The Art of Wei Xiong
Landscape paintings in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) were often microcosms, reflecting the social, political, or philosophical ideals of the artists. With the rise of Neo-confucianism and the reinterpretation of Chinese philosophy, triggered by the introduction of Buddhist metaphysics, landscape paintings began to embody a more metaphysical aspect. Beyond merely representing social order through hierarchical compositions of mountains and trees, Song artists sought to address questions of higher significance, by outlining the patterns and principles that underlie all phenomena.
The artist Wei Xiong also expresses interests in similar philosophical concerns in her landscape paintings. Inspired by the traditional Chinese concern with man’s place in nature, Xiong’s modern understanding formulates the concept into the question of the Self versus Others. Not only is she interested in man’s connectivity to other beings and the natural world, but also in a possible relation to a divine force. While her mind engages in thought experiments tackling such concerns, her brush leaves traces of her thought behind, in the form of lines, colors, and sometimes space.
Examining Xiong’s paintings from 2011 to 2017 in Unaltered Landscapes, while her subject matter remains the same, there is an evident transition in style. As she ponders deeper into her philosophical enquires, Xiong’s landscapes become increasingly more abstract. In her earlier Landscape series, sketchy lines converge diagonally, forming the outlines of mountains in the fashion of linear representation. In her Tide and more recent series, this mode of representation gives way to more expressive brushstrokes. While certain lines seem reminiscent of mountain peaks, the overall composition does not constitute a formal landscape. These images are best understood as mindscapes of the artist, in which lines, colors, and space reflect her thoughts or emotions. Xiong’s lines can be free, whimsical, bland, sudden, heavy, obtrusive, or violent, which equate to a wide range of emotions, including ease, playfulness, boredom, sorrow, anger, and frustration. However, in Xiong’s most recent works, such as 1607-2B, her lines undergo an intense transformation, becoming nearly all uniform in direction and length. This ultimately reflects a heightened concentration in her energy and an extraordinary state of mind.
As Wei Xiong’s mind wonders deeply into the realm of metaphysics, in either Chan Buddhist teachings of Emptiness or Taoist Non-action, her landscapes transcend into total abstraction and brutal minimalism. All forms of traditional symbolism and linear representation is forgotten and left behind. There is only evidence of space and time, left by the artist’s brush. While the formal qualities her so-called landscapes have dramatically changed, the spirit behind the image remains unaltered. Like the Song artists, Wei Xiong seeks to address philosophical concerns within the boundaries of her canvas, in which the painted image appears as enigmatic as that of the ancients before her, leaving only traces of her mind to be deciphered.
by Timothy Chang