Lydia Duanmu

Would you please brief us on the novel The Plum in the Golden Vase? What’s its significance and status in the history of Chinese literature?

Wang Yifeng

In the history of Chinese literature, The Plum in the Golden Vase is mentioned in the same breath with Dream of the Red Chamber. And in some sense, the former has an even more special historical significance. Dream of the Red Chamber presents the nobility’s view and vision of life, while The Plum in the Golden Vase deals with the life philosophy of the man and woman in the street. This makes them seem to be at opposite ends of the continuum. Nevertheless, they depict and dissect human nature with similar profundity. Though having a history of 400 years, The Plum in the Golden Vase has not been adapted for comic strips as most of other major Chinese literary works. For centuries, the book had been officially banned as a hard-core pornography. When the idea of presenting the full story in the form of comic strips hit upon me, the General Administration of Press and Publication singled me out, warning that such a picture book would be banned from publication. So I gave it up.

The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Jin Ping Mei in Chinese, takes its name from the three central female characters — Pan Jinlian (literally “golden lotus”), Li Ping’er (literally “little vase”), and Pang Chunmei (literally “spring plum blossoms”). The story unfolds chronologically like a diary, presenting a picture of Chinese patriarchal society at that time, to which each of the female characters fall victim. However, it also shows their personality and expectations as well as their struggle and resistance against the social system.

Lydia Duanmu

What prompted you to create illustrations for The Plum in the Golden Vase, since many other artists have done so and among their works an exquisite one dating back to the Qing Dynasty is now in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art?

Wang Yifeng

I am a professional painter, and my creations deal with moments and little things in life based on my personal observation. I like painting street mutton peddlers, a bowl of steaming hot noodles, and people sitting in the shade… With an observant eye for life, I present in a new fashion the moments of life, including daily joy and sexual pleasure. Although the original story is critical of the old society, my illustrations are a vivid picture of the people from all walks of life, conveying a message of freedom that is true to human nature.

Lydia Duanmu

Have you used your own art language in the illustrations?

Wang Yifeng

The Plum in the Golden Vase features a bold and unvarnished description of sexuality. It is of great anti-establishment and sarcasm at that time, with strong dramatic effects, hence its uniqueness in the history of Chinese literature.

The focus of my illustrations is to express the tenderness of romantic love. I spent over a decade trying to tell the story with my language, working on the characters’ images, facial expressions, dressing styles and colors as well as the architectural styles, etc. I think I’m just like a director adapting an epic for a modern stage. And this is a thrilling and enjoyable experience — a process of self-expression with my own artist style. The creation of the illustrations allowed me to round out the system of my own art language.

Lydia Duanmu

What do you think of people’s understanding of love in the context of Chinese culture?

Wang Yifeng

I have never been abroad. I know little about foreign cultures, nor am I a fastidious researcher in Chinese culture. Why are Chinese people liable to make concessions and settle for what they already get? Chinese culture is a culture of contradictions, or rather, the balance between them, which constitutes the theme of my “steelyard balance” series. When we try to judge our modern life by the moral standards left by our ancestors, we feel like walking on a steelyard balance, tired and precarious.

Chinese culture is full of opposites. It is said that home is not for reason, but for love. Due to this tradition, kindness is often distorted, turning love into slavery. It takes much self-sacrifice to meet what is conventionally expected in the name of love. In a Chinese family, excessive love has become a fertile ground for indulgence: the spoiling of children at the expense of filial duty, unconditional concessions for marriage, forced acceptance in the name of friendship, and undignified compliance with a system… Anyone capable of reason would be stressed out in such circumstances. Love comes together with life. Love can be capricious in nature, but not in manners — there must be a limit to the so-called “tolerance.” And my works encourage people to pursue true love, truth, and freedom.

Lydia Duanmu

What do you think is freedom?

Wang Yifeng

It is human nature to pursue freedom and truth. The success of a person is measured by how much life is in his or her control. Greater control means greater freedom.

Lydia Duanmu

This is now a new era of contemporary ink painting. Do you think we can have ink painting masters?

Wang Yifeng

What makes a master? A master is often born out of a time of great changes. Without such condition, it’d be unlikely.

Lydia Duanmu

I don’t think you use colors in a pretty much Eastern way, especially for the “steelyard balance” series. How would you describe your works?

Wang Yifeng

I tend to be a non-conformist, but sometimes I also prefer pureness and simplicity in the vein of ancient artists. Reflective of daily life, these paintings are old-school enough, but quite elegant and spiritually nourishing. My latest works are also inspired from daily life. On a trip to a remote small village in Xi’an, I met a pig-raising couple. They watched us photographing with curiosity and envy. And their looks became suspicious and disturbed when I offered to take a photo of them, then enormously grateful when I handed them the photo… Their looks moved me so much that after I came back I created a work and wrote the story down in the caption.

Lydia Duanmu

What’s your conviction?

Wang Yifeng

I only believe in hard work. I think a religious conviction is to cure mental diseases, while my conviction is secular. By working hard, I earn bread and butter for myself and my family. This is my conviction.

Lydia Duanmu

There seems to be nothing profound in your conviction. (Both laughing)

Wang Yifeng

I think it is notoriously difficult to be a profound thinker. However, even though you are one, you can easily get bogged down in the depths of thinking. Many of those who live for profundity never manage to resurface throughout their life. Why bother? Life is nothing but three damn things. The first is survival, for which you have to work hard. The second is emotions, the trickiest issue, for it decides how wonderful your life can be. And the third is death, which is decided not by yourself, but by God. What is left to do is to enjoy, and to earn a living by working hard. We should believe as much in science as in karma. It is impossible to triumph over destiny. All things are balanced.

Lydia Duanmu

Ah, now you come back to your golden mean.

Wang Yifeng

Absolutely. It is also about balance. As I told you earlier, Chinese culture is a culture of contradictions. And I’m 100% Chinese — every cell of mine carries this cultural gene.

 

Chinese / Lydia Duanmu

汪益丰的采访

Lydia Duanmu

请介绍一下金瓶梅的这部巨作?它在中国文学史上的历史意义和文学位置是什么?

汪意丰

在中国文学史上,金瓶梅与红楼梦等著作是齐名的。在某种程度上来说,它可能更有独特的历史意义。红楼梦描写的是皇宫国戚的一种生活愿望和愿景,金瓶梅描写的市井人物生存的现实理论,在对人性进行的深刻描写的同时,他们又对立,又有一种相似的高度。金瓶梅的作品诞生了四百多年,在中国大大小小的文学作品里,它们都有完整的连环画,只有金瓶梅至今还没有。由于在作品中有大量对性爱场面的描述,所以一直被历代朝廷政府封为禁书。我最初想画一组完整金瓶梅的连环画时,国家出版总署点到我的名字,不予出版,所以我就放弃了这个想法。

作者以潘金莲,李瓶儿,庞春梅三个女性的名字作为作品的名字,《金瓶梅》像日记一样,它的故事是逐年逐月展开的。这本著作呈现了中国封建社会明朝时期,男尊女卑社会的缩影,里面的女性人物都是这个制度下的受害者。但是她们同样有性格和愿望,有她们在这种制度下的挣扎和反抗。

Lydia Duanmu

金瓶梅的著作被很多艺术家画过插图,现在非常精美的一套清朝版的插图被美国纳尔逊-艾金斯博物馆收藏,面对很多艺术家做过的事情,您怎么又一次想到了重新画金瓶梅的插图呢?

汪意丰

我是一名职业画家,我的画基本都是以观察生活和表达生活的点滴以及瞬间为主,我喜欢画大街的卖羊肉的,一碗热腾腾的面,树荫下乘凉的人们。。。。带着这样的一种观察生活的态度,重新把一幅巨作里古人的生活瞬间和情趣,性趣再次铺展,虽然故事的本身实际是在抨击一种封建制度,但是在我的画面里更多的传达了一种鲜活着的人生百态,自由和真实的人类共性。

Lydia Duanmu

在这组插画中,你有没有运用自己的艺术语言?

汪意丰

金瓶梅对性的描写是公开的,开放的,在当时的封建制度下,这是一种极大的对抗,极具讽刺性。有很强的戏剧效果,这也使她具有了在中国文学史上的独特性和不可复制性。

但是我在画这组图的时候,我更多的表现的是男欢女爱的柔美,在对金瓶梅的创作上,我用了十几年的时间一直在不断的尝试用我的语言去展示这个故事,包括对服装款式及色彩的研究,人物造型及表情的建立,建筑风格的设计,等等,我觉得自己像一位导演,把一部史诗生动鲜活的搬到当代的舞台上,这个过程很让人兴奋和愉悦,一位艺术家的艺术风格实际是一个完整自我的体系,金瓶梅的创作也是建立了另外一种表达自我艺术语言的一个完整体系。

谈谈您对中国文化背景下人们对爱的理解。

汪意丰

我没去过国外,我不了解外国文化,但是对中国文化我也不完全追求,为什么中国人喜欢将就凑合,中国文化有很多是矛盾的,也是一种杆的文化,这也是我的系列“杆”的作品要表达的声音。大家面对祖先留下来的一种道德尺度去衡量我们现在的生活时,是一种走在杆上的感觉,走的比较累,但又怕掉下来。。。

中国文化里面有很多的矛盾体,人们常常说,家是讲爱的地方不是讲理的地方,由于这个不幸的传统,很多善良用错了,爱变成了一种绑架。 很多人的牺牲才能迎合一种符合传统道义的爱,在中国家庭里,溺爱变成了纵容的来源。对孩子的溺爱,对老人的逆孝,对婚姻的无原则的牺牲自我,对朋友好面子的接受,对一种体系无尊严的遵守。。。。多么理智的人,到了这种环境下,都有很大压力。有生命就有爱,爱的本质可以任性,但是方式不能任性,也就是常人说的包容,这是没有原则。而我的作品就是鼓励人们去追求真爱,真理和自由。

Lydia Duanmu

您觉得什么是自由?

汪意丰

人的本性本质就是寻找自由和真实的,您看一个人活的成不成功,就看他的生命里对自由的掌握有多大,对自己生命方向掌握越大的人就越自由。

Lydia Duanmu

现在是当代水墨的年代,您觉得这个年代可以产生水墨巨匠吗?

汪意丰

Lydia Duanmu

巨匠怎么产生的,时代巨变时容易出巨匠,如果时代沉淀不够,也很难出现巨匠。

Lydia Duanmu

我觉得您的颜色不是很东方,尤其是’杆’的系列,您怎么定义自己的作品呢?

汪意丰

我是一个喜欢破规矩的人,我有时又喜欢画纯粹,我也追寻古人文人画的脉搏,这些画比较生活,虽然比较老派了但是很雅很养人。我最近的作品也叫生活画,所有的灵感来自生活里的小故事。有一次我去了西安农村,那是一个很偏僻的小村庄,一对养猪的夫妇,她们看着我用相机拍照时,眼睛里充满了好奇和羡慕,当我说给他们找照一张相片时,他们的眼神变成了怀疑和忐忑,我后来把照好的照片送到他们的手上时,眼神又变成了感激,无限的感激。。。这组眼神深深的打动了我,回来后我就画了一幅作品,旁边写上了这个故事。

Lydia Duanmu

您的信仰是什么?

汪意丰

我本身只信仰劳动,我认为宗教是治愈精神疾病的场所,我的信仰都在你的生活背后。我劳动,我通过劳动养活自己。赚钱也养活他人。这就是我的信仰。

Lydia Duanmu

您的生活态度看上去很不深刻啊。(两个人大笑)

汪意丰

我觉得一个人想的深刻很难,但是一个人想的深刻,想潜出来更难。很多人太关注自己有没有深度了,死之前也没潜出来,多累啊。人生就几个破事,生存,只要你好好劳动。二,情感,也是最难的问题,会影响到你的生命质量。第三,就是生死问题,这不是你的决定,是老天爷决定的。剩下的就好好快乐吧,通过劳动来生活,相信因果,还有科学,你拧不过天,也就是命运,最后所有的发生都是平衡的。

Lydia Duanmu

哈,您又回到了中庸之道了。

汪意丰

对对对,也是平衡之道,已经告诉你了,中国文化就是矛盾文化,证明我是纯中国人。