我们如何判断一个艺术家的创作已经达到成熟?艺术的成熟意味着什么?是强有力的笔触?还是完美的表现方式?是艺术家对主题能展开深入的探讨?还是形成了一种标志性的风格?是观念上的连贯?还是美学的特质?是物理性的重复?还是工作手法的一致?是得到一篇积极的评论?还是在美术馆展出并得到市场的认可?或者被载入艺术史?这些对于艺术评论家来说都是很难回答的问题。艺术的本质总是被介定、却又遭到质疑、而后又被重新讨论,周而复始。但一旦我们发现它的时候,我们总是能体会到,不一定要经过理论的论证。能够见证和发现一个艺术家的创作达到成熟是一件非常令人兴奋的事情。

这不是一个可靠的赌注,而是一个冒险的专业判断。有太多的东西能够左右我们的判断和决定,这包括了历史观、我们的专业水平、我们的情绪等等。这样讲并不是要赋予评论家过多的重要性,只是提醒我们这个工作承担着不可轻视的责任。在这项工作当中,我们不是去证实一件作品的价值,而是将我们自身的学识和实践投入于具体的语境当中,更重要的是,把作品放置在语境之中来讨论,这个语境要比艺术家的工作室或展览空间的物理界限更宽广、复杂。和批评家一样,艺术家的工作是在与各种各样的事物发生活跃的互动和关联之中展开的,这些因素包括了他的成长经历、所受的教育、专业训练、兴趣、性情、工作方法、和世界观等。上个世纪八十年代,德国哲学家汉斯贝尔廷和美国艺术批评家亚瑟丹托围绕艺术的终结或艺术史的终结提出讨论,这种令人震撼的哲学思考使艺术家无法再仅仅依赖已有的艺术史的固有价值体系来确立成就。这种观点把艺术放置于一种处在一直不停变化发展和开放的状态之中来检验而不是局限在现代主义思潮中单一艺术史的线性逻辑之中。艺术在美学、风格、内容和观念上的特点具有地域性和时间性,而不是本质的,或永恒的。

李大方是一位属于工作室的艺术家,在那里他日复一日,每时每刻地画;毫不夸张地说,他是一个自律和坚定的人。他养成了每日作画的习惯,并且总是饶有兴致地坚持着。这种在工作室中长时间的工作和高度的专注是卓有成效的,这和近期的一些艺术创作潮流形成了鲜明的对比。在过去的几年中,中国当代艺术拥有一个火热的市场,这种状态影响了一种创作的趋势,那就是艺术家展开构思,但作品的实施实际上是通过雇佣助手来帮助完成的。

李大方的绘画是完全手工的、需要持续地工作的、耗费大量时间的并且与创作的过程密切相关。还有很重要的一点是他沉着冷静的工作姿态形成了一种高度个人化的视觉语言,根本无法被复制。他在画布上仔细地刻画着每一笔、每一条线和每一个点,它们的集合产生准确细致的图案,譬如一棵树、树林、灌木丛和它们周围的环境。有时候,他的笔触如此密集,形成一种模糊的感觉。他的画笔恣意地变化,布满了画布的每一个角落,几乎没有留下空白之处,这使他的画产生了一种独特的吸引力。我们几乎可以说,李大方的画面布满了绘画的痕迹。

李大方的作品具有明显的地域性,和他家乡的地理面貌紧密相联。他出生成长在中国东北的辽宁省,那里纬度高,冬季漫长寒冷,造就了那一地区粗犷灰白的地貌风景。他第一次在北京生活是从1993年到1997年,第二次是2003年。从那以后,北京就成了他的家。李大方的作品呼吸着北方干燥的沙土和寒冷的气候,吸收着这个地区特有的地理、社会和文化气息。他的写实风景和景象充满了北方的气息:凌乱的灌木丛和树林、城市的景观、道路、田野和开阔的土地、泥土深厚的颜色、方正坚实的楼房和工厂的废弃物。在作品《小尖顶》中,一幅油画被放在一个有三层台阶的绿色楼梯上,画面中两棵高大茂盛的松柏紧紧地矗立在一起,几乎融合成一体,形成对称的形状。在它们后面,一片长满茂盛野草的土地向远方蔓延,在远方隐约可以看到一些模糊的树形。在画面前方显著的位置上,有一个身着蓝色衣服的人背上背着一只小船,站在一堆蓝水桶之中。这是一个模糊离奇的景象,但这一切看起来却也熟悉。李大方作品里的这些地点和景象,有一种远离现代化都市的感觉,但是对于经常光顾那些在城乡接壤处被人们遗忘的角落的人来说,或是对那些见证了城市化变革和经济发展的短暂时刻的人来说又是那么的熟悉。这些不被重视的角落在李大方作品中所建立起来的介于现实和虚幻之间的空间找到一处安全的居所。

1949年中华人民共和国成立之后,从50年代起,中央政府把李大方的家乡辽宁省设定为一个主要的重工业基地,生产钢铁、机械设备、火车机车和飞机。但20世纪70年代末以后,这里也开始面临国家向市场经济转变的格局,结局是该地区的大部分大型国有企业走向破产。最后,很多工厂和车间被废弃,里面堆砌着饱含悲哀和沉默气氛、破旧荒废的机器设备──这个场景对于一个出生在1971年的画家并不陌生,也是在其后来的作品中持续出现的创作主题。事实上,他的一些作品中带有一种明显的工业化意味。作品《卡子》被框在一个三层的绿色木框中,这延伸了画布的景深,画面中废弃空墟的苏式厂房的场景也被赋予了一种纪念碑式的严肃性。干燥枯黄的野草布满了工厂的院子,院子里有一个人,个子不高,弯着腰,背对着画面以外的观众。除此之外,整个场景非常的平静和沉寂。在三联画《白小光》中,一个办公楼院落门外的两根水泥柱和上面部分字体已经脱落的公司招牌明确地宣告公司的倒闭。一个巨大的水泥建筑似乎从天而降,突兀地着陆在院子内门口的路上,而门外的几个人围绕着一根管道的口站立着,似乎全然不知周围发生的这一切。

李大方对于他所选择的绘画内容和风格从没动摇过。他并不会因为在创作中总是回到同一类型的视觉和物理环境而产生歉意,这些视觉元素实际上构成了他喜欢反复描绘的主题和主体。比如,森林已经变成了艺术家标志性的视觉语言之一,这些树林为画面上其他内容的展开提供了一个舞台和框架。艺术家也会漫无目的地开车到北京的周边去,主要是去郊区的荒地、废弃的工厂区、房屋拆除的建筑工地和路边的施工现场等等,这些地方在经历了戏剧性的事件或巨大的动荡之后又回复到平静真实的存在状态。房屋被拆除,工厂被关闭,道路被废弃。我们无法想象曾经发生在这些地方的事情有多么严重。然而,有的工厂里杂乱地堆放着一些丢弃的机器,居然离奇地让人感受到形式上的戏剧性和吸引力。他对这些地方进行拍照并试图收集起儿时的回忆,这些印象都以各种方式进入到他的创作内容之中,在他的作品中留下了痕迹。李大方为巴塞尔艺术博览会艺术无极限2009创作的项目《张洪波》的题目就来自于他儿时一位老师的名字。李大方先用浅亮绿色将该项目的空间的墙面涂上墙围,还创作了一幅巨大的油画作品,这幅作品描述了一片刚刚耕耘过,还留有拖拉机轮子痕迹的、开阔的田园景象。作品被放置在空间中央靠墙的一个由数千张有墨水和铅笔图画的素描纸搭起的长方形底座上。如同在他的其他作品中一样,一个无名的人物出现在他的作品之中,只是这一次是一个真人尺寸的人物雕塑,出现在这个老式教室的空间中。除了题目,作品当中没有任何与这个真实人物张洪波相关的其他内容。这个现场装置中一切事物的模糊性延续了他绘画中所展现的荒诞性。

李大方在作品的表现形式上也并不总是一成不变的。他的作品来自于并依赖于现实,以及他对现实的体验和准确的感知。尽管他的很多作品遵循着现实主义的手法,并且所表现的东西很令人信服,艺术家始终如一地调动一些视觉的元素,来展现他对真实性和故事情节的连贯和逻辑性的有意漠视:离奇的道具、画面中突兀的明亮颜色、不存在的生物、不准确的比例,这些给他作品的表面带来一种模糊的忧郁感和在时间和空间上夸大的分离感。它们展现出荒诞的现实,画家在画布上重新编撰故事的情节以及现实的不断再现直至它们的意义和感情的具体指向得到锐减。

从一开始起,李大方就有一个野心勃勃的设想,他希望用他的画笔来开辟一个戏剧和讲述故事的空间,让平坦的画布等同于一个舞台。他向我讲述过他儿时在戏剧和文学方面得到的熏陶和热爱。他描绘人物、场景、设计紧张的关系、为人物编撰对话和语言、给出线索、设计悬念、模仿电影拍摄中长镜头的效果。他是作品里的所有荒诞剧的编剧,并且能牢牢控制住剧情的叙述,不让它们放任自由。但是,艺术家更急于说明他作品里的叙述是不值得信任的。它们其实没有任何意义,我们也不要试图将艺术家在作品中小心翼翼描绘的细节拼凑成一个故事。除了作者,没有人能够明白这些迷团,或者解释这些情节的逻辑性。

尽管我们无法比较二者之间的荒诞程度,但李大方作品里所展现的画面和现实情况之间存在的差异,很难被我们觉察,却适时地存在于画布的空间中。李大方是阿尔弗雷德希区柯克的狂热崇拜者,我们对这点并不感到惊奇,因为希区柯克的力量体现在他可以在故事情节中利用延长时间和缩短空间来制造悬念。希区柯克还善于将日常生活的情境和潜在危险的端倪进行平行地叙述──他甚至在他的电影海报上写道:当心背后有人,以及电影中的主角对于即将临近的危险的无知,都有力地刺激着在我们潜意识里深藏着的恐惧。

但是李大方的作品不仅仅在于调动观众的本能。画家自信地把营造戏剧性的各种可能的因素集中到一起,尽管它们彼此之间可能互不相融。他最近为他的画加上了木制阶梯和梯状物的台子,或者放大和夸张的木框,来支撑绘画,这些附加物很难将其归类或对其进行解释。这是一种希区柯克式的策略。楼梯的形象经常在希区柯克的电影中占有重要的地位或被突出地进行描绘,这种在风格上对楼梯的兴趣要归结于德国表现主义对他的影响,德国表现主义总是突出地表现范式化和危险的楼梯。李大方的绘画装置作品里的梯子是一种风格上的取向,而不是为了某种象征意义的。它们是巨大的、人造的、显眼的,使李大方的画产生出一种严肃庄严的气息。但它们没有任何责任去表现某种意义。正像艺术家所指出的,这是他希望理解和认识什么是绘画、什么是艺术而展开的尝试的途径之一而已。

2007年以后有些带梯子的作品出现,我想解释一下,最开始的时候是想表现架上作品有把玩儿性,作品里的世界是一个独立的世界,周围的环境变了,那个世界也变了,和梯子之类的器物结合后有被欣赏的意味,但这也符合我对艺术的态度。尤其是这两年,我在找对艺术的一个假设,就是具体,合理或不合理的东西勉强组合符合某种特殊的目的,可触摸。再有我对绘画的认识,绘画于我来说是一个词,一个记忆,由它生发的以后的想和做,或某种目的性,某种理由,我都把它们理解成绘画,这种综合有时展示出来是比较荒唐的。1

这些论述打消了任何对李大方的作品过多地进行社会学、哲学和心理学意义阐释的企图。李大方是继20世纪90年代中活跃在人们视野中的以刘小东为代表的写实画家和贾樟柯为代表的电影导演之后出现的一代艺术家。那个时候,艺术界开始集体回归到日常生活当中,因为那时的现实生活本身充满极端的戏剧性和活力。艺术家需要做的仅仅是从这种现实生活中截取片断,在我看来,不加以任何的批评或分析就原本地呈现。而那种通过真实客观地记录和展现一个迅速前进的强大现实的诱惑和需求在今天已变得没有那么迫切,这在李大方等艺术家的作品里可以看出来。对李大方来说,把他的艺术和他个人联系起来的不仅是他画里描述的主题,或者作品与社会的关系,更多的是通过绘画来在体验和思考绘画在个人层面上对他意味着什么:

我假设艺术是被形容成具有某种意义的,小的,具体的,对个人而言有实际用处,对他人而言无用,或用处不大,或无法理解的存在形态。我认为这是艺术应有的位置,它存在着,又不能被期望太高,期望高它就模糊,应该象白菜骗子等有具体的价值。2

李大方强烈地提倡要放弃对艺术应该有某种功能或者作用的期望,这个观念完全体现在他2009年在麦勒画廊的个展拐了!拐了!的副标题:绘画是为了恨某种发光的东西这句话之中。

李大方在展览中展出了他于2009年完成的七件系列作品,这次创作是表达一种态度,而非一个主题。和前几年的作品相比,这些作品在风格和观念上没有激进的转变,而更是一种延续。那细致的作画风格还是李大方所特有的,画面的朦胧性还保留着,树也还是那些树,那些无意识的情节仍使人无比困惑。可能有人会认为李大方近期的一系列作品同前期的作品相比,在绘画技巧上和审美上并没有一个大的飞跃。但李大方恰恰认为,在艺术上,事物发展或进步的普遍逻辑并不适用。

要谈论李大方的绘画,只需要忠实地描述它们,并不需要加以分析和解释,这也与艺术家的原意达成一致。但写到这里,我甚至质疑是否有描述它们的必要。如果只是简单地重复显而易见的事物,对任何人来说都不会有兴趣。除了描述,我无法告诉你他每一幅作品的意义,或者提供一些可能的故事情节来把它们联系起来;并任由每位观众在此基础上产生自己的解释和理解。但我所意识到的是,通过完成这些绘画作品,李大方更加深刻地理解他自身对绘画的期望以及绘画对他而言所具有的具体价值。在艺术史的语境中,对作为一种媒介的绘画的定义和历史观经历了很多转变、颠覆、局限和超越。但是李大方自己对绘画理解的转变也有其特有的过程和经历。在我看来,李大方的绘画是他个人理解绘画和当代艺术的工具和途径一种自我发现。从这个意义上来看,李大方的绘画已经达到了他对其所期待的目的。

当代艺术的瓶颈在于大家的期望太高,创造论进步论颠覆等腔调太高,这种情况也充斥在各个领域,创新才是正路。于是个性时常就变成了懒惰或随便,我想走歪路,赞成退步论,做好难,做坏容易些,不能把艺术抬的太高,也不得不带着它,就该平庸的进行着。3

艺术本身或者艺术的表现形式,已经不再是现代主义的审视对象,而是关于艺术家如何在自己的实践中发现并建立一种与艺术之间的联系。绘画本身作为艺术表现形式,其技术实验和观念创新已经很难再提起任何兴致。今天的艺术家终于可以松一口气,终于可以放弃创新的企图。从艺术历史上看,没有任何一个观念没有被争论过,没有任何一个理论没有被挑战过,每一种东西都被颠覆过了。

我们没有必要把李大方的创作或其他任何一个活跃的艺术家的实践归结到任何一个当代艺术的类别里或列入到已有的艺术史的框架之中。话说回来,我们又如何能对今天的当代艺术进行分类呢?是按照媒介?是按照主题?还是按照观念?这些做法都很难适用于现在多样性的创作。我们已经处在艺术史叙述的终结,穷尽了按照艺术的历史叙述来介定艺术家创作的可能性。李大方的实践和其他世界各地活跃的艺术家们的创作所能提供的是一个个丰富和具体的实例研究。它们不是孤立的个体,但又在个自的世界和语境里独立、具体地存在。随着时间推移,它们会指引艺术家如何努力发展和形成自己的工作方式,加深对他所做的事情的理解。这些创作将对策展和批评实践提出新的问题和挑战,有鉴于此,或许展现并讨论艺术家创作的语境与讨论艺术家的个别作品会显得同等重要。因此,欣赏李大方的每幅作品与理解他绘画观点的复杂性和形成他实践背景的合理性一样的重要。

翻译:唐海龙

1 李大方转发给作者的E-mail邮件,2009年8月20日。 2 同上 3 同上

The Value of Painting as that of Cabbage and Thieves: On Li Dafang

by Carol Yinghua Lu

At which point could we say that the art of an artist has reached
maturity? And what does maturity mean in terms of art? Forceful strokes?
Perfect presentation? In-depth exploration of subject matter? A
signature stylistic quality? Conceptual consistency? Aesthetic identity?
Material recurrence? A consistent way of working? A positive review?
Museum shows and market recognition? Or even inclusion in the writing of
art history? These are tough questions for art critics. What the nature
of art is has been defined, questioned, and then reformulated, and
sometimes when we spot it, we know it. It is always thrilling when
realizing that the work of an artist has reached maturity.

This is often less a safe bet than it is a risky professional
calculation. There are too many things to tint our judgments and
decisions: our historical outlook, our professional qualifications, our
mood. This by no means assigns too much importance to the work of an art
critic; instead, it reminds us of the daunting responsibility of such a
job. We are not out to verify an artists work, but perhaps to put our
own learning and practice in context and, more importantly, to view an
artists work in a context that is much more complex than the physical
confines of a studio or an exhibition space. Like an art critic, an
artist works in active relationship to a vast diversity of thingshis or
her upbringing, schooling, professional training, interests,
temperament, way of working, world view, and much more, and all should
be considered accordingly. In the 1980s, both German philosopher Hans
Belting and American art critic Arthur Danto proposed the end of art or
art history, an explosive philosophical take on art that made it
impossible for artists to search for their success within the set value
system of existing art history. This perspective puts art in a forever
fluid and open state of being rather than within the linear logic of a
singular art history in the modernist fashion. The aesthetic, stylistic,
narrative, and conceptual attributes of art are seen as particular to
specific places and times rather than as essential or timeless.

Li Dafang is an artist who belongs to his studio, where he paints hour
after hour, day after day; its no understatement to say that Li is
disciplined and steadfast. He has developed a daily routine for work
that he happily and faithfully adheres to. This mode of production, with
long studio hours and intense concentration, is effective, and it stands
in contrast to certain recent trends in artistic productioninspired by
the market craze for contemporary Chinese art in the past few
yearscharacterized by the separation of the conception of work by the
artist and its actual execution by hired help.

Li Dafangs work is manual, persistent, time-consuming, and
process-based. More importantly, the level-headedness of his working
style gives form to a highly distinctive visual language that is
impossible to replicate. He painstakingly applies each single stroke,
line, and dot onto the canvas. Their accumulation creates precise and
detailed depictions such as a tree, woods, a bush, and their
surroundings. Sometimes the density of his strokes is such that it
creates a blurred effect. The inexhaustible variation of his brush
strokes, which cover the full spread of his canvases and leave no space
untouched, contributes to the unique appeal of his paintings. One could
almost say that Lis paintings are full of paintings.

Li Dafangs paintings are specifically regional. They are related to the
geography of where the artist has come from. He was born and grew up in
Liaoning Province, in northeast China, where the high altitude and long,
harsh winters have created a rough and grey landscape. He lived in
Beijing for the first time between 1993 and 1997, and for the second
time in 2003. Since then, Beijing has become home. Li Dafangs paintings
breathe in the dry dust and cool climate of north China and absorb the
geographical, social, and cultural temperament integral to this region.
The realistic landscapes and imagery of his paintings are unmistakably
northern: unkempt bushes and forests, cityscapes, roads, vistas of
fields and open lands, the deep colour of the earth, the stocky
appearance of buildings, and industrial leftovers. In Small Ogive
(2009), the painting is placed atop a three-stepped, deep green stairway
and depicts two lush, tall pine trees standing so closely together that
they are merged into a symmetrical shape. Behind them, a field overgrown
with grasses stretches towards a distant horizon with blurry images of
trees. In the foreground, a man dressed in a blue outfit carries a boat
on his back and stands among a group of blue buckets. Its an indistinct
scene with an uncanny scenario, yet, at the same time, everything looks
so familiar. The sites and scenes in Li Dafangs paintings tend to be
removed from the urban side of the contemporary city, but they are
sights familiar to those who travel frequently to the citys forgotten
corners, where it meets with rural areas, or to those who witness
transitory moments of urban and economic development. They are often
considered lesser places, safely residing between the real and the
fictional in the space of Lis paintings.

In the 1950s, Li Dafangs hometown, Liaoning, was designated as a major
centre of heavy industry by the government to produce the countrys first
steel, machinery tools, locomotives, and airplanes following the
founding of Peoples Republic of China in 1949. The switch to a market
economy in the late 1970s, however, drove most of the areas large-scale,
state-owned manufacturers to bankruptcy. As a result, many factories and
workshops were abandoned and became dilapidated, stacked with sad,
silent machinery: a sight well known to the artist, who was born in
1971, and a visual motif to which he would continue to return in later
years. In fact, some of his paintings have an unambiguous industrial
flavour. Clip (2009) is framed in three levels of green wood, which
extends the perspective of the canvas and gives a certain degree of
formality to a scene of dilapidated and hollow Soviet-style factory
buildings. Dried yellow grass covers its front yard, where a tiny figure
crouches with his or her back facing the viewer. Otherwise, the site
appears to be undisturbed and gloomy. On the triptych canvases of Bai
Xiao Guang (2009), the two concrete pillars that form the gateway to a
compound of office buildings bear evidence of a shut-down business:
engraved names of the company are missing many characters. A monstrous
concrete structure has landed onto the road inside of the gate, yet the
few individuals standing outside the entrance surrounding the mouth of a
long tube seem to be distanced from and unaware of its presence.

Li Dafang is unwavering about what he paints and how he paints, and he
is not apologetic about returning again and again to the same type of
visual and material environments that, in the majority of his paintings,
provide the many motifs he likes to repeat. The forest, for example, has
become something of a signature that, for the artist himself, sets the
stage for the rest of what goes onto a canvas. He also aimlessly drives
around Beijing, mostly to the outskirts and wastelands, to deserted
factories, sites of demolition, and roadside constructions, where real
life unfolds quietly in the aftermath of drama or trauma. Houses have
been pulled down, factories have been shut down, roadsides are deserted.
There is no way to gauge the intensity of what has happened in these
places and scenes, where a factory space of dishevelled and unmanned
machinery, for example, offers the perverse attraction of being formally
theatrical and attractive. He takes photographs of these places and
recollects childhood memories, both of which contrive to leave marks on
or find their ways into the content of his paintings. Li Dafangs project
Zhang Hongbo for Art Unlimited in Art Basel, 2009, took its title from
the name of one of his childhood teachers. He painted the lower part of
the walls in the project space in a retro light green and created an
enormous panoramic painting of an open field freshly furrowed by tractor
wheels. This painting was placed against the middle wall of the room on
a rectangular base made of piles of thousands of sketch paper sheets
splotched with ink and pencil drawings. An anonymous human figure, like
those that are often present in his paintings, appears as a life-sized
sculpture in this room, which itself evokes the image of an old-style
school classroom. There was no other reference in the work to the real
person of Zhang Hongbo other than its title. The ambiguity of everything
in this site-specific installation continues to remind us of the
absurdity of his paintings.

There is, at the same time, no guarantee of consistency in his
representation. Lis work is derived from and dependent on reality, on
his experience and acute perception of it. However, as much as his
paintings conform to the technical means of realism and are convincing
as representations, the artist consistently plays with visual tricks
that reveal his deliberate disregard for the authenticity and coherence
of his plots: improbable props, abrupt sweeps of bright colours,
nonexistent creatures, and inaccurate proportions that bring a misty and
melancholy quality to the surface of his paintings as well as an
overstated sense of isolation in time and place. They suggest an absurd
reality, yet the artist fiercely reinvents the plots and their
reappearances on canvas until the specificity of their references and
emotions are drastically reduced.

From very early on, the artist revealed his grand ambition to carve out
a space for drama and storytelling, the flat surface of his canvases are
the equivalent of a theatrical stage. He recalls his childhood exposure
to, and fixation on, theatre and literature. He paints human figures,
depicts scenarios, creates tensions, invents dialogues and monologues
for his characters, gives out clues, designs plots of suspense, and
emulates the effect of the long exposures found in movie making. He is
the scriptwriter of all the absurdities in his paintings; he has tight
control over the narrative structure and wont let it run on its own free
will. Yet, the artist will hasten to add that the narratives in his
paintings are not to be trusted. They simply make no sense, and its no
use trying to piece a story together from what he chooses to paint in
such meticulous detail. No one other than the artist can figure out the
puzzles or bring any logic to his images.

However, the discrepancies between the depicted and the actual in Li
Dafangs paintings, although its often an impossible task to gauge the
degree of absurdity between the two, is almost imperceptible and
securely in the contained space of his canvases. Its no surprise that Li
Dafang is a fervent admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, whose strength lay in
his ability to formulate suspense through the extension of time and the
closing in of space in his story-telling. The simultaneous depiction of
everyday situations and hints of potential danger, which Hitchcock even
spelled out by writing such lines as Watch your back, theres someone
there on the posters for his movies, as well as the obliviousness of his
protagonists to their immediate jeopardy, played masterfully on the fear
that exists deep within our subconscious minds.

But Li Dafangs paintings are far away from playing exclusively on
instinct. The artist is confidently in charge of bringing together
various possible elements of theatricality despite their obvious
incompatibility with each other. His recent addition of wooden stairways
and ladder-shaped podiums to support the canvases, or enlarged and
elaborate wooden frames, defies easy classification or interpretation.
Its another Hitchcock-esque strategy. Images of staircases often play a
central role or are featured prominently in Hitchcocks films; his
stylistic interest in staircases can be attributed to the influence of
German Expressionism which often featured heavily stylized and menacing
staircases. Yet the staircases in Li Dafangs painting installations are
more stylistic than symbolic. They are bulky, artificial, and
conspicuous, lending a solemn and monumental quality to Lis canvases,
yet they bear no responsibility in conveying meaning. As the artist
points out, they are, instead, an embodiment of his attempt to
understand and exercise perception about what is painting and what is
art:

Works with staircases have appeared in my work since 2007; I want to try
and explain [them]. Initially, I wanted to explore a playful
possibility for painting. The world inside of my work is an independent
world. The environments surrounding it change; our world changes also.
Combined with stairways, [my paintings]新永利皇宫网址游戏, have the possibility to be
viewed and appreciated. This conforms to my perception of art.
Especially during the past two years, I am looking for a presumption of
art, which is specificity. To place sensible or insensible objects next
to each other serves a certain special purpose that is tangible
[tangible in intellectual terms]. It is also related to my
understanding of painting. For me, painting is a word, a memory. My
thoughts and actions, or a certain purpose born out of it, or a certain
reason are what I consider in painting. This assembly of things could
appear to be rather absurd at times. 1

These statements deflate any temptations for one to read too many
sociological, philosophical, or psychological connotations into Li
Dafangs paintings. Li Dafangs paintings have departed from the new
generation of figurative painters such as Liu Xiaodong and filmmakers
such as Jia Zhangke, who have emerged in the spotlight since the
mid-1990s. At that time, there was a collective return of the artistic
community to everyday life, which was extremely dramatic and dynamic in
itself. What the artists had to do was to extract samples from this
social reality and then represent them without, in my opinion, having to
demonstrate any critical or analytical position. But the temptation and
need to truthfully document and expose a fast-moving and powerful
reality is less urgent today, as exemplified by artists such as Li
Dafang. For Li, what connects his art to his own being is less the
subject matter his paintings depict or its relationship to society than
the possibility of experiencing and reflecting through the act of
painting on what painting means to him on an individual level:

I suppose that art is described as having a certain purpose, something
small, something specific, that art is practical from an individual
point of view yet useless for others or of not much use, or that art
exists in an incomprehensible form. I think this is the position that
art deserves. It is around but there shouldnt be too high an expectation
of it. The higher the expectation, the more ambiguous it becomes. It
should have such specific value as that of cabbage or thieves. 2

Li Dafang strongly advocates the withdrawal of any expectation that art
should have a function. The attempt to resist such expectations is
exemplified in Painting is an Aversion to All that Glitters, the
subtitle of his 2009 solo exhibition at Urs Meile, MAKE WAY! MAKE WAY!

Li Dafang presented in that exhibition a series of seven works completed
in 2009 that were created through an expression of attitude rather than
a theme. There is no radical stylistic rupture or conceptual transition
from his paintings of the last few years, but more of a continuation.
His detailed brushwork is unmistakably Li Dafang, the foggy quality is
enduringly present, the trees cannot be mistaken, and the senseless
scenarios are still perplexing. One might even suggest that this latest
series of paintings isnt necessarily a step forward from his previous
works in terms of their technical or aesthetic proficiency. And Li might
just agree with not applying the logic of evolution or progression to
art.

Its true to the intention of the artist to simply describe his paintings
as they are rather than trying to analyze and interpret them. But I
question the necessity even of my own descriptions at this point of
writing. It excites no one to simply repeat what is clearly evident.
Beyond description, I cant tell you what each of his paintings actually
means, or offer any plausible plots to connect them, and each viewer
will bring their own meaning to them. What I propose, instead, is that
at the end of working on these paintings, Li Dafang has reached a deeper
understanding of his own expectation of painting and the specific value
painting could have for him. The definition and historical understanding
of painting as an art medium have experienced many turns, overthrows,
limits, and transcendences in the context of art history. But the
transformation of Lis own understanding of painting has its own course
and process. I suggest that Li Dafangs paintings function as his own
personal tool for understanding painting and contemporary arta kind of
self-discovery. In the context of this aim, Li Dafangs paintings have
served the very specific purpose the artist has wished they would.

The obstruction for contemporary art is that people have too high an
expectation. Talk of innovation, progression, and overthrow are too
highbrow. The same situation is taking place in every field. Innovation
is generally considered as the right direction. Thus individuality often
becomes laziness or casualness. I want to take the wrong turn, to
support regression. Its easier to be bad than to be good. We cant give
so much weight to art but we have to carry it along still. So lets press
on in an ordinary way. 3

Art itself, or the means of representation in art, is not so much the
subject of scrutiny as in modernism, but more about how the artist
discovers and establishes a certain relationship with, and perception
of, art in his or her own practice. The technical experiments and
conceptual reinventions of the medium of painting itself can barely
raise any excitement. Its an immense relief that todays artists can
finally abandon the ambition to create something new. In the context of
art history, there is no idea that has not been contested, no theory
that has not been challenged; every stone has been turned over.

It is a vain attempt to allocate Li Dafangs practice, or that of any
artists active today, into any category of contemporary art or any
position within the chronology of the existing art history. After all,
how can we possibly categorize contemporary art today? By its medium? By
its subject matter? By its concept? None of these make sense. We have
long since arrived at the end of the narrative of art history and have
exhausted the possibility of contextualizing an artists work within the
historical narrative of art. What Li Dafangs practice does offer,
together with that of his peers and colleagues all over the world, are
rich, specific case studies. They do not exist as isolated cases, but
they are certainly independent and specific to each of their own
contexts. They shed light on how the artist strives to develop and
formulate his or her own way of working and deepen an understanding of
what he or she does as time moves forward. They raise new concerns and
challenges in terms of curatorial and critical practices, and, in light
of this, its perhaps as important to present and discuss the contexts of
the work of the artist as it is to discuss single or particular pieces
of artwork. It is therefore as important to look at each individual
piece of work by Li Dafang as it is to understand the complexities of
his opinion about painting and the rationalities that form the very
context of his practice.

编辑:霍春常

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