Art is what our thoughts look like. It is the most immediate visual expression of understanding and responding to our world, a way of examining and testing our ideas, fuelled by talent and invention. China continues to give the world a richness of invention, including paper, which was developed by Cai Lun in 105 AD. It is the portable nature of paper that provides an ease of communication and facilitates the sharing of information and ideas, and allows this initiative from the Janet Clayton Gallery for the exchange exhibition, ‘FROM PAPER’.
Central Europe was the centre for art in the 19h century, and perhaps New York and London in the 20th century, but to my mind China is prepared and ready to dominate the visual arts in the future. It is therefore natural that artists want to engage with China, not only by discovering its traditions and philosophies, but by observing how this dynamic visual culture navigates its way in contemporary art at the beginning of the 21st century. Artists want their work to be seen and tested in this unfamiliar environment, and at the same time propose a willingness to share in this exciting exhibition exchange with the Beijing Art Space. It is refreshing that we can see work in a new context, where the visual language stands independently, open to being interpreted by fresh eyes, and absorbed by receptive minds, in a modern Chinese society where change and innovation are commonplace.
This exhibition brings together a diverse range of highly respected artists, working in a unique way, exploring imagery and concept through painting, drawing, print and paper. The physicality of paper and process is also explored in this exhibition with three-dimensional works revealing both strength and the fragility of the material. Every artist in this exhibition brings experience to their work and uses paper as an integral part of their expression. In a world of ever increasing electronic media, the exchange of paper still occurs everyday in our society. Official documents require signing with the ‘seal’ of approval before finally acting as a legal pledge. Paper money, although changing to electronic payment very fast, also remains a daily reality, with the exchange offering a promise of providing a negotiated return in value. In this sense, the paper itself has no value other than being the vehicle for this undertaking. However, for the artist each element of the work is considered and important. This is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in China where the range and respect for paper is paramount.
So to, this exchange exhibition ‘From Paper’ offers a promise; a promise of intriguing images and ideas, skill and sensibility, imagination and innovation. It addresses tradition and conventions, and illuminates the similarities as well as differences. The artists still retain their personal and aesthetic conventions, individual and cultural identity, but nevertheless engage in an international visual dialogue. The relocation of an exhibition from one country to another necessitates a major journey, not only of miles, but of understanding and imagination. An exchange of ‘works on paper’ documents the transfer of images and is a mapping of ideas; the paper map revealing something of a journey well travelled. On the way it is important to talk with strangers and not only revisit old acquaintances; to intentionally get lost and to travel unfamiliar paths.
Michael Esson Director, International Drawing Research Institute
School of Art, International Drawing Research Initiative