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Q&A with Artist Lan Zhenghui

Emily Allen

Artist Lan Zhenghui, who will be doing a U.S. lecture and creative tour this fall, combines the historical with traditional Chinese Ink Painting and the innovative with modern compositions and interpretations. We caught up with him and asked him a few questions. 

How did you know you wanted to become an artist? And how did your art career begin?

To choose art as a career was for me a series of specific steps which took place in my young life. As a teenager, I went to college to study engineering, (which I believe laid a strong foundation for rational thinking and logic). When I was 20 years old, by pure chance I was suddenly one day struck by the color combinations of a few small labels, and then decided to switch my direction to art. I was accepted a few years later by the prestigious Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (home to very famous alumni artists, including Zhang Xiaogang and Zhou Chunya. The acceptance rate to this institution is extremely competitive (many thousands of aspiring Chinese artists apply and only a handful are accepted). Even so, acceptance to the academy of fine arts does not guarantee that you can become a professional artist. At university my interest was drawn to the basic form and the aesthetic feeling. I went to ChongQing University as a teacher after graduation, and then worked in different fields afterwards, which allowed me the success to earn my first “pot of gold,” and alleviating my worries about making a living . By the end of  the 1990s, when I felt that everything was in place and ready for my artistic career, I became determined to work as an artist full time. Since then I've been building my heavy ink system with a lot of challenges, hard work and effort. My career as an artist reached its pivotal point when my artwork was chosen for a solo exhibition at the National Art museum of China in 2006.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

My aesthetic is very close aligned to my philosophies and my thinking processes. I prefer the relationship of integration and macroscopic composition to the detail and realism. In this manner I strive to express the appeal from the spiritual level -- and this in turn is reflected via my abstract expression ink painting.

Should people know something about you or your art before experiencing it for themselves? 

One of my favorite quotes is -- “Good art will shock you” by the finish Chinese painter Wu Guanzhong (widely recognized as a founder of modern Chinese painting). The viewer draws the art inward and is touched by the masterpiece. Artists use their vision to influence the viewer. I feel that the viewer does not need to know the specifics or the background information about my art in order to experience it. I have conducted many years of long-term research about the language of vision and how this relates to exhibiting my art. My artistic process consists of different elements such as ink, dying, construction, black and white and scale. My hope is that my work can deliver the message to the viewer and arouse their personal resonance with my works, so that they feel and sense familiarity with my painting, a sense of the magnificent, the exciting, even dysphonia, vastness and a hazy sense. I do not use these concepts to tell stories because the effect can be limited. Instead, I strive to use my vision to touch the viewer’s heart and encourage a dialogue and deliberation as a result of experiencing my art.

What do you hope to accomplish or communicate with your art?

I want my large-scale paintings transcend the aura and effect a kind of shock/vision to the audience. As an artist, I also want to display the profoundness of humanity in so many ways. I want to use a new language of vision to express deeper thinking. For example, by creating works that can be both solemn and stirring at the same time, oscillating and yet noble. I use this language of vision to better express abstract concepts more efficiently. I believe that a good artist should build the value of her or his vision, so that it can constantly influence different times and places, ongoing for multiple generations. So that it resonates with human nature.

Who are your biggest inspirations?

Besides my own independent thinking, I was influenced by Chinese and foreign masters from past and present. From the traditional side, Liang Kai in Song Dynasty and his Immortal in Splashed Ink had a great impact on me, especially his strong abilities to reduce shape and temperament found in Chinese ancient splashed ink painting. This is a major feature of China ink, and I had the same impression from the works of Japanese artist Kakejiku, and Master of Ming Dynasty - Xuwei’s big free-style painting also was a major influence for me. Also the modern Chinese artist Zhang Daqian, from the fine lines at his early age, to the splashed color through his later years. I was also influenced by western theory and practice - such as the German Bauhaus and western constitution theory, and the German & American Abstract Expressionism also constitutes an influence upon me. I love the structure consciousness of Klein and the ultimate aesthetic of de Kooning, there is profound talent and value in their works. Plus influences from a variety of art genres such as Color-Field Painting. Design is also appealing to me -- I collect all kinds of brand advertising bags, shopping bags, company bags, and I might just have one of the largest collections of this kind of in the world. I put all of these influences together, and turn them into something of my own, which constitutes my work today.

What challenges do you think art and artists are facing today? How should they be dealt with?

I think that throughout different periods the artists will face different challenges. Nowadays, the concept of contemporary is definitely an impact (including money, success and marketing). These are all current challenges which can corrupt artmaking. If the governments could fundamentally support every artist, then in that case we will achieve better art.

What legacy do you hope to leave with your work? 

My heavy ink painting works have been pure abstract expressionism based on composition for many years, and are considered unique for having a deep kind of inside tension, with deep roots in Chinese traditional arts but also achieving international, contemporary recognition. I aim to advance the development of expressionism of Chinese heavy ink painting. I hope it stands the test of time.

What do you love to do when you are not working on your art?

I love to think about art everywhere I am - and at every moment. All of my thinking is completely full of art all of the time. But art itself, I believe, is wildly thinking on its own and it is the reflection of all the things happen and that surround you. I like to completely dissect the person, personalities and environments that I find myself in – for example: reality, society, politics and sex. I record all of my feelings and my thoughts about those elements and then I permeate them into my art.

By Emily Allen

Photos courtesy of the artist