As A Free Will
by Yang Xinxin
W. J. T.米切尔指出：
布面油画 Oil on Canvas
布面油画 Oil on Canvas 88cm×119cm
The Wakhan Corridor
布面油画 Oil on Canvas 97cm×145cm
One of the wild figure
水墨 Chinese Ink
纸本油画 Oil on Paper 40cm×71cm
The Autumn of Kanas
布面油画 Oil on Canvas 90cm×412cm
布面油画 Oil on Canvas 92cm×420cm
布面油画 Oil on Canvas 95cm×128cm
Death and Reborn
布面油画 Oil on Canvas 150cm×200cm
The Ancient Visitors
布面油画 Oil on Canvas 95cm×127cm
布面油画 Oil on Canvas 150cm×200cm
布面油画 Oil on Canvas 150cm×200cm
Getting Started from the Artist
It will be difficult to say that when Zhang Zikang shows up as an artist, he can completely bid farewell to the glories he has obtained from his previous achievements in other fields. But it has to be said that he has made a great effort for this. As the British scholar E. H. Gombrich has unequivocally pointed out in his "The Story of Art", "There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists- men and women, that is , who are favoured with the wonderful gift of balancing shapes and colors till they are 'right'，and rarer still, who posses that integrity of character which never rests content with half-solutions but is ready to forgo all easy effects, all superficial success for the toil and agony of sincere work. Artist, we trust, will always be born."①Zhang Zikang happens to be a person who is willing to forgo all easy effects and all superficial success, and bear the toil and agony of practicing and artistic creation over and over again. The only difference is that painting is never merely a work for him; instead, it is an important approach for him to enjoy the pleasures of life.
When stressing the natural endowments, the write does not mean to find a reasonable excuse for Mr. Zhang's intention of career transformation through a mystifying or flattery way. In fact, it can be easily discovered through his growth experience, painting initiation, education background, working experience, and especially from his works that he possesses an inherent idiosyncrasy. As Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, the writer of "The Philosophy of Art", has said that, "Artists need an indispensable talent which cannot be redeemed with extreme efforts or great patience, or the person can only become a copier or a craftsman. That means artists must have a special sense when facing with the world: the characteristics of things will stimulate him to emerge a strong and special impression. In other words, a talented person's feelings, at least one kind of feelings, should be rapid and exquisite. With such clear and reliable feelings, he is able to zeand grasp all sorts of subtle gradations and relationships. " ② His acute and unique observation competence had led to his unparalleled personal expression. Da Vinci has made the following comment on the meaning of observation on paintings, "To take the lead, you will have to be able to almightily reproduce all forms emerged in the natural world. If you don't observe them and take them to your heart, you will not be able to reproduce them." ③
Since his childhood, Zhang Zikang's interest in painting had already emerged. His curiosity, yearning and imitation started his career of painting. From receiving the instructions from Professor Feng Zhen and many masters who are of vital importance in the history of modern Chinese painting to being admitted by Heibei Normal University to receive professional trainings, with several decades of practicing, he has already made considerable accumulation in the field of traditional Chinese painting. It is commendable that he has always kept the ability and passion for innovation. The experience of receiving systematically academic training, the large amount of observation and thought in the work and the essence he has absorbed from the thought of artists…All of these have created Zhang Zikang's concept and method of artistic creation. As Shi Tao has expressed, "The reason why I am who I am is my unique existence…And I will create works with my own method", and that, "A person who has reached the extremes does not have a specific method. Not having a specific method does not mean I don't have a method, instead, not to follow specific method is the extreme level of all methods." Rooted in the tradition but not limited by the tradition, and being able to "follow his own inclinations without transgressing the bounds of correctness" is the result of Zhang Zikang's insistence of artistic creation and his adherence of himself. Mr. Wang Dongsheng's comment on Zhang Zikang's artistic creation of Chinese paintings is very convincing, "In his artistic creation, Zikang does not have the intention to create in the stylized neat expression, nor does he has the intention to seek unconventional and strange ways of expression. Instead, he advocates artistic creations that come along naturally with the mood of creation. Whenever he is in the mood, he will start painting… Paintings are like the appearances and tempers of human beings; therefore, they should have their own styles and characteristics. And most importantly, the 'sense of vitality' should be kept in paintings… Zikang's paintings have unique and vivid structures, and whatever he paints, the paintings will never be conservative and trite. His paintings are always vivid and bright."
After nearly 30 years of artistic creation of Chinese painting, Zhang Zikang could no longer restrain his passion of artistic creation of oil painting. He started his attempts of oil painting in large batch in 2012. In these 4 years, he has created a large amount of oil paintings with Xinjiang as the major theme. No matter the Chinese paintings or the oil paintings, Zhang Zikang's artistic creations have always sustained the vitality. His keen and sharp observation and his unique and novel perspective can be clearly noted from his works. The sense of "vitality" that can be felt all the time in his works makes his works vivid and lively. "With such clear and reliable feelings, he is able to recognize and grasp all sorts of subtle gradations and relationships."What stimulated his passion was not only the magnificence of Xinjiang, but also the corners people always ignored or the opposites of subjects. He can always create outstanding works based on some subtle details, and his rich and colorful personal experience has add more thoughts and insights of life philosophy into his works. The work "Waterline" demonstrates a stretch of silent water and mixed and disorderly grass in the oasis of the desert. The artist has captured the scenery by the edge of the desert which forms a line between life and death. This line has separated both the desire to seize the opportunity to survive and the helpless when facing the unchangeable fate of death. The line divides the whole painting into two parts. The grass grows and withers silently in the water. Although they have lives, they have already entered the sunset of their lives. Compared with the luxuriant vegetation in spring and summer, the artist himself prefers the withered grass and the bleak view in autumn, as the vicissitudes change of grass enables him to catch to the complete cycle of life. The work also inadvertently impresses and guides the audiences to discover the huge energy contained in these subtle and tiny lives. The inherent sensitivity of images and the meticulous observation of the artist have provided him with endless inspirations and materials for his artistic creation. The great nature has become the gift he appreciated the most in his artistic life.
Empathizing to the Sublime Landscape
In 2012, Zhang Zikang was relieved of his position at Today Art Museum and went on secondment at the Department of Culture of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. This had no doubt start a new chapter of his life. On the one hand, he finally had the spare time to consider his own interest of life other than his work as a social worker. Art, or to be specific at the current stage, painting was the thing he wanted to do the most. Particularly remarkable were the powerful visual shock and emotional shock this magical land of Xinjiang had brought him, enabling him to absorb energy from the nature and granting his the passion and desire to express. Therefore, he has created a large amount of works related to the theme of Xinjiang. He repeatedly practice-establish himself-modify himself-overturn himself-start all over again. In this way, he keeps leasing the inspiration and passion Xinjiang has brought to him through paintings.
From the bleak and desolate Gobi Desert to the flowery and bloomy Kanas, from the untraversed desert to the dense grassland, from the fast changing Devil City to the depopulated zone with flying sand and rolling pebbles, from the snowy top of Tianshan Mountain to the dry and hot Turpan... The richness and variation of Xinjiang are breathtaking. Being exposed to such scenery, no one can resist this vast space while not lose themselves. Anyone will undergo a silent purification and clarification."My thought was completely filled up with its scenery, leaving no more space to bear other things or to conduct any rational thinking. The great power of the sublime landscape is thus produced. It is by no means created by rational reasoning. It has foreseen and exceeded the rational reasoning, and has driven us to move forward with an irresistible force". Aesthetician Edmund Burke has listed the elements of sublime origin, including strength, obscurity, scarcity, greatness, infinite, difficulty and magnificent. All of the words have suggested those experiences that force us to lose control.④
At that time, we stood on the top of the mountain, staring at the layer upon layer of peaks and knolls. Watching the stream racing by, all the magnificence was unfolded in front of my eye. At this moment, what was the feeling that had grasped you? That was a silent concentration inside your body.⑤
This is the irreplaceable life experience that the sublime landscape has brought. There must be a certain moment when the artist is willing to lose his rational thinking and his ego, and to be completely controlled by the sensuous instinct. And the peak experience in such a moment is exactly the original and the ultimate pursuit of artistic creation. The process of artistic creation is the competition between sense and sensibility. Then, what on earth does the landscape mean? What does the artist want to express through the landscape?
W. J. T. Mitchell has pointed out:
Landscape is not a kind of art, but a form of media.
Landscape is a medium of exchange between human beings and the nature, and between oneself and others…
Landscape is a natural scene with the cultural mediation. It is both the spaced to be represented and the space for the representation. It is both the symbol and the symbolized. It is both the framework and what is contained in the framework. It is both a real site and an illusion. It is both a package and the item in the package. ⑥
The unique landscape in Xinjiang has provided the artist with sufficient energy and space and has become the importance starting point for Zhang Zikang's artistic creation of oil paintings. His process of artistic creation is an important embodiment of empathy. What he wants to express are the emotion from the bottom of his heart and his reflection of the nature and life. Giovanni Battista Vico has considered empathy as a basic element for imaginal thinking and suggests that, "The noblest labor of heart is to endow feeling and lust to things which essentially don't have feelings." When analyzing sublime, Kant calls empathy as "subreption": the sense of sublime for the nature is the esteem we have for our own missions. Through the method of subreption, we transfer such esteem to natural things (the esteem for the humanistic idea of the subject is replaced by the esteem for the object). ⑦Friedrich Theodor Vischer, an important Hegelian aesthetician has divided thoughts into two kinds, iconic thinking and abstract thinking, which adopt words and concepts or shapes respectively. He also defines two ways of interpreting the universe, with letters and images. He further refers to empathy as the " symbolic function of aesthetics " and says that such function is the "humanization of object ". Basch follows the steps of the Vischers and defines aesthetic sympathy as "pouring lives into lifeless things, personalizing them and making them alive. This is the sympathy for them because sympathy is getting rid of oneself and hand oneself over to others or other things." From "The Ancient Visitors", "Devil City ", "The Autumn of Kanas"，to "The First Snow of Nalati", "The Wakhan Corridor"， and to "Populus Euphratica Forest"… The artist has handed himself over to the nature completely, thought about the world with the abstract thinking and interpreted the universe with images. In the dialogues with the artists, the writer had frequently been impressed by the artist's unique perspective and rich imagination, and his courage for exploration and experiment. He has not only brought his emotions into the scenes and objects, but also been sympathetic to the lifeless things. He has been thinking about the ultimate meaning of life, and has conducted meaningful exploration formally.
Painting is an intellectual activity, because perception, such as imagination, is an intellectual activity; however, both painting and perception are based on existence and are the creation and re-creation of visual forms .⑧In his pioneering research "Art and Illusion" (1960) E. H. Gombrich suggests that the landscape artists express should be called the landscape they construct. "Innocent and unsophisticated eyes are just legends." He argues that, "Allthoughts are conducting categorizing and selecting. All perceptions are related to expectation, and are thus related to comparison." In other words, the artistic value of landscape is not inherent — it is not a part of its "essence", but is "constructed" by the observer.
The creation and re-creation of visual forms are what Zhang Zikang is the most willing and best at doing. The continuous experiments and exploration have enabled him to find the true meaning and life and the actual value of art. How to transfer the "bamboo in the eyes" to the "bamboo in the heart" and eventually make it the "bamboo in the hands" is what differentiates artists from ordinary people and the distinction between artists. The face-to-face confrontation between the artist and the canvas is actually the heartily release of his strong desire and demand for painting, rather than just drawing things down. What is the purpose of such paintings? It is the painting itself.⑨
However, the depiction of the great nature was just the beginning of Zhang Zikang's artistic creation in oil painting. Since the latter half of 2015, his works have transferred from the creation on landscapes to the expression of concepts and ideologies. "Temporary Storage" and"Desire·2016-2-21" are representative works for this stage, in which, the space and construction existed in the concepts have exceeded the reality in the nature.
Exploration, or Exploration?
Hagel used to say that "The meaning of art for a person is that it makes him look for himself among objects." What does art mean to Zhang Zikang? The answer he provided was—keep experimenting and exploring to challenge and exceed himself. As Weitz has pointed out that art is a potentially open concept, enabling people to expect the "extremely outstretched and adventurous nature" of art and absorb the "endless changes and the brand new creations".
Exceeding oneself is a very interesting thing to do or what else could have made Zhang Zikang so delighted and never get tired of it? In addition to painting, he has tried or is going to try all possibilities in the field of art. Photography, copperplate etching, installation and video…After having got along with contemporary art in all sort of forms for over a decade, he finally become an artist who keeps up with the time and never imprisons himself.
He treasures every opportunity in which he can devote himself to painting without being interrupted by the outside world. Every spare time is a valuable chance for his artistic creation. He tries to grasp every possible chance to get concentrated to become a natural "artist"—his passion for art, the unconscious confidence and his painting based on the desire for painting are the core motive power that shapes a person into an artist. Goodmans Aporinel was the first to describe Matisse with the word "great"—"Henri Matisse originally had a rich individuality and he was able to create and develop art independently. However, he continues to compare his art with the artistic concepts of others and he never conceals his artistic thoughts from similar plastic artists. His art is therefore 'great', exceptional and distinctive." 80 years later, Marcelin Pleynet responded that this greatness of Matisse was in conformity with his artistic ambitions. He also pointed out that Matisse's life was closely related to his works, and his life was also the life of his art works .⑩It will inevitably lead to controversy to describe an artist with "great", but for the writer, if someone considers art as his life and is willing to treat his life and his art works equally, then, at least, it has been demonstrated that he has stepped on the way to become an artist. And this way to become an artist is undoubtedly tough but irresistible.
At last, I would like to conclude the article with the sentence that lingered in my mind when I was watching the works of the artist—Art is not only a necessary fact; art is life and the most complete expression of an artist's free will.
①E.H.Gombrich, "The Story of Art ", Phaidon Press Inc，1995,6th Edition, P596.
②Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, translated by Fu Lei, "The Philosophy of Art", Jiangsu Literature and Art Publishing House, 2012, 2nd Edition, P33
③Da Vinci, "La peinture", Preface composed by Andre Chastel, Hermann,1964, 1st, Edition, P43.
④Malcolm Andrews, translated by Zhang Xiang, "Landscape and Western Art ", Shanghai People's Publishing House,2014,1st Edition, P163-165.
⑤Karl Gustav Carus, " Nine Letters on Landscape Painting", quoted and trans.in J. L. Koerner, "Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape Painting ", (London:Reaktion Books,1990), P194.
⑥W. J. T. Mitchell, "Landscape and Power ", University of Chicago Press, 1994, 1st Edition, P5.
⑦Paul Guyer, translated by Paul Guyer, Eric Matthews, "IMMANUEL KANT ", Cambridge University Press, 2002, 1st Edition, P141.
⑧Henri Focillon, translated by CHEN Ping, "Vie des Forms", Peking University Press, 2011, 1st Edition, P29.
⑨Chalumeau Jean-Luc, translated by Lin Xiaoxiao and Lv Qiwen, "Histoire Critique de L’art Contemporain", Culture and Art Publishing House, 2005, 1st Edition, P6.
⑩Chalumeau Jean-Luc, translated by Lin Xiaoxiao and Lv Qiwen, "Histoire Critique de L’art Contemporain" Culture and Art Publishing House, 2005, 1st Edition, P7-8.
Xiaofeng Wang, All rights reserved.