JOURNEY TO THE EAST
By Eleonora Battiston
After a few decades of gazes and ambitions aimed at that West which has been the cradle of contemporary art, many Chinese artists have felt the need to return to their own past, hidden and forgotten under the aegis of China’s development and modernization.
The history of China is a cyclical history of destruction and rebirth caused by empires and tolitarian regimes which, in order to impose their own absolutism, have repeatedly sought to burn and erase the remains of a glorious past, flourishing and at times threatening in so far as a term of comparison.
Fortunately, however, art has often been the treasure-trove of traditions transmitted and bequeathed, from one hand to the next, from one paintbrush to the other. So why then do Chinese artists have to ignore those millennia of ink paintings, ceramics and Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian iconographies that are part of their own DNA? Being international artists does not necessarily mean levelling techniques, styles and subjects typical of that – firstly – European and American art, which loves oil on canvas and takes man as the centre of the representation.
Recuperating one’s own past would be easy if the obligation of originality, due to every artist, did not impose itself. He Sen was able to do this, or rather take possession of famous works by others, recreating and giving them back to the public with personality and subjectivity through a unique creative process that cannot be imitated.
The most interesting aspect is surely the technique, or rather the formal aspect: painted in part with a brush and a spatula, He Sen’s canvases transmit a perception of material and style alternation that focuses the attention on the brushstrokes and composition structure, leaving the content of the scene to the side for a moment. The act of painting – with thick layers created with a spatula and able to make the work three-dimensional and with diluted brushstrokes that call to mind the effect of ink – is central to the work and research of this artist.
The main body of works in this series inspired by tradition consists in two genres typical of Chinese painting: “landscape” and “flowers and birds”. Both subjects portray what in China is the main source of artistic inspiration and poetical exalting: Nature.
At times human presence is hinted at, often a wise man or hermit isolated in a natural context of which these men constitute one of the many elements. Man’s fragility and melancholy are lost in the vigour of a nature that is strong and powerful also for the clear-cut and aggressive features with which he is depicted, oftentimes sharp and pointy.
He Sen’s works belong to the style of neoclassicism. His study and summary on western classical works and Chinese classic works has made his works get a new life. An Artist who wants to be aware of himself and his own traditions feels sooner or later the need to reclaim something that escaped and which is part of his “genetic heritage”. He Sen had momentarily lost sight of a past which now returns because it is impossible to forget one’s own roots. The artist follows the warning of the modernist poet Ezra Pound in “Make it New”, and thanks to this, he is able to express himself and renew himself in turn.