Although the history of Chinese woodcut is more than one thousand of years old, it’s a fact that the traditional woodcut print is submitted to illustrations of books, as a study for painting templates or illustrations of religious stories, rather than printmaking, in the sense of modern art. The original function of traditional woodcuts was to solve the requirement of replication rather than aesthetics, and was a branch of the publishing industry, where publishers and workers of printing technology were the main producers, while the new woodcut of the early 20th century stripped the subordination from the text, to be a unique artistic aesthetic value, so the history of Chinese original printmaking is less than one hundred years old.
Originated in the 1930s, advocated by Lu Xun, the new woodcut movement opened a new chapter of modern Chinese prints. For the social problems at that time, Lu Xun introduced critical realism woodcuts of the West and the former Soviet Union, which had a profound impact on the patriotic and progressive young artists. The young artists who had radical thinking and aspired to social transformation, believed that woodcut printmaking was easier to produce and distribute quickly reflecting the social reality arousing the resonances of the public, so as to promote social progress. Although the woodcut in that period looked rough and naïve, viewed from the artistic perspective, it was filled with the spirit of the times and cultural tension, laying the basic features of Chinese modern printmaking.
After the founding of P.R. China, Chinese modern printmaking was rapidly developed, in the 1950s through to 1980s, learning from the educational model of the former Soviet Union’s, printmaking department that became established in the professional art institutions in China and helped printmaking to be an independent painting major. The professional division highlights the professional standard of printmaking, improving the quality of teaching, while also strengthening the identity as a printmaker. During this period, there were two printmaking teams, firstly professional printmakers who graduated from professional art academies, secondly amateur printmakers who had only had a basic professional training. They had two common tasks: Firstly, the nationalization of the transformation of printmaking, learning from traditional practices or folk woodcuts, creating a new style of Chinese printmaking, secondly, to serve the national consciousness, creations to reflect the fiery construction and people’s happy life in new China.
In the 1980s, China performed reform and opening up, with a liberal political environment, influx of Western art concepts, artists’ cultural consciousness began to be revived, and literary theories were more active than ever. The original large team of printmaking, especially geographic or industrial groups rapidly decomposed due to the changes of government and cultural policies. Meanwhile, Chinese art underwent great changes, there was no country except for China which had experienced various Western artistic trends from the Renaissance to Modernism of more than four centuries, in the 1990s. In this artistic revolutionary tide, many printmakers gave up printmaking due to the artistic transformation of artistic concepts or the strategies based on the art market, while the printmakers who stuck to creation promoted two major changes: firstly, the artistic concept and value orientation had changed from the solo function of utilitarian political subordination to a multi-dimensional, open art subject. Secondly, the visual way and language of artistic expression had changed from the ethnic and traditional context to modern art. This is an important decade in the history of modern Chinese print, during which, artists had not only clarified their artistic direction, but also constructed their individual unique artistic expression system, to lay a solid foundation for the future conversion of the artistic concepts of print, and the crossing and expanding of the media.
Artists of the union are the outstanding representatives of this population, not only loving printmaking, but also having a wide vision in artistic history. In the context of cultural consumption, original prints are rarely paid attention to, while replica prints are popular due to the noted artists. What do printmakers think about what they adhere to and the future of printmaking art? “Being Here” is the answer and true spiritual appearance of the group. They a in allegiance with their cultural identities as printmakers and say no to replica prints. They refuse to be in cooperation with art dealers using the plural feature of print for reproduction. Meanwhile, it strongly conveys the cultural awareness of the artists of the group, and confidence in the future development of contemporary printmaking.
“In the current self-media period, the plural feature of printmaking is no longer important, instead, “version”, which is the unique indirect print of print is important and is born from a spiritual characteristic, different from other genres.” It is unfortunate that the special form and quality of the edition of traditional printmaking is usually diluted by the requirements of reproduction.
In order to gain a reason for survival or independent value and meaning in the contemporary artistic context for printmaking, initially, it must get rid of the notion that it is a subsidiary of painting, as well as the dislocation of painting development, to create a new world. Without the consciousness of the subject, being a subsidiary of painting, printmaking has neither development nor practical significance of presence. Secondly, it will be an important manifestation of the spiritual character of contemporary print that shows how to create an independent artistic meaning of a print rather than a simple reproduction of image. Where the artists of the union offer excellent references, they are not satisfied with traditional printmaking techniques, their own aspirations of an artistic concept acts as the origin, respectively creating a technological expression system of distinct identification and a version trait.
Su Xinping constantly explores the human alienation of the social upheaval in China on all levels, with the use of a superb lithographic technique. As the representative of contemporary Chinese artists that create watermark prints, Zhou Jirong has combined the concept of sketching the light and shadow of Western painting, with extending the traditional water block print which is bound by the aesthetic Chinese ink and modernism, thus greatly enhancing the performance of contemporary water block woodcuts. He Kun is worthy of respect from the group as he was the earliest to engage in the chromatic print of colorful prints, imaginative cutting, with typical Yunnan regional characteristics and a distinctive language for woodcuts. Zhang Guanghui‘s works have a special feeling to incorporate the Chu culture, reflecting his experience and understanding of life, distant to reality, with his profound knowledge and literati feelings. Lu Zhiping’s serigraphs have destructed and reorganized the traditional cultural symbolic elements such as pottery, porcelain, etc., transforming into a new fashion and modern visual symbol, embodying the aesthetics of contemporary white-collar workers and modernist aesthetic philosophy. Xu Baozhong’s printmaking has always focused on self-inquiry and the self-reflection-formulation between the “fiction” of the screen and the “real” of reality. Kong Guoqiao’s unique speculative spirit and philosophical thinking infiltrates into his prints, which breaks away from the general sense of the painting and becomes a personal special written style in “text”. Tang Chenghua skilfully and freely uses painting, installation and consolidated print, which is decided by his rich artistic educational background and spiritual journey. By experiencing a modern contextual conversion and personal stylized vocabulary, Song Guangzhi’s lithographs indicate the anxiety in the relationships between the individual and society, among human beings.
Since the reform and opening up thirty years ago, the rapid development of modern society in China and the growing image of a big country causes us re- think about the establishment of a country’s image and international exchange. In the diversified pattern and freedom artistic ecological environment, the common belief of the union is to adhere to their own cultural values and the innovation of traditional printmaking
Dr. Chen Qi
April 15, 2013
Translated by Sophia and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO