Born in Sichuan Province (best known in the West, perhaps, for its fiery cuisine), he was put to work building railroad tracks in the 1960s. This was also when he began painting, albeit within the narrow strictures on creativity set by Mao and his Communist Party. In 1978, when he was 25 years old and China was only just emerging from the Cultural Revolution, Wang began his formal studies in art, learning traditional Chinese ink painting and Western oil painting techniques. He mastered both ink and oils, and carries through his early training to this day in striking hybrid compositions that evince diverse influences, among them abstract expressionism and Buddhist ink painting. A new exhibition at Hong Kong’s Alisan Fine Arts features some of the artist’s early works, in which his sophisticated blend of these distinct styles is already evident.
Wang’s varied life experiences inflect his paintings. In addition to bearing firsthand witness to modern China’s stunning and ongoing transformations, he has spent time living in the United States, practicing Buddhism in Nepal, and living in solitude in a small fishing village in Shenzhen. Rendered with a seemingly paradoxical combination of exquisite subtlety and robust expression, his compositions range from spare and monochromatic to full and richly colored. Many are structured by his lush, sweeping lines, which wiggle and stretch across paper and canvas and display the full scope of traditional Chinese ink painting techniques.
Some of his lines appear parched and frayed, the result of painting with a dry brush; others appear velvety and expansive, made with a brush heavy with ink. The distinct marks coexist in works like Untitled 5 (1995) and Abstract 6 (1989). Such a range seems fitting for an artist who contended with the privations of the Cultural Revolution, until he was freed to live and make art fully.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory