Local Individuals: Epoch Gallery Wenzhou Exhibition Review

[[ 在地个体 ]]– 年代美术馆 — 中国浙江 温州市

Last week I had the chance to see the newest exhibition at the Epoch Gallery (年代美术馆) in Wenzhou. I’ve seen several excellent shows at this location, and I’m always thrilled at their curatorial choices. This article will describe some of the highlights from the Local Individuals (在地个体) exhibtion on display at the gallery until June 20, 2021.

Exhibition Poster, all rights reserved. Epoch Art Museum, Wenzhou.

The ground floor of the exhibtion was beautifully arranged with some striking works in the main area. Artist Shen Kelong 沈克龙 really caught my eye with with his wood lacquer pieces that simmered with a raw energy and texture. The thick layers of the lacquer, the red and orange evokes an idea of oxidation, rust, changing surfaces. From afar the works seem minimal, largely monochrome with asymmetrical accents of color, but as one approaches the surface one sees the nuance of surface and the gesture of the artist on the gleaming support.

Detail from Shen Kelong, No. 1 in the One Thousand Blooming Season. All rights reserved. On display at the Epoch Art Museum. Photo by the author.

There was an overall theme in the exhibtion that was slowly divulged to me as I walked through, especially in the upstairs gallery. Things are not what they seem in this show, the allure of surfaces is revealed to be something entirely different, more complex, the closer one looks, more is unveiled.

The highlight of the show, in my opinion, was Kang Haitao 康海涛, in particular his work, Hidden Confluence, 2017. Kang lives in Chegdu and Mianyang and since 2000 has been working on a few series exploring traditional techniques, abstraction, and spirituality.

Gallery View: Kang Haitao, Hidden Confluence, 2017. Epoch Art Museum. All rights reserved. Photo by the author.

This work struck me the moment I saw it. The surface is deceptive, it seems like a reflection, but it’s not reflective. It seems like it has layers of light shimmering over each other, but it doesn’t. It feels like I should be seeing my reflection in the surface of the painting, but I don’t. As I get closer to the work, it dissolves, not in the same way that Impressionist works seem to, but Kang’s works become ephemeral, the overall confluence of light and color disappears as one approaches the surface. Underlying drawings, pencil marks, grid lines, scratchy edges of color, don’t so much come into focus as they are revealed upon closer inspection. The nuance of the illusionistic sheen on the painting is enticing. I found myself being pulled back to this work again and again while at the gallery.

The ghostly marks under glimmering colors and softly scattered shapes, gently pushes and pulls the viewer to and from the work, engaging one in a slippery tension of focus and blur. Like trying to watch the world in a reflection of a window, light seems to both pass through and be reflected back. Foreground and background are the same, collapsed and yet sliding above and beneath each other. The gridlines, only really noticeable at close range, serve an interesting visual function, seemingly contradictory. A grid typically feels machine-like and cold, but here it feels grounded, it is the hand of the artist, indications that no matter how diffuse and shifting the surface of the painting feels, there is a reason underlying it. An intelligence, a persona, that constructs the sliding ephemeral daze fluctuating just over. The hard lines of the grid make the work oddly human, by giving an anchor between the floating world and the real one.

Wu Jian’an 邬建安 is from Beijing and has a work series called 500 Strokes on display in this exhibition. Keeping with the theme I identified earlier, this piece is more than it seems at a distance. At first looking like a more frenetic version of a Franz Kline painting, Wu’s work reveals themselves to be much more nuanced and precise. Instead of ink strokes brashly scribbled on top of each other, Wu constructed these pieces out of many created by others. Each stroke on the canvas was brushed by someone the artist knows, or even by some he only met by chance. Each slash of ink is on a type of calligraphy paper that is quite thin and fragile, but well known as a traditional media that beautifully captures the expressive gesture of the artist. Wu meticulously cut out each stroke and composed them into the new works. The result is a meditation on both free expression and precise control, on the relationship between conscious composition and subconscious state of flow. The hand of the artist is both present in the orchestration of the overall work but obscured by the raw power of the gestures that are not actually his own. The 500 Strokes series is a beautiful symphony of tradition and contemporaneity.

“Each stroke is a portrait.”

Epoch Art Museum, statement on artist Wu Jian’an. Translation by the author

In the downstairs gallery, Chen Qi 陈琦 has a group of Waterprint Woodblock pieces that are breathtaking. Originally from Nanjing, this printmaker makes visually stunning large scale works that in his estimation, work to free the process of printmaking from the burden of representation. Working printing plates in layers and reworking plates from 20 years ago, Chen’s work shimmer with subtlety. Looking at the surface of the prints closely, uncountable textures and layers, interfold and overlap, the sheer size and precision of his technique was enough to make me rock back on my heels. Feeling much more like paintings than prints, these works have a transparency to their layers that gives a tremendous sense of depth to them. I described Kang Haitao’s painting was like looking at the world on the surface of a window, Chen Qi’s works speak of depth where Kang’s plays on the surface. Even though the ink literally lays atop the paper, one feels pulled into it, dunked into the stream and flow of the undulations and textures.

“I have been trying to break through how to make the impression have independent meaning and not simply serve the reproduction of the image.”

Epoch Art Museum, statement by the artist Chen Qi. Translation by the author.

So much more could be said about the works in this wonderful exhibition. From the Neo-Expressionist inspired images of Liu Fengzhi with their deceptively simple renditions of scenes in bold, energetic gestures of paint, to the soft, meditative, evocative, and floating works of Ye Jiangqing. Fang Lijung’s works are bold and confrontational, whereas Zhen Jiang’s works seem minimalistic in comparison, only to reveal a stunning array of textures and layers upon closer look. All the works in the exhibtion displaying nuanced balance between meaning and materiality, between form and depth, a fantastic and must-see show.

Sources: Artist information from the Epoch Art Museum, Wenzhou. Photos taken by the author, all rights belong to the respective artists.

Published by Dr. EMS

Art history professor and lover of all things contemporary arts. Teaching and living in Zhejiang province, China.

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