Underflow is the first solo exhibition in the UK of the established Guangzhou-based painter Deng Jianjin (b.1961). Deng was born and raised in Guangdong, the province at the forefront of Chinese economic reforms since 1978 and the wealthiest in China today. Since Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Opening-up Policy’ were introduced four decades ago, Guangdong’s inhabitants witnessed the breath-taking phenomena of industrialization, urbanization, modernization and capitalist consumerism.
Deng originally studied sculpture but in the early 1990’s, emerged as a significant post- realist painter, within an artistic development that adopted cynical realism, neo-expressionism and surrealism in China. He has been widely exhibited internationally, including in South Korea, Japan, France, Germany and the USA. His early works, subtly satirical depictions of groups of friends, appeared in several important national exhibitions and he has since evolved a distinct neo-expressionist style showing dense, fluid compositions of profligate bodies. As a pioneer of contemporary art in South China, Deng applies bold and erotic symbols in surrealist and expressionistic style, to reflect the psychological condition and spiritual state of people of various classes of society, revealing the pressure of survival and the uncertainty of the future in such a transitional society.
According to Michael Sullivan (1916-2013), the well-respected British art historian and collector in the field of Chinese art, Deng’s works ‘reflect(ing) problems plaguing Chinese society’ (Michael Sullivan, Art in China since 1949, Oxford University Press).
Underflow: the agony and the ecstasy addresses the unpalatable fusion of psychological pain and physical excess borne of a rapidly urbanised, over-commoditised society exerting numerous pressures on the individual and collective psyche. Grotesque figures, often naked and masked, appear in theatrical mini psychodramas in which the protagonists flail about in various states of lust, violence and power, orchestrated by the artist through a bleakly cynical lens. Deng’s palette of pale yellows, purples and blues and his oozing painterly style captures a contemporary version of the medieval carnival. His clustered compositions act as ‘dark hallucinations’. In this exhibition, the gratuitous gratification portrayed through Deng’s imagery expresses a ‘flamboyant narrative’ provoking ‘sorrow, fear, compassion and endless delusion.’
Whether circular, triangular or hexagonal, irregular-shaped canvases are commonplace in Deng’s works. Although they are not employed to suggest religious dogma, for the past 10 years, Deng has embedded some religious ideas and iconography into his imagery, to question and inspire a deeper exploration of society and human nature.
Katie Hill, the curator of the exhibition, adopted “the agony and the ecstasy” as the subtitle of the exhibition, which is taken from the 1965 film starring Charlton Heston based on Irving Stone’s biography of Michelangelo, calling to mind conflicts of belief systems and power in the religious context of renaissance Italy and its subsequent mythology in popular culture.
In Deng Jianjin’s first London exhibition—Underflow: the agony and the ecstasy—the artist will present 16 works on canvas created between 2014 and 2019, offering visitors the opportunity to view his dark and degenerate imaginary and contemplate an alternative view the of modernisation and industrialization, as well as to have a better understanding of not just the differences but commonalities between East and West. During the opening reception on September 24th (6-9pm), Deng Jianjin and Katie Hill will have a dialogue. DJ GXIV will perform music to resonate with the exhibition.
About the artist
Deng Jianjin was born in Guangdong, China in 1961. He currently lives in Guangzhou and works as a professor at the Oil Painting Department of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. Deng studied sculpture at Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute in Jiangxi, which is also known as the world’s ‘Porcelain Capital’ with a history dating back more than 1,700 years. Shortly after his graduation in 1986, he started to teach at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, which is regarded as the cradle of avant-garde contemporary art in South China. Deng was one of the members of 105 Studio, a group promoting experimental oil painting practices in the 1980s. Since then, his works have been widely exhibited, including at China’s first ever Guangzhou Triennial “Reinterpretation: A Decade of Chinese Experiment Art (1990-2000) curated by Wu Hung and Huang Zhuan in 2002; solo exhibitions at Guangzhou Xinghe Exhibition Hall in 1988, Tsinghua University in 2002, Beijing 3+3 Gallery in 2005, Beijing Today Art Museum in 2009, Art Museum of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and Tokyo Gallery + BTAP (Beijing) in 2012, Guangzhou Fei Art Gallery in 2013, Beijing 798 Art Zong White Box Gallery in 2018 and Vancouver’s R Space in 2018, as well as group exhibitions in the United States, Russia, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Spain, France, Australia Germany, and Portugal. Paintings and sculptures by Deng Jianjin have been acquired by leading museums and art institutions in China, such as National Museum of Art, Beijing; Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai; Long Museum, Shanghai; Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou; Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing; Shenzhen Art Museum, Shenzhen; etc.
About the curator
Dr Hill is the Program Director of MA Modern and Contemporary Asian Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. She is also the director of OCCA, Office of
Contemporary Chinese Art, an art consultancy promoting Chinese artists in the UK. As the author for the Chinese Art Book (Phaidon 2013) and a regularly invited speaker for exhibitions and events in leading art institutions, such as Tate Modern and Hayward Gallery, Dr Hill has a solid understanding of Chinese contemporary art and its market.
About the exhibition
Underflow: the agony and the ecstasy
Opening Reception: 24 September 6-9, with Artist & Curator Talk and DJ
Dates: 24-28 September 2019
Venue: Triangle Space Gallery @ Chelsea College of Arts, UAL
16 John Islip St, Westminster, London SW1P 4JU
Courtesy of the artist, for further information please contact Lang Xiao| firstname.lastname@example.org | +44 7591 877 185.