View of Being There¡ªAppreciating Mi Qiaoming¡¯s Oil Paintings
The first time I saw the oil paintings of Mi Qiaoming¡¯s ¡°Fanyun Jixiang¡± series, I thought they were just painted by an outstanding student studying mural or print art in an academy of fine arts in China. The oil paintings seek ¡°the Chinese style¡±, which is quite popular in the art circles in recent years. So there is no surprise with a new artist becoming a member of this style. However, after talking with Mi Qiaoming, I found my previous recognition was totally wrong. Qiaoming had spent over ten years at the Russian Repin Academy of Fine Arts, finishing her college, postgraduate and PhD studies. I heard about the conservative teaching of the Russian Repin Academy of Fine Arts before and had talked about it with Elena Polovskaya, professor of Contemporary Art History at Repin Academy of Fine Arts. According to professor Elena, artistic creations could be like various flowers blooming together, while artistic education should always be consistent, i.e., always conservative. Professor Elena¡¯s idea represents Repin Academy of Fine Arts¡¯ view on art education. This kind of conservative view on art education had already been completely abandoned by Western Europe and North America as early as in the 60s of the 20th century, and in recent years, it has also been criticized in Russia and China to some degree. However, Repin Academy of Fine Arts is not swayed; on the contrary, with its nonconformity it has become an alternative pioneering scene for its the extreme conservative art education.
Therefore, I began to have a completely new appraisal of Mi Qiaoming who had studied at Repin Academy of Fine Arts from undergraduate to Phd. However, I just can¡¯t relate the oil paintings of ¡°Fanyun Jixiang¡± series right before me with Repin Academy of Fine Arts. I asked to see some of Qiaoming¡¯s classroom exercises when she studied at Repin Academy of Fine Arts. Shortly, Qiaoming sent me some images of her paintings of still life, head portraits and landscape paintings she finished as a college student. As expected, her classroom exercises were done meticulously. Compared with classroom exercises done by students in domestic academies of fines, Qiaoming¡¯s are much more refined in terms of color, composition, tone or choice of models, showing a typical style of Repin Academy of Fine Arts.
Through the baptism at Repin Academy of Fine Arts, Mi Qiaoming was reborn. In other words, she creates her oil paintings in the language of Russian instead of Chinese. Over the decade of study, Mi Qiaoming has learned all the painting techniques as well as all the habits of Repin Academy of Fine Arts. With Qiaoming¡¯s paintings mixed up with other paintings by her Russian classmates, no one could tell her paintings were done by a Chinese student. However, Qiaoming decided to bid farewell to Repin Academy of Fine Arts when she began to explore her own artistic path. She first sought breakthrough in Chinese Peking Opera characters and later formed her own distinctive style in the oil paintings of ¡°Fanyun Jixiang¡± series.
Telling from the appearance, Qiaoming¡¯s oil paintings of ¡°Fanyun Jixiang¡± series show both surrealism and postmodernism. Among the elements of her oil paintings, three of them have caught my attention: the famous paintings from various dynasties, the thematic Buddha statues and the peach flowers or common bombax flowers dotted in between. These three kinds of elements in the painting are usually not related; however, through appropriation and juxtaposition in postmodern painting, Qiaoming put them together in her paintings. The real peach flowers or common bombax flowers and the artworks such as Buddha statues or traditional Chinese paintings originally don¡¯t belong to the same space and time, while Qiaoming combined them together, giving the viewer a surreal feel. Either through appropriation and juxtaposition, they look quite natural in Qiaoming¡¯s paintings. Especially, there is no irony, ridicule or criticism which is common in postmodern art. Qiaoming returned art to the humanistic, aesthetic and technical level and to the long-gone positive art in contemporary art through her own way. What¡¯s more, besides the pleasant visual experience, the misplacement of different elements in time and in space in Qiaoming¡¯s paintings also prompt people to recall, imagine and think: What does the world look like? Why are we so immersed in it and forget to return?
The traditional Chinese paintings from various dynasties or part of them occupy the largest area of Qiaoming¡¯s paintings. Through the interpretation of the oil paintings, the traditional Chinese paintings give the viewer a familiar strangeness. However, Qiaoming didn¡¯t paint them clearly, and she just focused on the atmosphere and the tone of the images. As the background in Qiaoming¡¯s oil paintings, the traditional Chinese paintings are receding like the ¡°past¡±, and gradually become the background of one¡¯s life. But Qiaoming treated the Buddha statues in totally different ways. The depiction of the Buddha statues is solid, exquisite and even shows a feel of surrealism, which fits perfectly with the theme of the Buddha statues. The Buddha statues in Qiaoming¡¯s paintings are not created by herself but existing statues. Just like the landscape in the background, they are not created by Qiaoming, but existing landscape paintings. Landscape painting focuses on the atmosphere and artistic conception, so they could be vaguely presented; while sculptures are three-dimensional, so they should be presented in a relative realistic way. However, what I value about Qiaoming¡¯s paintings is not only the coordination between the theme and language, but also between the implied message and language. If we say the landscape painting which serves as the background symbolizes reminiscence over the ¡°past¡±, then what does the thematic Buddha statue symbolize? Certainly, just like the paintings as the background, these Buddha statues are also products of the past. However, if we take the Buddha statues as our object of faith, then they will never vanish. Not only will the Buddha not vanish, but as an ideal it will always exist in the ¡°future¡± time. Though the same with the ¡°past¡±, ¡°future¡± is neither time which we could experience directly, it gives us a totally different impression: the ¡°future¡± is clear, but the ¡°past¡± is vague. This is not only because that time moves from the ¡°past¡± to the ¡°future¡±, with the ¡°future¡± becoming clearer and clearer and the ¡°past¡± becoming vaguer and vaguer, but also because the ¡°future¡± is the ideal people hope for and the ¡°past¡± is reminiscence long gone. ¡°Past¡± is existing traces. They are either deep or shallow, bright or dark. However, ¡°future¡± is not the same. As an unfulfilled ideal, ¡°future¡± is undifferentiated perfection. Qiaoming made a solid depiction of the Buddha statues, while she made a vague depiction of the traditional Chinese paintings. This is not only related with the theme of the oil paintings, but also has something to do with the sense of time they have triggered off.
The most unnoticeable but at the same time the most remarkable element is the peach flowers and common bombax flowers in the oil paintings. There are two or three branches or two or three flowers dotted in the oil paintings. They are the most unnoticeable for they don¡¯t occupy a large area in the oil painting as the background painting, and neither do they occupy the center of the oil painting as the thematic Buddha statue. Their location and status could almost be ignored. They are remarkable for they are in full bloom. As the only living sign, their existence brings vitality to the entire painting. I¡¯d like to interpret the flowers as the symbol of ¡°present¡±. Compared with the long ¡°past¡± and ¡°future¡±, ¡°present¡± is a flash, fleeting away in the long river of the ¡°past¡± and the ¡°future¡±. However, ¡°present¡± is also the real time we are living in. So no matter how much we look forward to the ¡°future¡±, and how much we are attached to the ¡°past¡±, we could only live in the ¡°present¡±. Though ¡°present¡± is short, without it, the ¡°past¡± and the ¡°future¡± could only sink into the dark. The flowers are both unnoticeable and remarkable, for they are closely related with the significant ¡°present¡± it represents.
In Qiaoming¡¯s oil paintings, we could not only see the landscape, Buddha statues and flowers, we have also experienced the three kinds of time, the ¡°past¡±, ¡°future¡± and ¡°present¡±. The feelings about time remind me of Martin Heidegger¡¯s concept of dasein (¡°being there¡±) in his Being and Time. Human beings ¡°are there¡± refers to the fact that they exist in the ¡°present¡± and living towards the ¡°future¡± with the ¡°past¡±. Qiaoming¡¯s oil paintings have showed me the living space for ¡°being there¡±, and recalled my living experience in ¡°being there¡±. I guess this may be the reason why I have lingered on in front of her paintings.
Weixiu Garden of Peking University
March 29, 2016