Tangs mind is in loneliness, yet he choses realism in art. His works convey the influence of academic school. Realism itself is massy, technically demanding, impersonal. However, through brushworks and beyond standards, he is striving to express personality and spirituality.
The reason why that Tang Weimin adopts the Tibetan girls as his subject matter is probably to widen the distance from reality in painting, which is similar to the case that painters used to be fond of going to the frontiers to do sketches, adopting the minority as subject in their creation of works. Nevertheless, those artists were more concerned of the distance between the minority groups and politics, while Tang focuses on the distance between Tibetan girls and the secular. He uses Tibetan girls to express his spiritual high ground, just as Schiller used to borrow the ancient Creek to convey his psychic pursuit. The figures in Tangs painting seem to be de-familiarized through his combination of unique mental pursuits and emotional quality, while the pure and simple realistic manner in the depiction of figures makes a sense of dj vu. He neither heads to the distorted expressionism for his personal emotional need, nor does he become a slave of reality for the need of realism. He seeks freedom in restrains and pursues strangeness through familiarization, which to me is the most fascinated site of Tangs painting.
The de-familiarization of Tangs works lies in their distinct spiritual disposition and emotional tone. They belong to both his works and the painter himself, particularly evident in the familiar subject matter. For example, both adopting the subject of Tibetan girl, Tangs dignity is different from Ai Xuans sentimentality. All the arrangements of canvas function to carry out the emotional tone for Tang. This emotional tone is exactly the gift that an artist is born to have, such as the ethereal quality of Li Bai, the depression of Du Fu, as well as the intangibility of Wang Wei, all of which are not be learned from simple training. To this extent, it is fairly reasonable to say that art resembles personality. The reason why that art will not run to an end only because of the exhaustion of subject matters is just due to individualized temperament of artists. As long as the personal disposition could be fully demonstrated, works that both contain familiarization and strangeness would be thus created. From this perspective, painting shares some similarity with playing music. A same piece of work would vary due to the different disposition of the players. After tough exploration, Tang finally finds his spiritual sustenance through the subject of Tibetan girl. Therefore, it is rather to say that he has created a goodness of his heart than he paints Tibetan girls from real life.
This is a comfort to the rushing modern life. Tang says.
As a matter of fact, ever since the popularization of camera, it is no longer important for painting to record reality in sincerity. Nobody would be that crazy to take a painting of someone doing something as evidence in court, no matter how realistic the painting is, while on the other hand, a photo that is even not so clear could work. The difference between painting and photography could be underlined from this case. No one would take painting seriously as records. If painting must be records of life, perhaps most painters could not succeed in this task. As a result, it is not important for Tang whoever the figure is in his paintings, nor is the significance of the particular costume on that figure. What really matters is with everything matched together, whether he could convey the feelings he wishes to achieve, such as elegance, dignity, mystique. In this sense, although Tangs works seem to be realistic at first glance, they in fact carry the projection of Romanticism or Expressionism. Or, we can say that Tang is pursuing the effects of music with paintings. At surface, he paints figurative person, but indeed he goes for the abstract tones in music. Just because of the distinguished sense or tone, Tangs Tibetan paintings would be able to stand out from the massive resemble subjects, which is similar to the case that Mozart and Beethoven would compose in different styles in the same genre of serenade. Tang is so determined to work on the subject that everyone is familiar with. The reason is exactly due to his firm belief that the meanings he expresses are different from anyone else, and his emotional tone has characteristics, even within the same subject matter. Therefore, he would not have to concern the issue of similarity.
This is the comprehensive function of education habits and human aesthetics. Realism is what a decision that history makes for Tang, yet in this background, he chooses to add some meaningful brushstroke that is personalized, which is able to embody the emotion and spirit. Some of Tangs works are painted thickly while some elsewhere thin and smooth. These tiny, powerfully depicted brushworks add spirituality besides the massiness, just as Vermeer and Rembrandt, who he admires as Old Masters in western classic paintings. He is in love with Vermeers and serenity and immortality, while in favor of Rembrandts vividness and humanity. I like their expression towards light, their handling of texture, as well as their depiction of humanity.
Tang Weimins paintings remind us of a feeling both familiar and strange. People would easily classify his painting into the Tibetan subject. There are quite a few oil painters who have gained their success through Tibetan subject, which makes this subject no more strange among the creation of contemporary Chinese oil painting, despite of the fact that there is rare painters or viewers who are truly familiar with the real Tibetan life. In other words, it is the huge amount of oil paintings with Tibetan subject that make people to become familiar with the remote Tibetan life. In order to let their works look like original representation of the local life, some painters would go deep into the Tibetan district to do sketches or pretend to get involved into their life. However, Tang Weimin never disguises the fictionalized feature of his works. The Tibetan girls in his painting are more like court ladies living in the palace for long instead of the real Tibetans who have been through the vicissitudes of life. Even he paints Tibetan girls in real life, their repeated presence has dispelled the alienation towards Tibetan girls for the audience. Since the audience is not really familiar with the real Tibetan life, Tang Weimin could get the chance to paly the game between familiarization and strangeness freely. His painting could therefore jump in and out unrestrained from the real life, driving the audience up and down between the mental reality and fantasy, acquiring a kind of visual and psychological pleasure.
It is also similar to the inexistent city of Calvino. In his famous novel Le citt invisibili, Marco Polo describes the cities he visited on his expeditions to Kublai Khan. Yet they do not exist in reality. Calvino writes: Diomira has the womens shouting at dusk from the balcony. Isaura has the elderly who watch the young passing by quietly at the plaza. Dorothea s women all have bright teeth and frankly look into your eyes. Anastasia carves the shape of desirethese city never exists, but they own clear details that enter directly into our heart deep inside.
Familiarization and Strangeness
Tang has brought this fulfillment of loneliness to the inexistent girl in his painting, making them unique in personality. It is a creation to the artist, and for Tang, it might be a spiritual searchingfor a peach blossom valley to escape from the world and find a residence for heart. His peach blossom valley is only slight different from that of common sense.
The Essence of Life is Loneliness
Loneliness is one of the necessary quality of art making. God is equal to give everyone the same energy. If one person is very good at social communication, he or she is probably unable to go deep inside human heart and make a close observation. But most excellent artists are not skillful in verbal expression, instead, they wander around at the bottom of human heart, thus being unable to accomplish the social quality of a person.
This quality is what the power that urban people lack, as a soul of classic culture. This psychic soul is a review with thoughts to be able to comfort the lost heart of modern people. And this is the reason why they go to Tibet to clean their souls one after another.
No matter how big the world is, how fast time runs, there is always one thing remains as a lighthouse leading home.
Despite of the Tibetan railway, Tibet is still a place so distant. In the remote, free and desolated area, there is a minority completely different from our daily life. In the high mountain area, the blue sky and clear clouds could be seen everyday. Grazing the cattle, reaching places full of grasses and waters. The live closest to the sky and survive by fate. Despite of the difficult life, they held firm believes and least desire of materials.
Therefore, you will eventually discover an interesting phenomenon: all life forms in the world have two sides, one being masculine and light while the other being feminine and massy, which also echoes to the oppositions of individual and nation, genius and craftsmanship. All kinds of cultural arts world fall into those opposite qualities respectively as well. A massy life would envy a light expression. Simple styles could not afford the heaviness of history. Our life is struggling between these two extremes, either envying or despising each other.
Old times is a term full of enchanting significance, which recalls people of the unfading memories of the past and ancient exquisite civilizations. The time and space bathed by soft lights also seem to be where the woman comes from. Unlike Nymph of the Luo River who performs as the Cao clothes water leakage, Wu Dai worked as the wind and the tricky mysterious cities of Calvino, she acts with a mood both cold and warm, as a potted narcissus. She is peaceful and lonely, intimate but dignified. She stays still, and even if she moves, it must be slow and elegant.
Lightness and Massiness
Tang chooses the Tibetan subject but the figures are not realistic Tibetan. As a matter of fact, I have never been to Tibet and paint Tibet, since it is too far away. Says Tang.
Tang is not good at words with reserved personality. He owns values of sincerity of purity under his parents influence. Supposedly his mind is just as his brush, which is lonely but sill having pursuit.
People must be puzzled that given this repetitive appearance, who is this woman?
Reading Tang Weimins Painting
Charming Old Times
According to the Chinese myth of the creation of world, the universe is in chaos before Pan Gu created heaven and earth. Chopping for eighteen thousands years, Pan Gu finally break the chaos, with the masculine (yang) rising up as heaven, the feminine (yin) going down as earth, which make up the world.
However, the artists answer is that there is no such woman in this world at all.
Tangs repeated depiction of this inexistent woman resembles the case of Cao Zhi encountering the Nymph of the Luo River. According to Selected works of Zhao Ming, Cao Zhihad long been in love with Zhen Mi, his brother Cao Pis concubine. In one year, he paid a formal visit to Cao Pi from his vassalage land. Cao Pi told his brother the Zhen Mi had passed away, and gave her pillow made of jade with golden belts to him as a memorial gift. Cao Zhi was devastated as a dying man. When he passed the Luo River on his way back, he saw a goddess who looked just like Zhen Mi rising up from the river!
Utopia in Fantasy
Time has participated into the shaping of the beautiful antique pieces. It seem to be exist in the past, but present on these objects. Moreover, time also likes flowing sands settled in the inner of these pieces, having experienced the gazed and touches of an owner. However, time always flows. As the person is gone, these objects will still remain. You can hardly tell if the person collects objects, or the other way around.
This woman owns an appearance that matches the aesthetics of Song dynasty: slim body shape, oval face, single lip eyes, with bright and clean skin and slightly sorrowful expression in her eyes, who sometimes becomes an image of a Tibetan woman. She wears hat with long antennas, her clothes decorated with heavy precious stones. She stands in the dark, with her whole body enveloped with dim candles light, as a lamp in a winter night, possessing a classic feeling of warmth. There is usually no background in her back. If there is a background, it is a mottled gate. Occasionally, she would be staged as a Southern lady in white, with pale skin, cold fingertips as well as indifferent face.
For many years, Tang Weimin is depicting an inexistent woman in most of his works.
His studio displays fully with all kinds of antiques. With the wrapped slurry given by time, they shine with soft and charming colors in the soft light. They accompany Tang when he tastes a bottle of sound tea in the silence. It is unknown that what these potteries and jars have been through, which resembles the women painted by Tang, whose stories behind has long been lost and hard to discover, yet, they still possess extreme beauty.
She is so graceful as a fragile swan goose, wandering as a swimming dragon. Her face is as bright as the chrysanthemum in fall, and her beauty is growing as the wind in spring. Cao Zhi used up all kinds of beautiful verses to describe her gorgeous appearance. Moreover, he also told a sentimental love story between human and god.
The Inexistent Nymph of the Luo River
The interest in the past can be described as one of the cultural resource in Tangs painting. He is painting a woman while working on the quality and personality of the old times. His lady dressed in Tibetan costumes is not exactly a pure Tibetan, since Tang is not working on a portrait. This is the connection point between the past and modern life that he constantly searching forTibetan exist in the present, yet, their distinctive costumes and living habits make them as if they stay in the past. Tang found his point of penetration of his own from here and re-shapes them with his fantasy in mind. He is not simply painting the Tibetan itself which is only a shelf to bring back the soul of thousands years of cultural tracing as well as the review of the long way of the past.
Utopia and Nymph of the Luo River
Fantasy is the distortion of games. When a child is focusing on a game, he or she would build an idealized world with toy blocks, pinch a meal with mud or draw a dog with wings using crayons, while firmly believing that these fantasies could come true. As we grow, these games of fulfillment of fantasy in mind, together with that concentration and firmness have all gradually faded away.
Tang has found his own way of painting, which is quite fortunate indeed. He combines lightness and massiness in the linking point of human nature, creating a spiritual fulfilled peach blossom valley, which belongs to his inner world. When one concentrates on painting with nothing else in his mind, it does not matter if we understand or not, like or dislike, the time is always the best in the world we live.
Utopia is a peach blossom valley, an imaginary existence, which gathers all delightful things in one. The modern life is not comfortable mentally for Tang. He always concerns that life is too busy, too speedy and too messy.
Loneliness is different from feeling solitude. We would panic when feeling solitude, while loneliness is full and rich. As Zhuang Zi says, just go with heaven and earth, which is a fulfilled conversation with the whole universe.
The women Tang depicts with his brush are exactly these fantastic inexistences.
In this case, Tang creates his own fantasy.
Tang is confused by the urban life as most of us. On the one side, we cannot live without the convenience in urban cities. On the other side, we feel rotated fast every hour and every minute. The peacefulness and entity of time in the old life styles, as well as spiritual simplicity and concentration could not ever be traced. This age has become more and more massive productive mechanically. The fragmentation and rapidly changing, leading to a lack of stability of human heart.
However, other people around could not even see a single shadow of the Nymph of the Luo River.
Artists create a world different from the reality. Some make it from what they are familiar with, while others build up something totally strange.
Hence, he endeavors to search for a serene atmosphere as well as the immortal of classics in his creation. This power exists in all his subjects of Tibetan people, court ladies as well as group portraits. The decorous clothes, peaceful expressions and dim lights are similar to Rembrandts oil painting, which calm you down quickly. This power of peacefulness is also resulted from the cultural qualities that the figures in his paintings represent, which is a gaze to the depth of time.
Very few people understand this fulfillment. Since in common sense, the signs of a perfect life are no more than a successful business, material abundance, committed love, a healthy family with several generation gathering together. This is the completion in relation to the outside world, while the completion of heart is loneliness with understanding of the universe.
However, the fantasies have not disappeared, yet we are just too shy to speak of them. People are always talking about projects, real estates, money, speed, desires as well as the distortion of desires. We believe that the childish games are not worth mentioning since the fantasy is not grand enough in them. Nevertheless, something deep inside has rooted in our heart. When the night comes, we could not stop thinking about them.
There are lots of artists who paint people, so are painters working on Tibetan subject. In some of paintings of Tibetan subject, the native inhabitant is enthusiastic and energetic. There is, whereas, a profound loneliness in Tangs Tibetan fantasy. The isolated, quiet and mysterious mood derives from the ancient times, staying deep inside in life forms.
For instance, we do not need successes but the warmth of them; we do not really need projects and investments, what we really long for is happiness of families getting together; we do not have to reply an email at 2 oclock in the morning, we just need a walk by the sea. However, many people have forgotten the joyfulness of games and the fantasies that they dream about life.
But Tang has not forgotten. He is not in a hurry to remind us to find our initial self by his works, but he constantly depicting his own initial self with his brush instead. This inexistent woman is the utopia of his heart.