Self-Construction: Yunnan Oil Painting Since 2010

After 2010, the Internet and individual media platforms increasingly became the main driving force for change in people’s everyday lives. The progression and spread of various individual media platforms, from blogs to microblogs, and on to WeChat and other social media, made self-construction and expression increasingly an everyday affair. Everyone is their own media, and everyone can convey their views to the world. The world has become flatter, and concepts of time and space are changing. Artists enjoy the convenient outcomes brought by globalization. Though regional experience in artistic expression has remained for a long time, it seems that individual perception and experience in artistic expression stands out more. Though this perception is tiny, as means of expression change, it is increasingly becoming the norm. Furthermore, various forms of live and multimedia art, led by digital media, are increasingly becoming the stars of all kinds of major exhibitions, while the languages and expressive methods of traditional art forms are showing their limitations. In painting expression, such values as formal creation and stylization no longer seem so important. In comparison, individual linguistic and structural methods are increasingly becoming the focus of artists’ attention.

Changes have taken place in the overall trends of Yunnan art, and they have impacted oil painting art as well. These changes include the emergence of more creative industry parks and art spaces, which have provided more platforms for artist self-expression. The more representative of these include the Loft Jinding 1919 Creative Park, Yuansheng Studio Gallery, Kuangyu Gallery, Tai Project, Hongyang Gallery, IWE Art Museum, 108 Art Museum, Wenlin Museum and Contemporary Gallery Kunming.

The Loft Jinding 1919 Creative Park was jointly founded by entrepreneurs Deng Bin, Huang Bin and Bai Weixuan. The event Everyday Life–Yunnan Ways: The First Art District Culture Festival announced the park’s official establishment in April 2010. The art festival invited the founders and artists of the Kunming Loft Artist Community, Lijiang Studio, Shenzhen Art Loft, Lanzhou Creative Industry Park, Xi’an Textile City Art Center, Guiyang Urban Parts, Changsha Xiangjiang Experimental Art Group, China Academy of Art Experimental Art Studio, Guangzhou Line 3, and Qingdao Art District came to the Loft Jinding 1919 Creative Park to engage in residency creations, lectures, exhibitions and forums, touching off a new wave of cooperation and development between art and culture parks across China.

Yuansheng Studio Gallery was founded in 2010 by artist Liu Xiaojin. It mainly holds exhibitions of young artists and academy students, providing a bridge between artists and art lovers for appreciation and collection. Kuangyu Gallery was founded in 2010 by entrepreneurs Li Guoqiong and Han Xiaoqiang. It mainly focuses on the discovery, research and exhibition of new trends in painting, and sifts through the various phenomena taking place in contemporary art. Particularly noteworthy is the exhibition Manifestation of Image: Painting, Picture and Video, in March 2011, which for the first time sifted through the aesthetic traits and historical progressions of painting, photography and video, and used individual artist case studies to form an intertext and dialogue between these three trends in art. Tai Project was founded in 2011 by artist Liu Lifen, and dedicated to discovering young artists working in different experimental directions, presenting exhibitions in the form of individual case studies, building a bridge between young artists and art collectors, and promoting the sharing and collection of local art. The space also promoted international artist residence programs. Tai Project held nearly one hundred art events and solo exhibitions between 2011 and 2018, including solo exhibitions on dynamic young and emerging artists including Lei Yan, Xue Tao, Shi Zhimin, Su Yabi, Du Xi, Guo Peng, Su Jiaxi, Su Jiashou, Li Rui, Fu Meijun, Yang Zhongyi, Zhang Hua, Ma Li, Liu Hejiao and Zhang Jin, showing the diversity and vitality of Yunnan artists, while also promoting the establishment of a system for art appreciation and collection. Hongyang Gallery was founded in 2013 by entrepreneurs Qi Tongbo and Mo Ying, dedicated to researching the language and exhibiting the works of local Yunnan oil painters. The gallery’s most influential exhibition was Image Yunnan 2015, held between July and September 2015. This exhibition sifted through multiple generations of Yunnan oil painters, from the first generation to study abroad in France in the early 20th century to the youngest oil painters born after 1990. The exhibition was divided into seven sections: Eastern Spread of Western Learning, Naturalism, The Era of Natural Light, Life Flow, Urban Character, Diverse Experimentation, and Shaping the Self. This was done in an attempt to place the artistic practices of each individual artist into a specific historical context, discover their connections to history and the times, clarify the traits of each era’s thread of artistic development, and establish contextual relationships between them. This exhibition carried out a thorough survey of the history of modern and contemporary painting in Yunnan.

IWE Art Museum was established in 2012 by IWE Group. It mainly presents group exhibitions of contemporary artists. The largest group exhibition held at the IWE Art Museum since its inception has been Imagery–Narrative: Yunnan Oil Painting Society Exhibition, organized together with the Yunnan Oil Painting Society. The exhibition used a selection committee to solicit works from a broad swath of Yunnan artists, from which it chose one hundred participating artworks through which to present the creative vitality of several generations of Yunnan oil painters, and their latest results in the research and exploration of the language of oil painting. The 108 Art Museum was founded in 2014 by entrepreneur Han Xiaoqiang, and is focused on providing a platform for exchange and exhibition of various forms of cross-media contemporary art. Since its inception in 2014, the 108 Art Museum’s most influential event has been the annual 5-3 Youth Art Festival. The festival is dedicated to cross-cultural exchange and practices between a range of art forms including painting, video, installation, performance, dance, theater, poetry, design, music, crafting and clothing, and has become something of a cultural brand for its promotion of exchange between local and global artists. Wenlin Museum was founded in 2016 by curator Bao Lisi. It mainly provides an exhibition platform for the diverse creative forms of academy students and young artists, and holds regular international exchange events. It is an important force for new art the Wenlin neighborhood. Contemporary Gallery Kunming was founded in 2018 by Top River Group. Since its inauguration, this museum has held a series of heavyweight exhibitions, including solo exhibitions of Zeng Xiaofeng, Tang Zhigang and Marc Riboud, making it a cultural landmark for southern Kunming.

With the emergence of so many art spaces and platforms, there has also been an upsurge in art fair-type events, which has opened the curtains for more young people to take the stage. The most representative of these events are the Hedingben Community Publishing Project, the 5-3 Youth Art Festival, and the On the Clouds International Live Art Festival. Hedingben is an event held at the end of the year, and has the highest participation level among Yunnan artists. It includes such events as a book release, exhibition, and Yunnan artists posing for photographs with the people of Kunming. This self-organized group event was founded by artists in 2007. Every year, artists pool their own funds to produce a handmade book promoting creativity and concepts, and to hold live art exhibitions in various spaces presenting a variety of art forms. After 13 years in operation, Hedingben has become a link that binds together Yunnan artists from many fields. The 5-3 Youth Art Festival was founded in 2014 by entrepreneur Han Xiaoqiang and artists He Libin and Lin Shanwen. Through art exhibitions and live art performances, the festival establishes the context for exchange between different types of art, and creates a carnival of shared enjoyment between artists and art lovers domestic and international. The Above the Clouds International Live Art Festival was founded by artist He Libin in 2009. It is mainly focused on performance art, and covers such art forms as dance, theater, installation, sound art and action painting. It advocates the creation of artworks within a mobile context, and opens up a diverse cultural dialogue. In the ten years since its inception, the festival has invited over 120 artists from fourteen countries to engage in onsite exchange and creation activities in Dali, Lijiang, Xi’an, Beijing, Chengjiang, Shizong, Nanjing, Nanchang, Guanglu and Chuxiong, promoting artistic exchange and creative contexts between artists from Yunnan and around the world, and forming a vibrant artistic ecosystem.

In this diverse and vibrant overall artistic environment, artists have grown increasingly conscious in their definition of self-identity and experimentation in artistic language. Yunnan’s oil painters have highlighted their own unique traits in the following ways:
1. Viewpoint Anxiety and Fragmented Narrative: The artist’s inspiration to paint may come from a passage of text, a photograph, a video, lyrics, or perhaps a momentary emotion. The subject of the frame is not entirely clear, and the viewer is unable to recognize a specific time, space, or plot. It appears more like an absentminded documentarian taking random, rushed shots of the world. Representative artists of this type of painting include Su Jiaxi, Su Jiashou, Zhou Junxi, Li Jing and Su Jie.

  1. The Virtual and the Dream Realm: This is not the depiction of a real dream realm, more like a description of circumstances within reality, but due to the virtualized expression and distanced viewing, it takes on the atmosphere of a dream. Representative artists include Gao Xiang, Liu Lifen, Bai Xuejuan, Du Xi and Ma Dan.
  2. Connotations of Structure: The focus among these artists on the structure of the language of painting surpasses their graphic narrative expression, with language structure going as far as to become the main body of the painting, while the narrative recedes behind the curtain. Representative artists include Zhang Zhiming, Yang Jianbo, Chen Liu, Zhang Wei, Fu Meijun and Chen Chuan.
  3. Poetic Nature: Attention to and expression of nature remains a persistent state among Yunnan artists. Particularly striking is a poetic quality permeating many such works. Representative artists include Wang Xuan, Zhang Jianlin, Guo Renhai, Liao Yuanyang, Ya Li, Cao Yue, Chen Lingjie, Bian Xiaoqiang, Su Bin, Chang Xiong, Tao Fa, Li Rui and Xun Guipin.

Yunnan oil painting continues to grow its own constellation and thread along the multiple dimensions described above.

He Libin

August 5, 2019