Although the artist Chen Xi has always been worked on paintings, she rarely holds a solo exhibition. However, with each exhibition she summarized her previous stage of creation, which is extremely impressive. Therefore, I was surprised by her new works which are different from the previous “China’s Memory” TV series, when her solo exhibition “Rabbit on the run – Chen Xi’s new works” was presented at Beijing Minsheng Art Museum. When I read the related documents, I found that she was engaged in expressionistic paintings during her early years. She had already gone far on the road of painting. From the trend of chasing the Western modernism in the early years to the present diverse and open creative expressions in the art world, Chen Xi has always used painting to participate in and experience the art world. And also she has different understandings and strategies for painting and pictorial nature at different stages.
Interview Time: March 23, 2018
Location: Beijing Minsheng Art Museum
Interviewer and copywriter: Zhang Wenzhi
Interviewee: Chen Xi
Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
CAFA ART INFO: Looking back on your creative experience, we find that you started to create as an artist in the 1980s and 1990s. Your works were of an expressionistic style at that time. Would you like to share with us the atmosphere of art at that time, and types of painting that you pursued?
Chen Xi: When I started with my art, the reform and opening up at that time had just started, it was already very lively outside the academy, and many new ideas, schools, and art groups emerged. I was studying at the 4th Studio of the Department of Oil Painting, CAFA, which was part of the contemporary art experimental projects at the school. We were completely involved in a period of the country which had been opened up to the world. Everyone was excited for the art and eagerly pursued their own creations.
Definitely, we were also unconsciously influenced by something. I remember that I also went to some exhibition galleries for Western exhibitions they introduced. I have viewed artworks in various styles, which have formed a subtle influence. However, my creation is a result combined with my own nature, revealing a strong catharsis.
I preferred a enclosed state and I have even refused to see other people’s works for a long time, but I was very excited every day, and desired to enter all the social scenes, to passionately put the daily landscapes that everyone can see into my paintings.
CAFA ART INFO: How long has such a closed & enthusiastic state lasted? Why did it change? Or why has your style changed?
Chen Xi: Actually, it lasted for a long time, and it didn’t stop until my first solo exhibition. In 1997, I was featured in an important solo exhibition, entitled “Chen Xi’s Exhibition of Oil Painting 1987-1997”, and I preferred to be quiet and I rarely appeared in any artistic event over the following 10 years. However, I painted every day and slowly found that my interest started to change, and then there was a transitional period in my exploration. I drew about nudes and “bathrooms”, but I knew that it was not what I wanted, and it was only a process of changes.
Later, when it came to the year of SARS, throughout the year I had been painting male nudes in the shower, and I then tried to put female nudes in the shower on the street, created the series of “The Queen’s New Clothes”. It was totally different from my previous creation related to expressionism. It has become very conceptual, revealing a style of photographic realism. After “The Queen’s New Clothes” exhibition was finished, I began to brew more conceptual “TV” series.
CAFA ART INFO: Compared with your previous paintings, which offered a scene and a perspective to observe society, such as the “TV” series, about China’s memories, involved very popular images, collective cultural memories, is there a change in your way of thinking?
Chen Xi: Actually, I don’t think I have changed the clues for observing the issue, and my previous partial perspective, the direct depiction of a certain group of people were replaced by a more grandiose perspective. The social themes I focus on have not changed, but the perspective has changed and become more macroscopic and more conceptual. Since then, I have also gradually used the technique of documentary which has been added more elements of performance and video art, which has broadened my horizon and made me feel more excited.
CAFA ART INFO: The value of painting in present art is also a topic which is often discussed in the theoretical circle, and Western easel art has always stayed in the cold winter, but some people are still sticking to painting and have gained excellent results and influence. What is your strategy when faced with this problem?
Chen Xi: Such remarks have always been there, but it hasn’t really been “dead”, and you will find that many people enjoy this means and medium, and I think there is a kind of intrinsic association, and people have a natural affinity with hand-painted things and the picture is an instinct for human beings. I have considered it as a weapon in my arsenal, but at the same time I also have many other weapons. I think it should be the direction and trend for future art development.
In addition, I also make an attempt to defend the affection for temperature with this form. I believe that I need such an attitude in such a situation. For example, my exhibition “Rabbit on the run–Chen Xi’s new works” deliberately avoids any high-tech art and deliberately uses seemingly traditional means.
CAFA ART INFO: Was “pictorial nature” important and an indispensable element in your early creations, or “painting” is just a medium now? Do you use this to express your concept by any means, such as painting, sculpture, or do you ignore the “pictorial nature”?
Chen Xi: I can’t completely agree with you, as there is still a pictorial nature, although pictorial nature is not my essential point any longer. I also attempt to present the pictorial nature in what I want to portray, and I also hope people can feel it. A spectator would not impress a viewer without it, because it is those strokes and marks that easily touch the viewers. Therefore, the pictorial nature is not the initial concept in my creation, but it exists.
CAFA ART INFO: As an artist who has always been engaged in the creation of paintings, what do you think the future painting will become?
Chen Xi: Present paintings have been seriously deconstructed, and we see many young artists are pondering this issue and attempting to make breakthrough. I believe that it should move forwards, and everyone is in the same situation. Everyone uses his/her means according to their own special experiences and aspirations. For example, as I have said, my idea is to use a comprehensive means. Of course, there are some people who still struggle with their paintings, and they try their best to find a breakthrough on the general appearance. I suggest that they can find an alternative medium, which would be better for expressions.