At the beginning of 2018, jointly organized by the Central Academy of Fine Arts and the Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, “Echo of Civilization” series III: “Portraits of the Times” took use of a variety of excellent portrait artworks to showcase portrait art that inherits Chinese and foreign traditions, reflecting real life, as well as the development and evolution of the spirit of the times.
In the long history of art development for each nation, the portrait is an important category in art creation, which is not only a visual communication that captures the shape and spirit of the figure, depicting the figure’s character, and performing the spiritual features of the figure, it also becomes a visual biography of the combination of individual life history and social life.
There was a discussion on portraits as early as the traditional Chinese painting theory. When Confucius viewed the emperors’ images of the Imperial Ancestral Temple of the Zhou Dynasty, he declared that “it was the reason why the Zhou Dynasty was prosperous, Wang Chong of the Eastern Han Dynasty wrote in the “Lun Heng • Xu Song” that “When Emperor Xuan of the Han Dynasty declared that he would like to order people to draw portraits of the heroes of the Han Dynasty, some people did not have a portrait drawn, which made their children and grandchildren shameful, Zhang Yanyuan of the Tang Dynasty wrote in the “Lidai Minghua Ji (Famous Paintings through History)” that “the faithful and dutiful people are placed in Yuntai, while the heroes of meritorious services are placed in Linge”, and the portraits were called “the national treasure, and the disciplines that brought order out of chaos”, seen from the above records we can see that ancient Chinese portrait art has always played a social significance in the recording of history and highlights values, and it also formed a unique artistic way of modeling. Nowadays, with the exchange of Chinese and Western arts, the formal language of Chinese portrait art creation has expanded; the vigorous, active and developing social reality has made the portrait creation more profound, reflecting the artists’ social consciousness, humane care and keen perception. It presents more than 300 works of art, covering ink painting, drawing, oil painting, printmaking, watercolor, sculpture, photography, etc. The works have shaped the famous Chinese heroes, loyal literati and celebrities and the ordinary people with dreams. Their experiences, acts and contributions have been connected to form a fresh history and depicts a multi-perspective era. Several generations of artists have shared the images of contemporary Chinese people, told the story of contemporary Chinese people, and reflected the spiritual features of contemporary Chinese people. These images are closely related to the development of the country and the nation. It has established the ideal values of the country, nation and society. In the era with an open vision and full of multi-dimensional images, the technological development and digital innovation have opened another huge world that is beyond traditional portraits, especially for traditional portraits, the realism and authenticity of portraits are constantly facing challenges which requires artists who are committed to portrait creation to further deepen their understanding and questioning of the social environment and the real world and bear the important mission of inheriting the origin of history and innovation of the new times.
Based on the current new era, portraits do not only portray the shape and feature, but also portray the truth, the heart and the spirit. They are not only the narrative records of social history and national memories, but also the core impetus guiding history and society forward, which has condensed a huge force, made the portrait art reach the realm of “vividly portraying the features using a brush, naturally presenting the mental state”. Artistic creation echoes the eternal time and space of people, times, and the country, while wonderful paintings are created.
Text by Fan Di’an, President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts
On January 2018
Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO