Re-Emergence by Jin Sha: Notes from the Gallery Director
I was introduced to Jin Sha in 2010 by artist and curator Lee Hong. This gentle, contemplative artist, was leader of a Beijing school of painting known as Gong-Bi, and was visiting Australia, which had been his home for 5 years during his teenage years, to visit friends and explore exhibition opportunities. Back in 2009, he had coordinated a touring exhibition, Zhongjian Midway bringing together 15 contemporary artists from Australia and China. The exhibition was underpinned the common concern of Western and Eastern artists in impact of globalisation on people's lives and psyches, and the convergence and divergence of Eastern and Western cultures.
Chinese Art has been a preoccupation in Australia and indeed the world, and cultural exchange one of the primary tools for encouraging dialogue. I was drawn into this world by Jin Sha, and a major exhibition in China from our gallery artists, From Paper, was organised by Jin Sha, in 2012, with a reciprocal exhibition in 2013 at our gallery, then located in Danks St. Later, in 2015, we took a further exhibition on work from gallery artists to Tianjin as part of Australia, China cultural week.
During my contact with Jin Sha and the gong-bi artists I have learned more about his creative passions. Jin Sha is an artist of serious intent, both in terms of perfection of his technique and his commitment to translating traditional Chinese techniques into contemporary Chinese painting, and to exploring the relationship of Chinese art to Western art.
The Gong-bi style of painting draws its inspiration from centuries of fine-brushwork painting. So fine that the work of the brush is invisible to the naked eye. The application of the paint requires two brushes working in the same hand simultaneously.. one to create the line, the second to move the colour into the painting. It is painstaking and beautiful. Jin Sha, for instance, can only work for an hour or two each morning before his eyes are too strained to continue. Jin Sha sees in this ancient Chinese technique parallels with the work of the great Renaissance painters who themselves created canvases of exquisite detail where the brush of the artist is invisible. This is just one of many back stories to the subjects painted by Jin Sha which frequently reference paintings by the masters of the Renaissance and those Western artists who follow in their footsteps
Jin Sha passionately believes that the development of a true contemporary Chinese culture must respect ancient traditions. He is wary of Chinese art which turns its back on these techniques, using Western styles, materials and conceits to create works which reference today's China. Jin Sha's work reverses this trend. He uses the ancient skills of the Gong Bi school to reinterpret Western icons from a Chinese perspective.
Being neither a student of Chinese culture, nor indeed an academic expert on Western art, I am far from able to fully understand the conceptual processes which underpin these magical works. The hints that I see relate to the revolution of surreal art, represented strongly in his works by images from Margritte: the pipe, the apple, the hat, the sunglasses. This revolution turned meaning on its head, creating unexpected juxtapositions and displaced imagery. Imagery that upends hierarchy, power and institutions, so formally present in the works of the Renaissance artists. And there is the facelessness. Where the painters of Renaissance and their followers sought to invest their portraits with the power of the individual, as they stared into the canvas or through to their domains, Margritte more often than not obscures or distorts those faces. Jin Sha takes it a step further, obliterating the face entirely leaving the empty trappings.
And then there is landscape, not as a static thing of beauty which frames and becomes an adjunct to the power of men, but as a menacing force in the background, a place where wars happen, where volcanos erupt, where invaders wreak havoc.
We can sense in these paintings the artist's concern over the loss of individual freedoms and the destruction of the environment in the inevitable march of history. Beautiful and at times full of whimsy, these paintings are yet meant to disturb.
And a final note about prints. On a practical level, each of Jin Sha's paintings take months to complete. Limited edition prints become a necessity if his work is to reach a broad audience. What we are seeing in Sydney are high quality limited edition digital prints on paper and silk - the silk works in the form of a fan, once again couching universal imagery in a Chinese context.
In using prints as a means of reaching and audience, there is again a consonance with Magritte. I quote here from an article from The Art Story (http://www.theartstory.org/artist-magritte-rene.htm)
Repetition was an important strategy for Magritte, informing not only his handling of motifs within individual pictures, but also encouraging him to produce multiple copies of some of his greatest works. His interest in the idea may have come in part from Freudian psychoanalysis, for which repetition is a sign of trauma. But his work in commercial art may have also played a role in prompting him to question the conventional modernist belief in the unique, original work of art.