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Bold Metamorphosis
Author : Zhou Tao2009-05-08 10:23:29Source :

Leaving his landscapes behind, artist Ma Jun's latest works are more abstract — he tries to return to a state of infancy to create his mood-and-color-driven pieces, writes Zhou Tao.

Ma Jun, a painter who was classically trained at the Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts in Northwestern China's Shaanxi Province, has abandoned his realism skills and decided to concentrate on abstract paintings.

Working and living in his "Go There" studio in Shanghai, Ma is presenting 37 pieces of his latest works. He says it's hard to say where he is from as he has lived in many places and speaks several Chinese dialects.

Born in 1969 in Shanghai, Ma went to Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1999 and returned in 2003. He used to specialize in landscapes but now his works features flowing liquid and raised textures.

He mixes oil color with turpentine and inclines the canvas to let it flow freely. "When I think the shape is OK, I stop inclining the canvas and let the color dry," says Ma. "The key point is the time control. Although my pictures are all oils on canvas, Western viewers can easily figure out, by the effects, that the artist is from China."

Ma's critic friends often have intensive debates with him. "I can 'battle' them only when I am drunk," Ma laughs. "They are very professional and good at words." However, with much interaction and practice, he has developed his own language of art.

"When I wanted to express my mood," says Ma, "I realized my realism skills were too limited. In Chinese cultural systems there are no unconsciousness, which helps develop Expressionism or Abstractionism. What I learnt in China in the first part of my life can by no means make me a second Jackson Pollock."

Ma emphasizes that to express the mood largely depends on color. That's why big areas of different colors dominate his canvases. "You can know directly what my mood was when I paint," says Ma. "Take the black for instance, you can see the big areas of black and rough strokes, which remind people of a gloomy mood or something. Mood determines color."

When asked if the bright shade of green is not in harmony with orange and red, Ma defends it by saying it's "a matter of habit." "You think something is beautiful but something isn't, why?" Ma asks, "because your authentic habit is working.

"Contemporary art, to some extent, is working on how to accustom people to a new criteria and it's natural that they are controversial. A new form makes a new authentic habit. The task of artists is to keep challenging old ones and raise questions," says Ma.

Ma painted landscapes that resemble Impressionism and made a fortune with his portraits in New Zealand. "My portraits are well-received among Westerners," says Ma. "They can easily figure out that the painter is Chinese although they don't know who he is. That makes me start thinking why. I think culture is the sum of habits of a group living together. That's why you can't understand Western art exactly even if you learn it well in China. It's like a university student who speaks English well but still behaves 100-percent Chinese. You have to go there and live there."

Tired of making money from his portraits and repeating the skills that aren't what he enjoyed naturally, Ma started looking for a way out. He first "mutated" his landscape, which he is best at, and some pictures from Wu Guanzhong, one of Ma's favorite masters.

"When Wu's paintings first came out, he was fiercely criticized and people wondered if he could keep his standing. Now hardly anyone can deny Wu's achievements," says Ma. "People think new things are strange because traditions affect them."

In Ma's rcreation, he tries to return to "a state of infancy," he says. "Only when being tranquil as a baby can I express my true feelings. I need isolation, silence and I need to discard all my pasts."

Ma chooses to paint throughout the night, from midnight to 6am, and he unplugs the telephone line for absolute silence.

"Nobody can disturb me then," says Ma. "For babies there's no such rule as space, air, hue or saturation. Childhood means simplicity. That's why I choose a few pure colors. I gave up the idea of becoming another Rembrandt because we are not born and brought up that way.

"In ancient times, people in the East and West lived separately in different systems, say, TCM with jingluo (nerve and pulse) and Western medicine with anatomy. But thanks to modern transportation, they meet at last and find they share something in common such as love. That's real humanity and what I want to pursue," Ma explains.

Editor : 李丹丹