Pearl Lam Galleries is pleased to present a solo exhibition of Chinese born artist Su Xiaobai (b. 1949, Wuhan, China). Su’s highly contemporary artworks combine the vocabulary of an international artistic style, cultivated during his studies in Germany, with an aesthetic and philosophical practice rooted in Chinese tradition. Self-restraint is at the core of Su Xiaobai’s artistic beliefs. His gift of expressing a grand vision through simple forms has made him one of the most profound artists to address the question of existence through art since the Abstract Expressionists.
In an echo of what the German-American painter Josef Albers (1888–1976) referred to as the materie, the manipulation of the external appearance or character of the work perceived by touch and vision, Su Xiaobai gradually reduces the primacy of material form over the work itself, integrating the material into its core until it becomes inseparable from the work. This impulse originates from his explorations of the alternative energy present in materie. Ignoring the dangers of obstacles or failures, Su’s poetic inspiration remains unwavering throughout these artistic experiments. He is not afraid to express sincerity in his work, trusting his intuition to bring him towards the actualisation of a simple yet rich “concrete reality” in his experiments. The innocuous flat plane of painting is transformed using the techniques of bodiless lacquerware, creating entities that are curved, textured, and sculpture-like. These works stand at the boundary of object and artwork. Each mark, crease, indentation, and crack documents Su’s complex and time-consuming production process.
The changing form of his paintings is not meant to convey a subject or a meaning, nor does it narrate a concept or express personal emotions. Day after day, he applies colours on linen, polishes layers of lacquer, introduces subtle undulations, light and shadows, depth of texture, tactile sensations, and movement into his artworks. The artist has elevated his “material” from something with practical use to the embodiment of a meditative state. It is exactly because the material has been taken as meditation rather than a tool of description that the works are able to contain rich cultural implications, expressing a non-traditional visual force and existential power.
Su Xiaobai has an independent view of the world. Influenced by Western philosophy’s view on the nature of existence and ontological argument, Su chose lacquer, a traditional Chinese material with thousands of years of history, as a material to embody his artistic ideology. Lacquer not only possesses a distinctive and majestic range of colours but also a unique temperament; during the process, if there is a lapse in temperature-control, humidity, lighting, or ventilation, the surface of the lacquer will not dry for a long time. In contrast to traditional methods of working with lacquer, Su deliberately cracks and wrinkles what is supposed to be a glossy exterior and creates undulating and textured rather than smooth surfaces, breaking up what is meant to be a whole. Su identifies with the Daoist belief of “action through inaction” by resisting the allure of traditional presentation and not relying on the innate nature of lacquer. Using the ideas of materie, Su indicates presence and quality, speaking in its unique language and creating an undeniable tension on the surface of the artwork.
This exhibition will present a series of subtle and understated monochromatic paintings. The choice of colours and hues that only vary slightly brings about a kind of mystery. In the all-white Luminous White series, a rich and expressive range of tone is still present and reflects the beauty and simplicity that is the essence of these works.