Sun Xiaofeng. Born in 1972 in Chenghai District, Guangdong Province. In 1994, graduated from the College of Fine Arts of South China Normal University. From 2006 to 2008, worked as the Vice Director and curator of the Development Department of Guangdong Museum of Art. From 2011 to 2015, served as the partner and Art Director of Shanshang Art Space. Currently working as a contributing curator of Guangdong Museum of Art and Director of the Contemporary Art Division of Canton Treasure Auction Co. Ltd.
It was in No. 55 Art Space where I first met Mr. Sun Xiaofeng’s works which were characterized with both clarity and complexity, graphic and dimensional elements, order and freedom, heaviness and lightness at the same time. What strikes me was his creative combination of Chinese ink wash and gold foil, dotted with irregular pale pink and fresh green spots among straight lines. An alchemist’s pot, just like those I saw in childhood cartoons, was given life by gentle brush stokes, afloat in the air. Colorful Chinese ink wash stretched and undulated, whose theme of existence was clarified by a piece of gold foil at the corner. Mr. Sun’s works are rich in symbols, serving as a way to express both familiarity and strangeness. Sometimes some symbol jolts you into reminiscence, while sometimes it enables you to gain new perspectives of current affairs. Put in the right settings, such paintings could connect with the surroundings. Though not crowned with grand, heavy themes, Mr. Sun’s works reflect vivid depiction of life in both synchronic and diachronic time slices, showing his respect and passion for life and his belief in the philosophy that the greatest truths are the simplest. Intrigued and impressed, I decided to gain better knowledge of Mr. Sun and his works via a telephone interview.
How do you define your works in terms of painting materials?
I love freedom. Starting off by learning traditional Chinese painting, I have always preferred to use Chinese ink and wash, which, together with Xuan paper, provides me with total freedom of painting. The use of gold foil complements the whole picture, adding a touch of classic elegance. Many of my paintings are created with a combination of diverse materials, because I don’t want to confine my works to only one kind. The same goes for cooking. As a cooking enthusiast, I always experiment to create the same dish with different ingredients.
Your works are abundant with interesting symbols. Do they bear any specific meaning?
Yes indeed. Among those symbols there are Taoism ones, representing freedom in the Taoism culture, which is symmetric and relative; there are also many Chinese mural elements, which is an homage to aesthetic philosophy of ancient Chinese, representing an accumulation through time that leads to the ultimate pursuit of magnificence. The concept of travel through time and accumulation is expressed through the usage of lines and gold foil. The essence is the relative life philosophy of Taoism, acting without action and freedom yet without control.
Living in today’s fast-tempo society, people tend to have fast-tempo life attitude, making it harder for many artists to find their places as they try to mirror social maladies through contemporary arts. Your works, though of modern structure, often invoke a déjà vu sensation among audiences. How do you make it and what do you hope your works can bring to the audiences?
As a matter of fact, I want my works not to disturb the natural state of the audiences. My painting process is basically a return to traditional elements, which is a process to observe, review and recognize myself, and to explore my potential and respect my natural personality. However, the material society changes, and the passion toward life remains key to human existence. For example, I love cooking. But whenever I see a fresh ingredient, what immediately comes to my mind is not to change its flavor through cooking but to bring out its natural taste, because it is the happiest state. While respecting their original taste when seasoning ingredients, I manage to create a new relationship between my character and its character. This is why by looking at a picture you can have a general view of the artist’s life, just like tasting a cup of tea or a dish which will reveal the character of the person who makes it. Good things carry positive energy themselves. Therefore, they are the way toward happiness. Life is, of course, not without sorrows and regrets. But if we empty our mind and let sorrows be covered by happiness, we may finally achieve a state of freedom. Such a state of balance constitutes the ultimate pursuit of both Taoism and Zen, and it is also the theme that prevails in my works.
What do you think of the relationship between traditional Chinese ink painting and its modern counterpart? And how do you strike a balance between them in your paintings?
Modern Chinese ink painting is not the antithesis of traditional one but its heritage. Their relationship resembles that between reality and history. Here traditional Chinese ink painting is referred in its narrow sense, namely the classics passed down throughout history, instead of works touted by the fine arts authorities which are more “synchronic” than “traditional” compared to modern works. Traditional Chinese ink painting is a huge and complex knowledge system constructed by Chinese painters of all dynasties, one that always has as its core the cultural roots and that never loses track of changes of times. Modern Chinese ink painting, on the other hand, is one of the fruits of the collision between western culture and Chinese culture in the 20th century. It’s part of a bigger picture. It aims to build a language system different from the past, a movement that showcases deep cultural reflection and pursuit of initiative. Modern Chinese ink painting is yet to accomplish this goal, which gives it infinite possibilities and open space to explore. Of course it still needs to be based on the change of times and use its traditional counterpart as reference.
My works focus more on the power and meaning of painting itself. Chinese ink is like a “conductive” medium, through which the paintings gain cultural identity, the signifiers, the signified and the language of modern Chinese ink. This begs the question: does acquiring cultural identity means the finish of a piece of artwork? The answer is negative, because apart from cultural identity, a piece of artwork still needs to find its inner identity in current context and to establish its value based on the thinking and behaviors of contemporary people. Traditional Chinese ink painting and western art serve as the background for modern Chinese ink painting, providing techniques, perspectives, ideas and coordinates for reference. In my opinion, how to strike a balance between the three art forms is a question to which the answer lies in one’s inner gift, and we should maintain a modest and tolerate attitude toward history and knowledge while deepening self-recognition.
CHINESE / Lydia Duanmu
在北京的55号院艺术空间， 见到了孙老师的作品，画面干净，又复杂，平面，又立体，整齐，又自由，厚重，又清透。 我看到了水墨与金箔之间的舞蹈，那些不规矩的淡粉，翠绿的小圆点在直直的线条下对自己定位的选择，小时候在动画片里的小炼金壶被淡淡的刷了一笔，然后任性的漂在空中。那些舞动的彩色水墨块最后被角落里一片金铂而明确了存在的意义。孙老师的作品里符号太丰富了，这种表达方式既熟悉又陌生，有的时候某种符号能唤醒一种遥远的记忆，有的时候这种符号能带给你对当下的一种认知，这些画面放在合适的场景中，就可以与周围的能量产生链接，它没有多么凝重的特定主题，但却诠释着生活，各种横向纵向的时间切片，我想孙老师必然是一位尊重和热爱生活的人，大道至简。我决定电话采访他.