Without the dragon in the world, it just exists in people’s imagination and as a legend, and it is the totem that the ancestors worshiped. “Dragon” is formed from the process of Chinese national development and aggregation, firmly engraved in the mind of all Chinese. Incorporating all the abilities, it is an outstanding, a changeable and an omnipotent symbol, and the dream and pursuit of people for freedom and perfection, so Chinese often consider themselves to be the “descendents of the dragon” and feel proud for it. Just in the year of the dragon, Asia Art Center joins hands with its representative five young but emerging artists (Feng Ye, Guo Wen, Jing Zhiyong, Shen Hao and Zhang Jingli) presented “The Finishing Touch”—Exhibition of the Five Contemporary Young Artists in this hot summer, describing the different dragon images currently in their own mind.
In the late period of the Ming Dynasty, the missionary Matteo Ricci brought into the western paintings; in the period of May 4th Movement and the New Culture Movement, then western paintings flooded into China. Chinese painting was impacted by foreign art, the single pattern of the traditional painting unifying the world changed, gradually developing to diversification. The collision of different cultures would experience long repetitive digestion and integration, but under the long-term “dominating” of the western art form, the traditional culture still developed full of vitality in accordance with its own art law. At present, the artistic education system is still according to western influences, but more and more young artists gradually start to seek, return and inherit the traditional. With the western paintings as the bone and the traditional as the spirit, as Dr. Peng Feng (the curator of the Chinese Pavilion for the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011) said: “The eastern spirit in the art focuses on reflecting in pursuing the images, just in the 21st century, with the rise of China and the coming of the New Oriental age, such exploration becomes a conscious action and enters into the center from the edge.” In the artistic category, both at present and in tradition, “dragon” is not a simple totem and symbol but a new inspirational source, and is also an approach in which the young artists reflect the traditional cultural times and conveys the social responsibility to national culture during their creation.
The record of the dancing dragon could date back to Han Dynasty at the earliest. For praying rain, people were dressed in their holiday best, playing colorful dragons. Following thousands of years of inheritance, dancing “dragon” could be held during festivals, congratulations, blessings, exorcism, offerings to God and temple fairs in the places where there were Chinese people. Dancing dragons became an essential form for people expressing good wishes, as the folk legend saying states: “playing grass dragons from 7 to 8 years old, playing small dragons from 15 to 16 years old, and dancing big dragons in the youth and maturity period”. The reason was that “dragon” is the totem that Chinese ethnic generations worshiped and Chinese descendants called themselves “the descendants of the dragon”. The picture full of interests by Jing Zhiyong just describes the scene of a dancing dragon and lighting fireworks, but the painting technique is modern and humorous.
Leap Dragon Gate is the theme of Shen Hao’s works. As a fable says, “a fish leaping over the dragon gate, passing as a dragon, just carp can.” In the picture, a carp changing into a dragon leaps on the paper. The fish changing into a dragon connotes passing the examination. Pipa‧Nanpo urging separates: “Today I will go, and my parents come to wish me to success.”
Feng Ye painted a similar mysterious picture with his unique and mysterious temperament—a boy reaches out his hand to explore the departed history with a big fire star flickering behind him, namely the dragon star divided by the three enclosures and the lunar mansions. The dragon star is the big fire star referred to in the “Fire Star in the 7th lunar month” which means the weather starts to become cold. “The Fire Star passes the meridian in the 7th lunar month, and clothes are given out in the 9th lunar month” in July it is expressed that in the 9th lunar month of the lunar calendar, the work of sewing winter clothes shall be given to women.
The dragon in Guo Wen’s picture was from the classical romantic novel Journey to the West. A white horse stands on a canoe, not a horse but the white dragon Ao Lie is the 3rd prince of the dragon king of the western sea. The white dragon horse was a really faithful supporter seeking the truth, shouldering heavy responsibilities and going through suffering, finally succeeded in getting the results and became the Guangli Bodhisattva of the Eighth Episode Heaven Dragon.
Another role in the Journey to the West is really crucial, which is Monkey King. In the stories, Monkey King came to grips with the dragon kings more than once. In Zhang Jingli’s works, nine dragons tangled with Monkey King. In the feudal society with millennium precipitation, both dragon and Monkey King daring abreast with God were the king symbol, in which one was the supreme king and the other invincible fighting so winning over the Buddha!
“Dragon can be big or small, rising or hiding; the big dragon has superb power, the small can hide its body unseen, rising dragons can fly, and hiding can even lurk in wave. The dragon changes with the times, especially when it succeeds overseas, and it is stronger than heroes. The heroes are ambitious with good strategies, universal mind and great ambition.” Dragon has been deeply rooted in Chinese people’s heart. On Chinese land, a “dragon” can be seen everywhere from rowing dragon boats and dancing dragon-lanterns to dragon flags, sculptures and paintings etc. The image of dragon in everyone’s heart may be different, but for the Chinese descendants it is consistent with their emotion for the dragon. In the year of the dragon, Asia Art Center wishes to seek contemporary art with the spirit of tradition with the young artists by virtue of this exhibition. Through all their unique presentation and art, drawing the contemporary dragon with the spirit of tradition!
About the exhibition
Duration: 2012-08-18 ~ 2012-09-16
Opening: 2012.8.18(Sat) 3:00pm
Venue: Asia Art Center (Beijing)
Address: 100015 No.2, Jiuxianqiao Rd., Dashanzi 798 Art District, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
Artists: Feng Ye, Guo Wen, Jing Zhiyong, Shen Hao, Zhang Jingli
Courtesy of the artists and Asia Art Center, for further information please visit www.asiaartcenter.org.