WANDER WITH THE CREATOR——ZENG XIAOJUN SOLO EXHIBITION
“I keep company with the nature at leisure, but fail to know where it ends.”
This was what Liu Zongyuan wrote after his travel to West Hill in the year of 809 in the Tang dynasty, when he was exiled to Yongzhou, Hunan province. In the first article of his celebrated “Eight Articles of Yongzhou”, he noted down how wonderful the scenery he witnessed that day and marveled at the unrivalled beauty of the nature. It was probable that the great painter Zhang Zao had already put forward the artistic idea that “the painter should learn from nature and combine it with his own emotions” not very long before Liu Zongyuan, which exerted a great influence on Chinese painters of the next thousand years. More than one thousand years before Zhang Zao, Zhuang Zhou had also highly praised the greatness of the nature in his work “The Great Master”.
The nature created the world with no trace to be found. The objects created by the nature run its own course. Therefore, during the two thousand years, philosophers, poets and painters all tried to understand the nature. They managed to see its endlessness, but failed to reach its boundary. No wonder the great scholar Su Dongpo of the Song dynasty said, “I would devote myself to the nature and follow its operations”, which could be regarded as positive.
Zeng Xiaojun’s solo exhibition is his new experiment on art. The exhibition is divided into two sections, that is, paintings and sculptures. The paintings focus on “intertwined ceramic pattern” and “aged vines and bonsai”. The “intertwined ceramics” are man-made, but the patterns are transformation and expression of the nature. Therefore, the “intertwined ceramic pattern” can be regarded as the cooperation between human beings and the nature. The “aged vines and bonsai” is a reflection of Suzhou. The aged vines, such as the wisteria planted by Wen Zhengming, the wild vines at West Hill of Taihu Lake and the vines in Rome, though in different postures and thousands of miles away from each other, produce similar experiences. It is due to the fairness of the nature that the East and the West evolve according to similar principles and dynamics. The sculpture is the recreation of art. When we turn our focus from internal feelings to learning from nature during this process, what we produce ultimately will not deviate from nature, even though the object itself is man-made.
Just as Su Dongpo realized, the relationship between nature and human beings may develop in its own course, but has also been affected by external elements to some extent. The painter himself is created by the nature. Therefore, his art is also closely related to nature. When he tries to erase the artificial traces, his works of art will be closer to nature.
We are created by the nature. We keep company with the nature. We follow its course and are affected by its force. In the end, we turn to natural.
The above serves as the preface.
Director of Suzhou Museum
WANDER WITH THE CREATOR
I was naughty when small. Chasing ants in the yard with a magnifier in hand, I observed these small living creatures with great interest. The sun came through the magnifier and, having been focused, slowly burned away the ant’s life. It seemed great fun to me then and left an everlasting impression on me. This childhood joy of mine came from the satisfaction of observing. I believe what Wang Yangming said: “There was no good or evil at the beginning of men.”
Sincerity is of utmost importance when creating art. When observing the world at a young age, there are moments one never forgets. Those are the truest. They come directly from one’s own observation, and are not a result of teaching or cultural conflicts. As Shen Fu says in Six Records of a Floating Life: “I remember that when I was young, I directed my gaze to the world and nothing escaped my eyes. When I saw a small object, I always looked at the details and experienced great fun besides the objects themselves. ”
This exhibition consists of paintings and sculptures of what I see -- objects in my collection and things to which I relate. Decades of painting and collecting have helped me tremendously, allowing me to see how ancient people saw nature and the world. I realize that eventually people prefer artists that are sincere.
One ought to keep the joyfulness of childhood when creating art, regardless of its cruelty. Living as an artist can be quite miserable. Art is devotion, not a profession. As a painter I paint for myself, to amuse myself. It is very enjoyable. Like the joys of childhood, it is sincere and not fake. The outside world tries to affect me, but it does not matter to me. I look at the world with my own eyes. What pleases me I present to my audience, with whom I share my joy.
It is a great pleasure having this exhibition at the Suzhou Museum. I have always loved the city with its rich cultural heritage. I used to come here every year, looking at the gardens and penjing. Here I have found inspirations for my art. I have painted many things from Suzhou, from the Han Dynasty “qing”, “qi”, “gu”, “guai” pines at Situ Temple, to the Wen Wisteria in Humble Administrator’s Garden, to the wisteria in Arhat Temple and Suzhou No. 1 Middle School.
It has been very enjoyable painting and making sculptures for this exhibition. The unexpected happens often when materials are changed. It does not matter what objects they are or which country they are from. The lines between what is elegant and what is tacky, or what is classical and what is contemporary do not matter either. Expressed in various forms, they are from nature and the universe, to which everyone could relate.
Art is based on nature. It takes in changes of the world over time and manifests the artists’ spirit. Collectors over the dynasties also left their marks. A Zen teaching says: “The ultimate way is not difficult. One only needs to avoid choosing”. I greatly respect nature and this exhibition is an attempt at presenting nature’s beauty and returning to nature’s essence.