Z Gallery Arts is delighted to present Xie Lei’s first solo show in Vancouver and in Canada. The young and very promising Chinese artist will exhibit twelve paintings that he specially made for this exhibition.
Xie Lei uses a fiery imagination to coalesce various cultures – the Chinese and Western ones – in a truly unique manner. Neither a strictly figurative nor abstract painter, he jostles the classical codes of representation. His sensibility, his subtlety and acuity invite us to cast a different glance at our world.
His tenacity and his education started this process. The solid training he received at China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing gave him the means to fully master painting techniques. His brushstroke can be delicate, transparent or thickly textured, and his color choice – often monochromatic – is intense. Xie Lei’s paintings, large or small, demonstrate how well the artist can use the medium to connect with today’s viewers despite the multitude of digital images that global and instant communication produce, and that threaten to drown us. His studies, first at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris (ENSBA) where he graduated with Honors, then at Hunter College (New York) and finally at the Royal College of Art (London), strengthened his determination to create a truly personal body of work. In Paris, in April 2016, he enrolled in a practice-based PhD, a new research program jointly established by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education and became the first ENSBA student to receive the title of Dr. in Visual Arts with Honors. The title of his thesis was « Entre Chien et Loup. Poétique de l’Etrange pour un Peintre d’Aujourd’hui » (“Between Wolf and Dog – Poetry of the Strange for a Painter of Today”).
Poe’s Garden, which is both the exhibition title and the name for the largest format he has ever painted (63 × 188.9 in), reflects the confluence of the cultures he came across. The works of Pu Songling, Borges and Edgar Allan Poe where the fantastic and the surreal always introduce a new way to envision reality, nurtured Xie Lei’s imagination. An often desolate and fearsome nature plays an important part in Poe’s tales, particularly in the three that Baudelaire translated, and perhaps more so than in the texts of the two other writers. Xie Lei gives us a monumental landscape where hands or perhaps flowers burst out of a scorched field. At first glance, the painting appears to be very dark, only filled with an austere black when it is actually made of a combination of multiple shades of purple and green. But then the eye is drawn to the red and orange motifs that shimmer on the canvas. The triptyque could remind us of Monet’s Nymphéas, but Poe’s Garden was not painted outside and does not attempt to be a faithful rendition of reality – it is a mental landscape. It would be better echoed by Richard Serra’s sculptures – these immense sheets of steel attacked by rust.
Revert to Origin, another large format is an allegory based on Chinese philosophy and on the importance it gives to reincarnation. The style is clean, and the simple brushstroke alludes to leaves being leisurely moved by a breeze: time is suspended; the colors, like the leaves, are shades of copper; the landscape is abstract, supernatural: 落叶归根 Falling leaves return to their roots.
The exhibition’s medium and small formats evoke vignettes of life, snapshots in which imagination transforms reality, where the mundane becomes extraordinary and even intriguing. Other works allude to the search for the meaning of life, for identity and to the sense of vulnerability that we may all experience. Some paintings could remind us of current affairs, but the artist distrusts immediacy and prefers to keep his distance. He will not exploit tragic situations or deliver a direct message. The semantic field widens and each painting reveals the ambiguity, the duality and the antagonism that lie at the heart of any situation. Xie Lei uses painting to tell without telling.
Xie Lei was born in 1983 in Anhui Province and now works and lives in Paris where the Galerie Anne de Villepoix regularly organizes solo shows of his work. Xie Lei had a solo show at the Galerie Charlotte Moser in Geneva in 2012, two in 2011 and 2013 at Feasts Projects in Hong Kong and one in 2012 at the Fondation Yishu 8 in Beijing. The Marlborough Gallery showed his work in New York in 2008. French public institutions organized solo shows of his work at Château d’Ardelay in Herbiers (2014), Les Rencontres d’Art Contemporain in Cahors (2014), the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Paris (2016). In 2010 he participated in a group show at the Fondation Ricard and, in 2012, at the Saline Royale in Arc-et-Senans. His works are now part of private collections in Europe (particularly in France) and in China.