Dec 10, 2014
Xipi · Character / A coversion with Li Feng / December 2014
XIPI · CHARACTER – LI FENG
Xipi Editor: Your works predominantly employ abstract symbol representation. Could you please talk about the evolution of your creative process from the concrete to the abstract?
LF: It cannot be denied that there is always a kind of person: they have friends, but they still feel very lonely deep inside. Even if they have a partner, or even get married… I feel that is a dilemma in my life. There is a part of me that I cannot share with others. Every day, I must have a period of time that belongs to myself, whether it’s smoking, daydreaming, or a combination of both. In my mind, I let my imagination run wild, encompassing art, literature, and of course, sensuality. Focused yet pure, never far from fantasy.
When I was young, I constantly followed my parents, moving, wandering, and trekking. I didn’t receive the kind of confined education that is prevalent today. My inner self is sensitive yet wild. While sitting obediently in a room, my mind flies outside, curious, restless, and uneasy! From realism to impressionism, from post-impressionism to expressionism, from new expressionism to new concretism, I have traveled a path of destruction.
From the concrete to the abstract? I haven’t really gone abstract; I have always been imagery-based. Many people say I am abstract (because they don’t understand, but in fact, in art, understanding or not understanding doesn’t matter; it’s just a matter of liking or not liking).
Let me make a joke: I really haven’t smoked, it’s they who have been smoking.
Xipi Editor: Your paintings often contain profound conceptual meanings. Could you please tell us which stage or aspect of your life experiences has had the greatest influence on your artistic creation?
LF: It seems there is a misinterpretation here.
Those paintings with clear and specific directions (political, historical subjects, cartoons, illustrations, etc.) have already incorporated the intrinsic meanings of thoughts before the act of painting itself. On the other hand, pure formal painting does not inherently convey deep intellectual symbolism. Its capacity to carry meaning is limited. Otherwise, why would I bother writing? Painting has its own limitations.
The cultivation in life, including personality, is crucial, as well as the experience of a lonely and dark life. Hu Lancheng said Zen is a state of mind. Therefore, art itself should have a purpose. Without individualism, there is no art.
Xipi Editor: How do you view the works of master artists?
LF: In general, it’s hard to say. The artworks of true master artists are eternal in the realm of human spirit, becoming the shoulders and ladder for future generations. They cannot be ignored or taken lightly. The radiance of their artistic concepts and thoughts directly or indirectly influences the course of human art. However, it cannot be denied that there are also pseudo-masters, pseudo-renowned artists. From a distance, they may appear powerful and grandiose, but upon closer inspection, it becomes clear: they are merely donkeys in disguise.
Xipi Editor: Which artists’ works do you personally appreciate and admire? Have they had an influence on you?
LF: Oh, there are too many to list. Chen Yujun, Cy Twombly, Duan Yuanwen, Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Mi Youren, Antonio Lopez, Tapies, The Eight, Edvard Munch, Zhang Yang, Andy Warhol…
I love all the dishes they cook!
Xipi Editor: Have you been engaged in poetry art creation recently? Apart from modern poetry, do you also write classical-style poetry?
LF: I neither write modern poetry nor classical-style poetry. I write poetry.
Xipi Editor: How do you view the concept of “brush and ink should follow the times”?
LF: Ancient people naturally wore the clothes of their own time, and they wrote in the language of their era. That was their duty, and that was their contemporary. There’s not much to talk about. In today’s modernized environment, if you occasionally express a nostalgic sentiment through your attire or writing, it’s understandable. However, if you persistently do so, you may create a certain “distance” from the present era. Artists like Lei Ziren, Liu Qinghe, and Li Dongjun have each embarked on their own contemporary path in their works, departing from their own perspectives and contexts. They have already transcended the concept of “literati painting.” Their figures, brushwork, and colors are completely different from the traditional methods. Merely depicting a few reclusive scholars sitting among pine and bamboo, repeatedly playing with a single concept, is nothing more than a gimmick or a farce. It’s just an extraction of external elegance, embellishing internal vanity and vulgarity. It lacks meaningful expression and depth. You say they are nostalgic? I only see many such people completely obsessed with modern life.
When the ancients said “brush and ink should follow the times,” they earnestly admonished future generations that brush and ink should progress with the times, looking forward and moving forward.
If you don’t move forward, someone else will!
Xipi Editor: We define this interview as “a kind of innocence or indulgence.” Now I’ll ask an innocent question: Is love great? What do you think of Qiong Yao’s novels?
LF: Love is ultimately a private affair.
It’s a game between two individuals. It doesn’t allow for a third party, and its nature is still “private.” Have you ever heard of something private being great? If we were to speak of greatness, it would be limited to the greatness between the two people involved, but as time goes on, it withers greatly. The innocent one in this scenario is the bed.
As for Qiong Yao, she is someone who has never awakened from a spring dream. Her works are not for art but for shallow emotions.
Xipi Editor: How do you view yourself and your art?
LF: I am an unreliable person, earnestly doing something that is not respectable.
Xipi Editor: Personally, which type of art do you appreciate more?
LF: I appreciate works that possess a sense of purity and depth that arises from the juxtaposition of freedom and form. The power of emotion that emerges from simplicity often captivates me.
Xipi Editor: I have heard you say that you are first and foremost a poet, and then a painter. Why is that?
LF: We live in an era where few people read books and are obsessed with their phones. It feels like the country has suddenly fallen into a low-intelligence society, where social morality is declining. Most people who write poetry are reluctant to call themselves poets. But in society, there must always be a certain group of people—those who remain ignorant of the current situation, who adhere to their youthful ideals and original intentions, and who stubbornly hold their ground and take responsibility.
By continuously doing something that initially may not hold much significance for 10, 20, or 30 years, it becomes meaningful. Art cannot save anything; our obsession with art is ultimately just a one-sided love affair.
The early-blooming apricot blossoms, the late-blooming winter plum. If one excels beyond the realm of art, they become different as a person.
Xipi Editor: From your works, it is evident that you have a high level of color cultivation. Could you discuss your understanding of color and how you express your thoughts and emotions through color?
LF: Color cultivation cannot be solely isolated and discussed based on a single artwork. It is an essential element in the construction of an artwork. Personally, almost all of the color elements in my paintings are built upon subjective formation and subjective establishment. Artists like Bonnard and Vuillard have extensively manipulated objective colors subjectively. Playing with colors in the composition is about respecting the needs of the artwork. They have already ventured far in this aspect.
Xipi Editor: Mature artists often have their own unique symbols and characteristics in their works. Can you talk about the specific language in your own works?
LF: I must admit that my own artistic language is not yet mature. It only retains the internal poetic imagery and atmosphere that belong to me personally, scattered here and there, in small doses, and not intense. When I was young, I often struggled with this issue, but in recent years, through the process of artistic practice, I no longer deliberately focus on it. Water, as long as it flows, is good. It has to adapt to wherever it flows, following the concept of “naturally and spontaneously,” which ultimately points to fate.
Xipi Editor: Your works involve both representational and abstract expressions. Can you share your thoughts on the expressive modes of figurative representation and formal representation?
LF: In some works, the languages of representation and abstraction coexist and intertwine. For example, in the works of artist Leng Jun, the highly representational approach expresses his own abstract concepts, using external representation to reveal the internal abstraction of the subject matter. In essence, the concepts of figurative representation and formal representation boil down to the commonly discussed questions of “what to paint” and “how to paint.” They both involve the artist’s inner aesthetic cultivation and personal artistic inclination, becoming the spiritual undergarments of an artist.
Xipi Editor: How do you view classical art and modern art?
LF: Classical art is an artistic system that emerges from nothingness to existence, while modern art is a new system that evolves from the existing.
Xipi Editor: How do you view the ecosystem of artists in Shangqiu?
LF: There are many individuals who prioritize theory and techniques and forget about themselves. For any artist, it is essential to sincerely confront oneself in order to engage in meaningful creation. Merely praising others’ works without understanding what makes them good shows my own ignorance and lack of knowledge.
The collective timidity often mistaken for “prudence” in the realm of art is prevalent. The majority of Chinese people are like zebras and antelopes, while only a few are like jackals and foxes. This country is a forest with thousands of years of genetic heritage, where people are overly shrewd. They may bow their heads to drink water like domesticated animals but always remain attentive to the sounds of the surrounding wind.
Xipi Editor: The character of a person is reflected in their calligraphy, painting, and writing; the quality of their artwork is indicative of their character. What do you think?
LF: This kind of argument is quite popular to the point that it creates an illusion on people’s lips. But honestly, I personally believe that these statements are mostly wishful thinking by humans.
To my knowledge, figures like Han Yu, Qin Hui, and even Confucius had issues with their character, yet their artistic accomplishments and talents were not low. There are also a group of “good people” artists, but if you look at their works, they often tend to be mediocre. Sometimes, even God can be careless when creating people.
Xipi Editor: Your artwork at the national exhibition, “Possible Dilemma,” is a mixed-media painting. Could you please talk about mixed-media?
LF: Integrated material painting, which my work “Possible Dilemma” exhibited at the national exhibition, falls under. It has been generally classified as a subset of oil painting in mainland China, but in recent years, it has been recognized as a separate category. In contrast, oil painting has become relatively marginalized. In my view, integrated material painting sometimes interacts with oil painting and installation art, but it possesses a stronger, freer, and broader artistic language. There are almost no limitations on the techniques and materials used in painting. All ready-made objects in life can be utilized: soy sauce, vinegar, asphalt, iron, acrylic, fibers, canvas, glue, lipstick, saliva…
In the past half-century, particularly in the international art scene, painting has broken through the barriers and constraints between art forms. Interdisciplinary approaches have become a widespread phenomenon, expanding people’s artistic thinking and facilitating the transformation of artistic language. In terms of material painting language, it can be divided into three levels:
Emphasizing painting as the main focus and incorporating materials through the language of painting forms.
Highlighting the texture and formal qualities of the materials to present their own language states.
Utilizing materials to correspond to spiritual language, allowing the artist’s spirit to resonate with the materials and convey visual spirituality and emotional experiences.
Today, it has become challenging to fully express the contemporary human experience using traditional painting language alone. Integrated material painting, however, has helped improve this situation by offering new possibilities and perspectives.
Xipi Editor: I have read your poetry collection, “Bruised Apples,” and I find that it evokes a similar abstract feeling as your paintings, permeating a gray tone. What do you intend to convey through these expressions?
The carefree moments of laughter and playfulness in our youth, once filled with a carefree spirit, become the most distant memories on the journey towards the future. We all belong to a specific era, and as we enter our later years, we are abandoned by the world. The desire for immortality, in reality, leads to rapid decay. Take a look at those old buildings that were once familiar and full of vitality in our youth—they no longer exist. Junkyards are filled with discarded cars, boilers, steel pipes, instruments, all waiting to be processed as scraps… They represent the twilight of human life, bringing tears to one’s eyes. While the world remains bustling with activity, my inner self is filled with endless bewilderment.
Annie Baby said, “Plant hope in your own castle, filled with imagination, and wait for despair to come.” Meanwhile, Valéry tells me, “The wind is rising; live your life well.”
Xipi Editor: The final question—how would you define our conversation?
LF: As winter approaches, let us witness the changes of the world together.