landscape. Or, I tried to establish a relationship between the real landscape and the view on art held by traditional literati.

 

Wang: In some of your earliest works you put figures into old traditional landscapes. This was a good combination. When did you start to create these works? Was it after you graduated?

 

Huang: It was about ’03, when I was a graduate student. At that time, I had my own studio, and it was like I had returned to the time when I painted with my grandfather. I sought out Xuan  paper again. I calmly painted real people and copied classic Chinese ink paintings. At first, it was purely an exercise, but as I painted, I discovered an unspoken mood brewing behind the paintings. Real people and ancient ink paintings mixed naturally. In 2005, after I went to Jingdezhen and painted those porcelain works; this combination became freer and more mature.

 

Wang: Looking at two of your early works City Sketches and Train Station, they are both representative of your early period and have a great deal of personal style. You can clearly see the context in which you developed these works. Although you have your own perspective and a chosen subject, they’re not like your current series, Landscape –Scene, which is more fully imaginative and expressive. 

 

Huang: Those two works were painted in my third and fourth year in university, in 1997 and 1998. I completely relied upon creative impulse and intuition to paint them. The art market had not yet formed and there were few exhibitions back then. At that time, these two works participated in the National Youth Art Competition, and someone purchased the works for their collection. For me as an undergraduate, the fact that my works could be exhibited and collected was a significant affirmation of my work. Now it seems that my technical handling and my knowledge of color and form was already beginning to form a rather individualized language. After I came to Beijing, there was a period where I completely removed the real background, and only painted people; I left a lot of white space as a background. I also tried painting the outlines of landscapes in the background, slowly forming the series Landscape –Scene. Later when I went to Jingdezhen and used glazes to paint paintings on vases and ceramic plates, though the materials are strange, I felt that I had a lot of freedom. Traditional painting techniques and academic training very naturally merged into my painting methods. Add to these the chance effects of firing, and my current individual stylistic features become apparent.

 

Wang: This kind of painting method is a combination of tradition and real life; this combination is not simply the copying of traditional culture onto contemporary life. Your paintings very naturally combine many factors, and the results suddenly seem strangely familiar to people today. It is familiar because it is something we are used to, yet strange because you have transformed these elements. The painter himself is in a continual dialogue with the work. Previously, these feelings of familiarity and strangeness did not exist, so thinking hard allowed me to transcend what was originally in me. Then, when something else appeared, I suddenly thought that it was my expression. The more I do it, the more I desire to do it and the more I become aware of myself. The subject of your work is, in the end, yourself. This process can affect your understanding of art and life. Artworks contain the context of their creation, such as when people look at a traditional painting with the back of a figure on it. Is this change conscious? How do you think about it?

 

Huang:

Wang: This combination was made by chance, but this aspect of chance expresses something very natural and so you create continually. Everyone now thinks of this kind of work as your signature, which is not easy for a painter. Artists can choose how to describe themselves; they cannot, as we discussed before, simply paint. Artists want to say something about their experiences of maturing and living; this relationship is inevitable. So, what do you obtain from in these kinds of works?

 

Huang: As an artist, I think that my only weapon is artwork. Because real life has too significant an impact on me, I use art to respond or resist. You could also put it this way; art can never again be purely aesthetic. Art is deeply rooted in the relationships between the individual, society, politics, and culture, becoming an instinctual need of life and existence, related to how we exist, feel, and think.

 

Wang: The series you created next can be said to focus on the return of culture, the expectation of tradition, the memory of history, and the feelings of sorrow, calm, and helplessness about the disappearance of traditional painting. After all, your painting is two works, two spaces, two worlds. The work contains conflicting times and spaces that have been layered together. When we see ancient Chinese painting, it represents ancient space and time, but you have placed modern people in that environment in an intuitive way. Distance has opened between the traditional scenery and the people in the foreground. Of course you intentionally constructed obstacles such as fences to make the viewer feel as if he was looking at scenery. We are looking, and everyone knows that it’s made-up and fake, but we feel that we are still living, real people. What are these people looking at? What do you want them to look at? Are they looking at me or are they looking at our history? What do you see in the work? What do you hope that they will see in your arrangement of the scene?

 

Huang: I am often moved by the expression great concentration on someone’s face, the image of someone’s back, a face lost in thought… They do not make extraneous movements, nor do they even have an expression, but everyone’s body is clearly marked with the imprint of the era. Every time I see a person and draw them, I always guess what the person is thinking at that moment. What is his life like? Of course, I don’t have an answer. I can’t understand everyone’s lives clearly, but when I use painting to make life emerge, I believe that the viewer himself can read his life from the painting. People are always painted very small in classical Chinese painting; they merge with the landscape. Because ancient Chinese people believed that nature was the mighty Creator, people were insignificant in comparison. Only when people convert to nature, conforming to its changes, can they rejuvenate the universe and obtain harmony and peace. However, the process of modernization is established on the foundation of the continual conquest of nature. This affects each and every person; only by working hard and struggling to make a living can we follow in the footsteps of the previous era and avoid getting left behind.   

 

Wang: This work feels very coordinated. Different works have different subjects. After you paint them, this background landscape puts cultural and historical scenes, ancient living or cultural habits in a contemporary context; it is a juxtaposition of the past and the present. This creates a spatial conflict in which ancient landscapes are painted as the background for dialogue.

       Your works form a series that treats Chinese landscape painting as a culture. The foreground contains modern people and modern living. This juxtaposition is different; people are brought into this space and merged with it, but this space and the space of the landscape in the painting are not one entity. This work is equivalent to the suspension of ancient painting. The two elements are not being fitted together, they melt into one another. Another meaning of the work is related to the artists’ experience. This experience unconsciously becomes a factor in creation, which in turn becomes an important link. Nowadays, we often talk about what Chinese contemporary art should be, and I think that artist experience is not completely unrelated; it is not cut off from contemporary art. When we describe contemporary art, we are very conflicted. The things that Chinese people create now should be a reflection of Chinese people’s reactions, responses, expressions, and criticisms of reality.

 

Huang: You’re right. In fact, my greatest desire is to obtain a painting of contemporary life. It retains life’s natural sincerity, difficult disappointments, and ups and downs. This painting would be an illusion, a dreamland, a complicated thing. The art I understand shifts the target of people’s enthusiasm in real life and this enthusiasm is powered by the deliverance that illusion provides. In this made-up world, this painting would indicate the possibility of the existence of humanity. Because human civilization has developed in paradoxically, it seems to be developing, but it is regressing. In the course of development, Chinese tradition and spirit has all been broken for many man-made reasons. People lack a spiritual bridge and so many are just looking to make money quickly.   

 

Wang: In the Chinese consciousness there is still a strong awareness of Chinese tradition. Although we don’t read the Confucian classics now, tradition is still in our subconscious. You’ve merged contemporary things and the things with which you grew up. You’ve even added some worldly and sexual things, which make people uneasy. People generally feel that traditional Chinese landscape painting transcends the worldly, but you have suddenly brought landscape painting into the realm of worldly things, so people feel the contradiction very intensely.

  

Huang: For me, tradition is a rich source, my teacher, and my model. In the course of making works, I want to express the influence that the great changes of the last thirty years have had on people. This is the contradiction and the conflict between the brutality of reality and the scholarly mood suggested by traditional landscape. My mother’s death had a significant impact on me. Similar tragedies happened both before and after my mother’s accident in the exactly the same place, but these problems had never been paid enough attention. Tragedies like my mother’s are played out in China every day, and so the dignity of life is often ignored. On a spiritual level, I believe that everyone has known anxiety and hardship. I paint the average people that I encounter around me; they’re like me, struggling to move forward in the background of a momentous era.   

 

Wang: This is related to an artist’s point of view and the evolution of your artistic language. You place your own observations of life into your work, so that the work becomes a way to reacquaint ourselves with life. For example, everyone has experience with train stations. In the past, everyone rode trains often. Now the majority of train passengers are workers and students, the embodiments of the lives of average people. So often now, people are numb, unable to appreciate the meaning of the scene. Here the meanings of big bags and small bags are different; they represent gains, expectations, and tiredness. These people are tired because they did not obtain the happiness they yearned for, but their fatigue records their hopes for life.

These landscapes do not have the cultural habits of ancient landscapes. Modern people paint landscapes differently than their ancestors. For the majority of modern landscape painters, painting is cultural consumption or a form of self-amusement. But in your works, the traditional landscape interferes in a subjective way. When many of people consume traditional landscapes, they transform it into a form of unspoken expression. The audience becomes observers, not owners. Contemporary art seems to have no relationship to antiquity, but that is not the case. Society is changing very rapidly right now, and there is a feeling that one doesn’t know what tomorrow will be. In the past, most things did not change, but it is worth rethinking whether or not this lack of change is reasonable. In your works, you express a sense of aimless drifting, a feeling which seems to have no relationship to traditional landscapes; it is a feeling of detachment. But your works make people rethink who we are and where we are. Ancient people talked about the unity of man and nature when looking at traditional landscapes. When modern people view this kind of landscape, can they speak this language? This social foundation does not exist today. When we are faced with this space, we have already lost the opportunity to obtain that sense of peace.     

In the past, people liked to live and work in peace, but modern people have lost this feeling. People don’t feel a sense of security, because changes have happened too quickly. In this context, are we viewers? Are we still living in this world? In these interlocking contradictions, there are certain expectations, yearnings, and feelings of helplessness. Every generation confronts their own problems. We continually ponder and describe art and society. If there is not this thought and these cultural definitions, everything is dead. You use painting to enter this stage of thought.

 

Huang: Yes, I’ve always hoped to have a definition for the environment in which I grew up that explains my opinions. The technique of painting is only an expressive method for my study of life and my thoughts on human existence.

 

Wang: Every artist should show off what is unique about himself. There are many reasons for the differences between artists. Artists shouldn’t be judged by whether or not they received academic training, where they went to university, or where they live now. These are all unimportant. What is important is what an artist expresses and the uniqueness of his thinking. Your work is unique. Technically and conceptually, your work is an exploration into new contemporary painting and a revelation of a thousand years of conflicting incidents.

 

August 14, 2010, Central Academy of Fine Arts

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