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The Day Is at Hand: Daozi’s Calligraphy and Painting Exhibition

Dao Zi

Apr 3, 2021 ~ May 29

The Day is at Hand
Danqing Chen

It must be extra enjoyable to compose a poem to draw a picture, or draw a picture to compose a poem. I can’t be a painter, or a poet who only writes, if I don’t have the chance to enjoy. Although I am familiar with the joy of painting, looking at Daozi’s subsequent paintings, I was infected with a strange pleasure.

Is that the pleasure between poetry and painting? “Book Burning”, “Sacrifice of the Sea”, “Darkness at Noon”, “the Blind Angel Weaving the Lightning into the looted Head”… I don’t believe that he drafted these verses in advance. When he starts painting, he is no longer a poet—the entanglement and carnival of pen and paper belong to another dimension—when the painting is finished, the poet wakes up, jumps up, and intervenes, so there is “Elegy of the Righteous”, “Skull of the Prophet”, and “Ocean of the World”, “Do not Go Gentle Into that Good Night.”

What does that mean? I don’t guess the title of the painting, nor do I guess his painting. Even if he hides in painting because of despair, painting is still an extremely pleasant thing, and may not be equalized with emotions, thoughts, concepts, and even poetry: painting is close to a game.

(Perhaps poetry is the same, but I don’t know.)

Daozi is not the “amateur” painter we usually meet. Seeing his affirmation, recklessness, and changeability in his control of scales and patterns, his autonomy, spontaneity, and freedom of pen control, he is like a senior painter. What surprised me was that his first painting was completed in the early years of the new century in his forties. If he did not enter the painting world, he would not paint relentlessly, and his paintings would not be pleasant.

(Does painting add anything else to his poems? I don’t know, either.)

The sun, the skull, the sea, the candle, and all kinds of deformed wings…is that Daozi’s favorite image or theme? why? His paintings brought me back to the 80s. In the years before and after, there are no longer indulgence inspired in the 80s and those ten years of youth (poets). That indulgence originated from a secret, extreme gentleness categorically suspended in the future, and was too late to be realized – Longing for freedom and soaring tenderness; it is poured into poetry and then poured into painting.

I don’t know whether the atmosphere of the 1980s should be called “indulgence”, but in Daozi’s paintings, I witnessed the distorted tenderness, ascension, and sense of freedom-the sense of freedom that one can only smother her/himself and yell silently-turning into ink wash painting.

But it is definitely not “Chinese painting.” Except for the ink tools, perhaps with the inscription and seal, Daozi’s painting has nothing to do with what we call Chinese painting. Corresponding to the so-called “free poems”, these paintings can be regarded as “free paintings”. Curves, straight lines, arcs, rotations, integrations, fragments, abruptions, dissolving… On the paper, he danced freely and confessed: “He is not free”.

At this time, the Bible loomed. The Bible does not just point to religion, but the permanent resources of artists: words, imagination, reference, no boundaries, crossing time…it is a way out after no way out, and the Bible is very “concrete”. When Daozi suddenly got the promise of painting outside the poems (seeing that he realized the first painting, he must have been ecstatic), the Bible immediately promised him and made him find another self.

(Is it true? I still don’t know.)

How wonderful a person is able to write poems and paint. Blessed is Daozi. Which one of Daozi’s paintings do I prefer? I would say, it’s “The Day is at Hand”.

2021 February 26th in Beijing

Eternal Thoughts – Another Experience of Ink Wash Painting

Yulan Zeng

Ink wash painting is a unique phenomenon in the field of Chinese contemporary art. It faces the most discussions and the biggest dilemma. It is also the crossroads of various views and ideas since the “85 Art Movement”, and it still leaves extensible space for related academic debates and thoughts.

The appearance of Ink wash painting relies on the tradition of Chinese painting, especially the tradition of literati painting. All the issues involved in ink wash painting are related to the continuation or the destruction of the tradition of literati painting. Therefore, the value of ink wash painting lies in its positive and negative aspects of the traditional attitude and the works themselves. Secondly, ink wash painting is one of the important products of the cultural conflicts between China and the West in modern times, and it is also the main means of reconciling the contradictions between China and the West. By the time of 85 Art Movement, many artists were anti-traditional with ink wash painting, and on the other hand, they tried to fight the West with ink wash painting. Finally, in the context of globalization, ink wash painting is actually the touchstone of postcolonialism and populism. Whether you are an artist, a curator, or a researcher, when facing the specific practice of ink wash painting and making value judgments, if you lack sober academic judgments and reflections of global perspective, you would easily fall into the trap of post-colonialism and populism.

Facing these situations and problems of ink wash painting, I have tried to interpret them with the concept of “experience” since 2014. As the characteristics of information communication in contemporary society determine that everyone may have experience related to ink wash painting, this experience can be either individual or collective; perhaps it comes from the cultural environment, learned art norms, or it can be inadvertent daily experience. When the ink wash painting is turned into a kind of “experience”, it can effectively eliminate the insurmountable cultural barriers at the level of experience – this kind of experience is not necessarily a continuation of the traditional ink wash tradition, nor is it completely the opposite, but the new experiences of traditional art from all angles in addition to the traditional cultural values ​​and living environment after the breakage. Due to ink wash painting has to depend on the distant literati painting tradition that it denies, and even with the most experimental contemporary ink wash painting works, most people from non-Oriental (non-Chinese) cultural backgrounds are still unable to understand them. Understandably, when the ink wash painting is decomposed into “experience”, both the appreciator and the creator will be able to “make a difference”.

Daozi wrote poetry in his early years, and later engaged in art history research and art criticism. As an art historian who is familiar with Chinese culture, his ink wash painting experience first comes from the study and thinking of Chinese cultural traditions, but this experience is newer. His experience overflows beyond the scope of traditional ink wash painting art, and also escapes from the current observation and practice of ink wash painting─Compared with the values ​​and cosmology contained in traditional ink wash painting, as well as the expression of personal thoughts and emotions that tend to be enlightened by Zen and enlightenment in current style of ink wash painting, Daozi’s works reveal death, ruins, wasteland, darkness and compassionate human conditions. With visions of resurrection, rebirth, salvation, light and hope; symbols such as rotating angels, burning candles and lonely white horses point to the eternal dimension of time and space. Daozi is an ideological artist. He has injected his personal life experience with existential philosophy into his works. His works are highly spiritual and contemporary ink wash painting with redemptive spirit. Leading from worldly matters to thinking about human existence, extending to the life and death issues that each of us must face, and the hope for eternity, it becomes the kind of power which eliminates material supremacy and spiritual nihilism in a consumerist society, and tries to find a balance between sensibility and rationality, divinity and humanity, and reshape a holistic and spiritual life.

At the same time, in Daozi’s works, viewers will find that the ink wash painting experience of painting, poems, seals and calligraphy has been reconverted by the pursuit of transcendental dimensions, and then recreated into a harmonious unity through the creator’s rich Dasein experience: Originally, “calligraphy and painting sharing the same origin” is the foundation of ink wash painting, but as an aesthetic ideal, it has become an unattainable peak in contemporary society. The divisions of labor in modern society and changes in the context of reality have gradually brought about changes in personal abilities and artistic methods. The image of Chinese literals (intellectuals) talented of “painting, poems, seals, and calligraphy” of Chinese classical art has gone forever; when Daozi returned to the field of “ink wash painting” as a contemporary poet, scholar, and critic, “poetry, calligraphy, painting and seal” was integrated here, bringing us another brand-new and holistic experience of ink wash painting.

In Daozi’s creation, ink wash painting is the individual “experience” – neither Chinese nor Western. It has undergone a complete transformation from schema, content to spiritual orientation, and is no longer the echoes of traditional Confucianism and Taoist culture and ideas, or the expression of formal language through the ink wash painting as media, but the transformation from apocalyptic literature to the “vision” of ink wash painting; they are not superficial symbols and metaphors, but are full of emotional and intellectual tensions. They are witnesses to the creator’s rich Dasein experience. They are “the present”. Among these works, there are some insights into reality and its flaws, insights into life situations, historical echoes, reinterpretations of original classics, images of poetry, and hope for the future…therefore, these works can travel across the oceans and are accepted by people with non-Oriental (non-Chinese) cultural backgrounds, and are enough to make us people of Oriental (Chinese) cultural backgrounds happy to see – I think this is the charm of these works, and this time, what we hope the exhibition viewers will meet and communicate with the art. In this kind of dialogue and interaction, what kind of new “experience” of ink wash painting will be inspired by this other kind of ink wash painting experience provided by Daozi? This is what this exhibition is especially looking forward to.

Where the day is about to end, it is also when the day is approaching – Daozi’s poetry, calligraphy, painting and seals do not ask us to be trapped to the world, to the present, but to give us a yearning for permanent things beyond the experience, and this spiritual orientation and transcendental dimension are precisely what China’s current art world lacks. Therefore, this other kind of ink wash painting experience brought by Daozi is showing its value and meaning as a unique voice.