Ling Jian's new works are inspired by chance encounters with music and painting. The German rock band Rammstein has a heavy metal song entitled “Ohne Dich" (“Without You”) about love and death. One of the lyrics is “Ohne dich… Und die Vögel singen nicht mehr” (“Without you… the birds sing no more”). Ling Jian heard this song while shopping in a flea market, where he also chanced upon a bird painting manual from the Forbidden City. In that moment, the gongbi paintings of birds in this manual and Rammstein's song collided and blended in time and space, producing a special emotional connection. With this unexpected encounter, Ling Jian chose to fuse gongbi bird painting with contemporary painting techniques, continuing his recent experiments with related artistic questions.
In Falling Ancient Birds, the overlapping and intersecting forms of birds were drawn from painting manuals made by the masters of the Kangxi and Yongzheng reigns. The feathers of different types of birds extend in different directions, as if they were passing from the tranquility of the Forbidden City into a realist figure, in order to create a new context. This work embodies the conflicts and fusions that took place at the moment of creation, transcending the logic of time.
In this exhibition, Ling Jian presents Guanxiu: Black and Guanxiu: Gold. The works are named after Guanxiu, a monk, painter, and poet active during the late Tang Dynasty and the Five Dynasties. He was best known for his painting Sixteen Arhats. A Record of Famous Paintings of Sichuan (Yizhou Minghua Lu) described the piece: “His sixteen arhats had bushy eyebrows, large eyes, sagging cheeks, and high noses. They were seated in landscapes, leaning against pine trees and stones. They looked and behaved like Hindus or Indians. When someone asked where he had seen such men he answered: 'in my dream.'” Of all the artists in the history of Chinese painting, Ling Jian was most moved by Guanxiu, whose work truly resonated with him. These two pieces feature blotches of black and gold covering the figures' faces, which symbolize Guanxiu's robe and a clear understanding of life produced through abstraction. The body of the figures are presented like the Buddhist sculptures of Qingzhou, with the viewer able to see the back of the body and the fronts of the arms simultaneously. At that moment, the body has already transcended the personalities that Ling Jian emphasized in his previous portraits, becoming a collective vehicle for religion, personal experience, and abstract ideas.
Ling also explored the link between classical culture and new inspirations for contemporary art in his 2011 solo exhibition “Moon in Glass” at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. In recent years, he has continued to draw nourishment from traditional Chinese culture; aesthetically and technically, he perfectly blends traditional and contemporary themes, transforming them into a painting style all his own. He has always embraced an open creative state, in which “ancient birds” fly to the present and sing the melodies of Kangxi and Rammstein.