Interview Time: December 28, 2015
Interview Venue: CAFA Art Museum
Interviewee: Wang Shaojun, Deputy Secretary of CAFA Party Committee and Professor of the Sculpture Department
Interviewer: Zhu Li
Cameraman: Yang Yanyuan
Translated and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
CAFA ART INFO: I’m curious about the reason you chose this piece of work as the main visual image on the poster of your solo exhibition. Would you talk about it with us?
Wang Shaojun: There are two reasons: one is that this piece is my latest work, named “Crossing the Kunlun Mountain”; the other one is that this piece is the one that generalizes my works of this series, which I think summarizes my period of work.
CAFA ART INFO: The introduction mentioned that this exhibition intends to present “mentality of new literati”, with “mentality” as the title for this exhibition, then how do we understand “mentality of new literati” according to your understanding?
Wang Shaojun: Besides my personal reflection, the title of this exhibition was determined mostly from the thinking of the curatorial team, especially from Fan Di’an, President of CAFA. After their detailed analysis of my works, my academic direction and overall consideration of my mentality, naturally they united their understanding and put it on the word of “mentality”. “Mentality” reflects the overall state of my work, all my continuous works constitute an opinion, and they put forward a relatively strong literary consciousness, while there is a distinct traditional element in it. Fan Di’an initially proposed the prefix of “new literati”, it is “new” according to my understanding that it is different from old traditional literati, meanwhile it emphasizes how current literati retrospectively think of their traditions, how they look into the current and the future prospects. Later this prefix was removed, as they think the separate word of “mentality” has a broader, multi-layered extension of connotations. It includes my academic attitude as an author, my creative state, and my life attitude, but it also includes the states and forms of my works, and it even includes the situation of the age that my works are situated in, thus finally this word was chosen as the title of the exhibition.
CAFA ART INFO: This exhibition is divided into three parts: Thing, Character, and Fun; among which, the parts of things and characters have been interspersed with some watercolor diary entries when you supported the construction of Xinjiang from 2010 through 2013, which is also the highlight of this exhibition. For you, what does this kind of regional transformation mean to your artistic creation?
Wang Shaojun: You have put forward a good question, I do have deep feelings on this issue. My life and work experience during the three years I stayed in Xinjiang, I slowly reflected and recalled this time, it really touched me, in fact in some way changed me. Natural and geographical changes, including seasons, climate, and feelings on different ethnic groups came to me, they impressed me very much. I think changes that happen are very subtle and wonderful, they did not just happen while sitting reading several books or when we are influenced by certain ideas, there is a matter of difference happening there is “practice”, the changes in the physical pace indeed bring experience and knowledge to people. For me, I have become broad-minded and my character seemed to become solemn after I went to Xinjiang and spent three years there.
CAFA ART INFO: The next question is about tradition and innovation, realism and impressionism, which are in fact two pairs of relations we cannot bypass. From your early cultural celebrity portrait series to the anonymous series, you have tried to coordinate the relationship between them, and created your own unique language. I’d like to invite you to talk about the changing progress of creative thinking, as well your comprehension of two pairs of relationship between “tradition and creation”, “realism and impressionism”.
Wang Shaojun: Your question sounds quite difficult to answer, I can only talk about my experience through my artistic practices. This proposition is very huge, about tradition and innovation, if put into a big topic that is how I place myself in it, it is very difficult. Since being involved in the creative field for over seven years, I have a relatively clear understanding on it, these creations indeed come from my explorations on such a big topic, undoubtedly it is the truth. This exhibition has been presented in such a way with a large amount of paintings and sculptures. As a matter of fact, I am very familiar with these things, this is not easy and they come out bit by bit from my accumulation of work. Often, I am willing to use the word “growth” to describe these works, they naturally grew and formed over the years, which could not be rushed but in a very slow way, it is a very natural state. All my works come from my thinking on the formation of traditional art. Of course I do not just stay involved in the theoretical thinking, but they are mostly reflected in my practice.
Through my brushes and sculpture knife, I can paint and engrave anytime I want to, and I do not have to stick to something to achieve a perfect effect, therefore some of my works are presented in a quick style. Some of my paintings, are composed of simple pencil lines and they cost less and occupy less, but there are some parts of them, requiring more investment of thinking, which means more accumulation. Concise touches and colors actually have contained some of my thinking, they appear to be a few touches, but in reality they enable me to continuously mature in the process.
CAFA ART INFO: Though paintings and sculptures belong to different categories, on the level of spiritual expression, they share with each other as art forms. How have you varied your focus on the expressions of these two art forms?
Wang Shaojun: This part of sculpture is closely related to painting, as they are also a mutually independent existence complementary to each other. There are a lot of friends and colleagues who doubt that they have not seen Wang Shaojun paint, how can he provide so many paintings? Actually, these belong to the first series of painting I drew when I supported the construction of Xinjiang.
Before I attended the test of Sculpture Program, I had a background in painting, after that I turned to major in sculpture. But my interest in painting has never changed, which for me is not contradictory at all. Actually, the art education in the Central Academy of Fine Arts has encouraged all the programs and disciplines not to put down their brushes, painting is a necessary accomplishment for all students, in the end my sculpture cannot be separated from my painting. Usually I quickly complete a whole catalog of paintings, I might paint dozens of them in a day, therefore I have a large number of paintings over these years. Originally I did not think about these independent paintings would be arranged for the exhibition, they are more like a diary note of my daily life. But why do I want to draw? Because I always think that I can paint what I fail to find words to express.
It is said that they found the elements in my painting and sculptures were very strong, which is not exactly what I deliberately did. Firstly I learned to paint, from traditional Chinese painting, I started with ink and wash, lines, until now my lines are not Western style. These essential things are deep in my bones such as my aesthetics is indeed in a very Chinese style and my sculptures are said to have a strong tendency of painting. After the opening ceremony was held at the CAFA Art Museum, many of my colleagues discussed this topic, it is generally believed that the boundary between the modern and contemporary sculptures and paintings is not necessary any more, let along the trans-boundary phenomenon which has become widespread.
CAFA ART INFO: This time, in the section of “Fun” some of your collection has been exhibited including some of your seals and some little collections, in a more vivid way, they present your life style and interests, do you think your own hobbies, attitude, and principles of behavior have directly influenced your creations?
Wang Shaojun: You are very accurate about this, these have influenced me. I feel fascinated by art heritage or the cultural heritage of our ancestors. Taking antique play things for example, I do not want to be critical of them, but I think it is a complete system. I also produce some works similar to antique play things, and I call them “New Antique Playthings”. Out of this obsession with them, I have to create my “new antique playthings” by myself. Surely, there is something rational in it, I take these playthings as a formal system and I put my creative elements and connotations in them, such as the application of that bald man. This intentional deed, comes from my wish to produce my big work from small ideas and they completely relate all of my hobbies.
CAFA ART INFO: They completely reflect your inner world.
Wang Shaojun: Yes.
CAFA ART INFO: As a senior professor based in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, you have studied and worked here since 1980s-90s, what kind of influence do you think the CAFA sculpture traditions and the overall atmosphere have exerted on your creations?
Wang Shaojun: First of all, I shall say that the sculpture traditions of CAFA have been formed from a system of language with realism, figurative being the mainstream of the contemporary Chinese system of values. I have been cultivated in such a system, and it is the basis of my work. Techniques are fundamental, or else we create like babies when they cannot talk, thinking without languages. Another perspective is that when I was enrolled in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, I witnessed the critical transformation after the policy of “Opening-up” in the history of Chinese culture and art. I confronted with the collision between the traditional context and reform and opening-up and I have experienced all the traditions including those from Western culture, the ancient and modern Chinese ones, as well as traditions since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, various impacts have been added together at that time.
Therefore, our generation who were admitted to the Central Academy of Fine Arts were confronted with choices. In fact, there was a group of artists who were familiar to everyone, and there were many many artists who have made their fortune from various directions. They quickly have determined their own direction, but I did not act soon enough, as I was curious about new things at that time. I slowed down my pace and I was considering things, suck it and see, this slowness has resulted in my achievements now.
If make a vivid metaphor, like food, I did not eat it instead I just looked at it. Someone ate it, and chemical changes and physiological changes happened thereafter, almost like being enrolled in. I have been observing, analyzing, and researching. Also I did not quit some of traditional art, in a vague way, I keep walking towards it today. But I found myself to be lucky as this vagueness has made me treat traditions seriously, and I have never been confused about it. Therefore, slowly, I tended to focus on the native things, here the word “native” does not refer to be classical or traditional. Localization, this concept has been mentioned often in a contemporary context, but it is generalized too much, as if by mentioning local it has to be the classical tradition of thousands of years ago, which I did not believe to be the case. It’s a unique way of living and world view of the Chinese nationality, it is key and constant to this nationality. I value it very much.
Fortunately, I was not completely enclosed, I even feel very lucky that this epoch has not enclosed me nor this place. With my eyes open, I breathe to observe and understand. Therefore, Western elements can be found in my creations, and they gradually formed the way they are. As for my creative progress, if summarized, I feel like I create out of an instinctive way, without too much logic or any considerations and calculations.
CAFA ART INFO: As a teacher, what kind of state do you think young students from the Sculpture Department of CAFA as well as young sculptors present in their creations? What do you think of their education and cultivation?
Wang Shaojun: Frankly speaking, there is always an idealized expectation in CAFA, whether from the leadership or from the faculty, we need to retain our quality, our personnel, and further to maintain the leading influence of CAFA in the art field, if using the most fashionable word, it should be “first class”. What exactly does this “first class” mean? I think it should be more specific. If you say it’s a world-class, would it be possible for the whole world to achieve a constant standard? Is it hardware or software? If it’s specific to the academics, what kind of standard should we make for first-class academic research? It includes ideas, aesthetics, techniques, and it must be specific, even specific to whether you have such talents? Or such masters? Absolutely as we have this in the history of CAFA.
But should our youth be clear about this goal? Do they have standards? The team of our new leadership are thinking about it, I am one of them, and I’m thinking with everyone else. With the slogan, but we need to know exactly what we are doing, to cultivate particular talents who represent our standards. We have to be specific about every session, including teaching, creation, thinking and methodology. Though it is not enough for us to grasp the essence and achieve it. Though it is very difficult, we are working on it. For myself, I personally practice it, I would not say that I can achieve a higher standard, but it is the direction of my endeavor. My sense of direction is comparatively clear and I am diligent, but can I really achieve it? Am I talented? Just like I said at the opening ceremony, am I really that good? I think this is particularly important to retrospectively look at ourselves. Impetuously reflecting on ourselves, further to influence others with our own actions, rather than a slogan. We build and cultivate talent and it will be possible for us to achieve our goal.
Courtesy of the artist and CAFA ART INFO.