Beijing, 7 Jul (ZXS) -- How can we see mutual learning from Van Gogh?

——Interview with painter Wang Boxun

Written by Wen Longjie Xu Huangguan

In the macroscopic vision of the development of human civilization, the plastic arts of the East and the West have maintained consistency for a long time and to a large extent. The Dutch painter Van Gogh, who lived in the nineteenth century, has a very obvious oriental color in his works, and this oriental color is the artistic trend of the painter's life, which is also the basic background of the occurrence of "post-impressionism" in the history of world art. From the perspective of artistic occurrence, Van Gogh's artistic choice is not only his personal genius creation, but also the inevitable development of the times.

Taking Van Gogh's famous "Sunflower" as an example, the purity of color on the screen, the flatness of the shape, the freehand of the brush stroke, etc., can all find the material of the interprint relationship in the contemporary Chinese plastic arts. How to see from Van Gogh that East and West learn from each other? China News Agency's "East-West Question" recently interviewed scholar and painter Wang Boxun.

The following is a summary of the interview:

China News Agency: As a scholar involved in both creative practice and theoretical research, can you talk about the role of fine arts in the exchange and mutual learning between Eastern and Western civilizations?

Wang Boxun: From the perspective of art majors, exchanges and mutual learning between Eastern and Western civilizations have not only always existed, but also become an unchanging trend in the history of world art. Judging from the cave paintings and utensils painted in the early human period, both the East and the West were painted with natural mineral powder mixed with animal fat. This shows that in the early stage of human civilization, the aesthetic education and beautification among different civilizations and ethnic groups were highly similar, which became an important basis for exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations.

In Hong Kong, 2013, a giant painting made on the stairs based on Van Gogh's "Sunflowers". Photo by Hong Shaokui

Under normal circumstances, people often say that Western art is "realistic" and Eastern art is "freehand". Personally, I believe that for a long time, there was no absolute difference between Eastern and Western art, and the space, texture and spiritual pursuit that developed from it were convergent.

Taking the period at the end of the 10th century AD, we can compare Eastern and Western art. This period is the Middle Ages in Europe and the Song Dynasty in Chinese history. At this time, European artists paid attention to the accuracy of the image and the expression of details, and the expression techniques such as perspective became increasingly mature; Song Dynasty painters began to pursue natural physics almost scientifically, and only then did they have the classic story that "peacocks must first lift their left". It can be seen that for a long time, the pursuit of Eastern and Western art was the same, and the situation of the two diverging paths occurred in the recent past.

After the Ming and Qing Dynasties, because professional literati participated in painting and occupied the initiative in writing art history, the aesthetic proposition of "Shangyi" was promoted to an unprecedented height. However, the pursuit of pragmatism and truth-seeking in traditional Chinese art has not disappeared and has been preserved in folk art.

Image: In 2022, "One Hundred Years of Infinity - Exhibition of Authentic Works of Art Masters in the Collection of the Italian National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art" was held at the Chengdu Museum. The picture shows visitors viewing Van Gogh's work "The Gardener". Photo by Wang Lei

China News Agency: There are many examples of exchanges and mutual learning between Eastern and Western civilizations in the history of art, can you give some classic examples?

Wang Boxun: In the history of art, examples of exchanges and mutual learning between Eastern and Western civilizations are very common. The Kizil and Dunhuang cave paintings and sculptures can testify to this.

About 2,000 years ago, with the opening of the Silk Road, the styling styles and shaping techniques of ancient West Asia and Europe were introduced to China. The dynamics of the figures in the Kizil cave paintings have obvious characteristics of ancient Greek Athens sculpture, some of the characters in the picture are monks of the Western Regions, and the painters at that time used a clear three-dimensional expression method in order to express their facial features with high noses and deep eyes, which is called "concave and convex method" in ancient Chinese texts.

A copy of the mural of the Thousand Buddha Caves in Kyzyl. Photo by Cui Yuyong

This is also common in the early Dunhuang cave paintings excavated later, although over time the Dunhuang cave paintings became more Chinese. This shows that the Chinese nation has been good at absorbing reasonable elements of foreign culture in history, proving that Chinese civilization is extremely inclusive, which is where the vitality of Chinese civilization lies.

In the process of exchanges and mutual learning between Eastern and Western civilizations, not only the West influences the East, but also the Eastern culture represented by Chinese culture also influences the West, a typical example is the Western transmission of Chinese porcelain.

In English, "porcelain" and "China" are the same word, which shows the cultural significance of Chinese porcelain. As early as the Song Dynasty, with the development of maritime trade, Chinese porcelain was exported to more than 17 countries and regions in the world at that time. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, China's porcelain industry was more developed, and the porcelain trade objects basically covered European countries at that time. Since then, Chinese porcelain has become a popular living vessel in Western countries at that time, and Chinese art styles have influenced European art. At that time, it became fashionable for European artists to find inspiration from Chinese porcelain, which had an important influence on the formation of the "Rococo art" art style in the <>th century.

During the "Kang Qian Dynasty" period, China exported porcelain. Photo by Song Chenglin

For example, the "Bochen School", which was formed in Jiangsu and Zhejiang in China in the mid-17th century, developed under the influence of Matteo Ricci, a missionary who came to China. The creation of this art genre combines the ink language of Chinese painting with the light and shadow modeling techniques of Western painting, which not only has the artistic conception of Chinese painting, but also has the volume and texture of Western painting. Bochen painting had an important influence on the development of Chinese object painting that followed, until now. During the Qing Dynasty, the Italian missionary Lang Shining, who served as an official in the dynasty, transformed oil painting according to the aesthetic orientation of the Chinese and the physical characteristics of tools and materials such as brush and rice paper, forming an artistic style with both the spatial volume texture of Western painting and the traditional Chinese meaning.

Bochen school painting "Portrait of Zhang Qingzi", Zeng Whale in the Ming Dynasty. Photo courtesy of Visual China

The audience visits Lang Shining's "Eight Juntus". Photo by Chen Jimin

In the history of modern Chinese art, under the exchange and mutual learning between Eastern and Western civilizations, many artists have achieved outstanding achievements, including Lin Fengmian, Xu Beihong, Zao Wou-ki, Wu Guanzhong, Dong Xiwen and others.

China News Agency: The Dutch painter Van Gogh, who lived in the 19th century, is known to the world for his unique style, why is Van Gogh's works actually very "oriental"?

Wang Boxun: Dutch painter Van Gogh is generally regarded as a representative of Western modern art because of his legendary life experience and unique artistic appearance.

In the history of world art, Van Gogh belongs to the post-impressionists, and he is also the representative figures of the post-impressionists, Cézanne and Gauguin. The reason why Van Gogh's art is very "oriental" is to start with the occurrence of post-impressionist art.

"Post-Impressionism" is relative to "Impressionism", the occurrence of Impressionist painting is based on modern physics, Impressionist painters applied the latest optical theory at that time to life drawing, so as to achieve a reversal of classical painting; Post-impressionist painters corrected the scientific tendency of impressionist painters and advocated that art should respect subjective feelings more, so the picture form of post-impressionist painting was more flat and expressive.

In 2022, the "Van Gogh Reproduces Van Gogh Alive" immersive digital light and shadow exhibition in Chengdu presents Van Gogh's classic works and his extraordinary life to the audience through digital technology. Several of Van Gogh's self-portraits are displayed in light and shadow in the exhibition. Photo by Wang Lei

At the time of the post-impressionism, after the Meiji Restoration, Japan's doors were opened, and its prints (prints) spread to the West, which were seen by the post-impressionist painters who sought individual liberation and exotic interest at that time, and the flatness, decorative interest and other elements in Japanese printmaking inspired the creation of post-impressionist painters and provided an important reference for their creation. Among them, Van Gogh is one of the more influenced by Japanese prints. According to the available information, Van Gogh has repeatedly copied Japanese prints with oil painting tools.

Ancient Japanese prints were influenced by China. In this sense, Van Gogh's artistic creation was heavily influenced by Eastern art. Of course, there are many factors that make Van Gogh's art possible, and this is only one important aspect.

In 2021, "Van Gogh is here!" The "Art Interactive Exhibition" was held at the Meilun Art Museum in Changsha, Hunan Province. The three-dimensional restoration of Van Gogh's works is displayed, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in Van Gogh's art world. The picture shows the audience "immersed" in Van Gogh's work "The Sower". Photo by Yang Huafeng

China News Agency: Many famous modern and contemporary artists have benefited from a profound traditional cultural foundation, and at the same time know and are good at borrowing Western painting techniques.

Wang Boxun: Personally, I believe that exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations are the basic characteristics of modern society and culture. As artists grow up, cross-civilizational exchanges and mutual learning are crucial, as many successful artist cases illustrate. Here, the creative practices of three artists, I.M. Pei, Wu Guanzhong and Wu Weishan, are taken as examples.

In my artistic vision, I.M. Pei, who is famous for his architectural design, is more like an artist, who was deeply influenced by traditional Chinese culture in his early years, and later studied Western architectural science in depth, and eventually became a generation of masters. From Pei's architectural works, we can clearly see the knots and structures of classical Chinese gardens, full of metaphors of mountains and water; The interior of the building fully reflects the people-oriented pursuit under the conditions of modern science and technology.

The Suzhou Museum designed by master architect I.M. Pei. Photo by Wang Jianzhong

Wu Guanzhong studied in France in his early years and learned a set of observation methods that were popular in Paris, the capital of Western art at that time. But he spends more of his artistic life in China, and he uses Western observation methods to express local life, forming an artistic effect of "combining East and West". Wu Guanzhong himself expressed this state of creation as "land and water" and "kite continuous line", the essence of which is civilizational exchanges and mutual learning.

The audience visits Wu Guanzhong's "City Night". Photo by Ding Huanxin

As a contemporary sculptor, Wu Weishan, director of the National Art Museum of China, is more representative of his artistic practice. Wu Weishan inherited his family education, received a good enlightenment education in poetry and calligraphy, and accumulated a traditional cultural heritage that was rare among his contemporaries. In the eighties and nineties of the twentieth century, he had the opportunity to travel in Europe and the United States for a long time, which opened up a broad international vision for his later artistic development. In 2002, he proposed the theory of "freehand sculpture", the core of which is to base itself on the present, absorb all the excellent achievements of Eastern and Western civilizations, and build a language system that echoes the theme of the times.

The audience watched Wu Weishan's work "There is a Sound in the Empty Valley - Lao Tzu Goes Customs". Photo by Chen Xiaogen

To sum up, these artists can examine their artistic practices from the perspective of the development of human civilization, regard "exchange and mutual learning" as a working method, and the exchange and mutual learning between Eastern and Western civilizations has also become the "key" to their artistic success.

China News Agency: How do you deal with the exchange and collision between "East" and "West" in your creation and research?

Wang Boxun: I firmly stand on the position of civilizational exchanges and mutual learning, and I welcome cultural resources from the "east" and "west"!

Information exchange in modern society is highly developed, and no one can be enclosed in an isolated environment, only communication can develop.

As a painter, although I studied Chinese painting in my early days, I did not stick to this and expanded my learning horizons to a wider range of fields. So much so that for a long time, faced with the embarrassing situation that when his works were exhibited, it was difficult to classify them as "Chinese paintings". Later, "comprehensive painting" was set up in the national art exhibition, which gave the opportunity to exhibit.

On the other hand, I have not given up theoretical exploration related to my own creative practice, and I have focused my research on the field of artist case studies. From a historical vertical perspective, the case of successful artists proves that creative practice must be supported by creative theory.

Over the years, his artistic development has benefited from this two-way interaction between creative practice and theoretical research on the premise of exchanges and mutual learning between Eastern and Western civilizations. (End)

Respondent Profile:

Wang Boxun, a member of the China Artists Association, a doctor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and a postdoctoral fellow at Tsinghua University, works at the National Art Museum of China, mainly engaged in the phenomenon of contemporary Chinese art and the case study of artists, and at the same time is committed to creative practice, putting forward the concept of "freehand color and color". His works were selected into the 11th and 13th National Fine Arts Exhibition, the 4th Beijing International Biennale, the first National Mural Painting Exhibition, and the 3rd and 4th National Comprehensive Material Painting Biennale; He has published monographs "Oil Painting Chinese Style-Dong Xiwen's Artistic Thought Source and Practice", "Kite Continuous Line - Local Complex in Wu Guanzhong Artistic Thought", "On Taoism Contemporary - 19 Thematic Interviews", "Wang Luji - Me and My Freehand Heavy Color Painting"; Excellent paper of the 1st and 3rd National Art Summit Forum.