Folded Portraits, by Huang Du

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Folded Portraits

Huang Du

April 25, 2017 (Tuesday) Office in Wang Jing (translated by Yahia Ma)


Generally speaking, Pang Maokun’s recently created portraits indicate a familiar yet strange sense. Undoubtedly, these images originate from classical paintings at one hand, meanwhile, they alienate classical paintings on the other hand. His portraits extend the classical paintings, in other words, the artist deconstructs and constructs the classical paintings through diverting and resetting. The folded portraits denote coexistence and intertwinement of time and space, even a kind of encounter and communication with others, that’s why Pang Maokun chose to create the series of folded portraits. Not only does the postmodernist methodology inherit the artistic language of classical paintings, but it also indicates a kind of assimilation of the regulations of images. Even though these paintings are portraits, the viewpoint of the artist locates the meeting point of the pedigree of images and contemporary language, in this way, the approach of diverting and resetting brings together the internal conjunction of time, space, selfness, others, history and present. In this sense, Pang Maokun recodes the language of portrait and forms a defining individual style of art. Generally, his portraits are made to discuss the following issues, gazing and being gazed, classicism and classicization, diverting and resetting.

Pang Maokun has long been concerned with paintings of the art masters Jan van Eyck and Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, mainly about the subject of mirror image which provides us with artistic dimension of observing, the subtle relation between gazing and being gazed, subject and object, image and the third party. Such an implication goes beyond our visual range, in fact, it is confined within syntax limits (empirical thinking). Just like Las Meninas, an “invisible” perspective of space is opened, a series of visual elements in and out of the painting as well as the gazing and storytelling from the integrative narration. However, we cannot help thinking how it is designed and how it inspires the gaze of characters in the painting and the viewers. The visual narrative of Las Meninas undoubtedly suggests an innovative reproduction of classical painting. In terms of comparison of visual image, while the Italian paintings of Renaissance showcase a sense of resemblance, the work of Velázquez indicates the transformation of representation. And the “reproduction” as an approach complies with postmodernist concept of art, not only does it manifest commonality of object, but it also reveals the internal relation between the reproduced object and words. In all likelihood, while “similarity” is only subject to comparison between matters, “reproduction” assembles multi-dimensional visual language by means of introducing

words. Accordingly, “gaze” as a word becomes a narrative approach of knowledge in the process of immersing in the regulations of images.

Scrupulously selecting a range of classic images, Pang Maokun gets involved in the issue of “reproducing” classical paintings in a classical way, he also devotes himself to how painting constructs and generates a new artistic language in a way of its own. By diverting and resetting, the artist alters the original intention of the images while diverting them, establishing a new relation between himself and others. Just as Harold Bloom incisively points out in “The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry” (1973), in terms of poetry, the influence of predecessors on descendants mainly lies in the descendants’ misinterpretation of the predecessors. Such a misinterpretation is usually intentional, it is a sort of resistance to the predecessors. Therefore, the influencing process is understood as a process of misinterpreting. In addition, influence results in modification. In other words, the way the descendants resist the predecessors, in fact, is to inevitably modify the predecessors under the influence of the predecessors in order to develop a new visual language. As Pang Maokun applies such an approach in creating his recent works, at the first glance it displays nothing unique in terms of image, however, when interpreting these recent works attentively, viewers would find that the artist cohesively and inclusively unites the comparison between construction and reconstruction, history and reality, ridicule and severity, that is to say, in a way of parody and resetting, the artist constructs and transforms the clue hidden in painting into an orderly integrity, additionally, the image suggests a kind of allegory or metaphor. Pang Maokun’s most recent work “Lady with an Ermine” comprehensively explains this point in all aspects by diverting and modifying Leonardo da Vinci’s original work “Lady with an Ermine” (54.8 cm x 40.3 cm, collected by Czartoryski Museum). As shown in the original work, Leonardo da Vinci vividly portrays the lady’s face turned toward her left at the moment, showcasing a noble, tranquil aura of perfection, in her arms, the smooth and vivid white-coated stoat namely the ermine symbolizes a sense of nobility. In front of such a masterpiece, Pang Maokun imitates the classic image on one hand, he also modifies and provides a supplement to it in terms of composition and structure so as to reach a new level. Specifically, he converts the lady’s eyes toward her left into a tightly closed left eye and a right eye gazing forward, just like grimacing or making a face. Such a gaze seemingly implies the encounter and communication between those who are in the opposite position in the painting and the audience (different viewers) beyond the picture’s frame. Apart from such a playful alteration, in terms of her garment, the artist intentionally adds an extra black leather jacket over her shoulders, metaphorically, this indicates trendiness and modernity of it self-evidently. It’s noteworthy that Pang Maokun makes full use of light and shade to outline the woman’s head and face in a graceful and smooth way. Observing attentively, however, the artist seems to deliberately stretch her hand that touches the ermine, making it much slenderer and more graceful. Through diverting and resetting, the artist extends and reconstructs a new language of image in the process of handling and reproducing classical image. Therefore, his painting is simply about painting.

Pang Maokun's painting as a practice has shown that he doesn’t identify himself as a rebel or anarchist at all, in fact, he simply views the classic as a subject with possibility of extension. As for the artist, the classic literally means the highest criterion and the highest level, it also denotes a sense of standardization and regularization, and symbolizes typology too. However, Pang Maokun is a practitioner of Classicism, he classicizes images; that is to say, he focuses on inner spirituality of them instead of apparently imitating the external form, and he pushes the boundaries of classical symbols and pays attention to relation, denotation and variation between different forms of painting, from this regard, the artist strives to break the confinement of the dominant classicism. Thus, it is rather clear that he doesn’t choose to imitate the classic paintings and resemble similar visions, in effect, he attempts for dissimilation and subjectification of them. Specifically, this is based on his direct use of assimilation of classic paintings instead of opposition to classic paintings in order to establish the artistic language in painting of his own. This is a trans-experience concept, an incorporative and surpassing process.

To reach this goal, the painter spares no effort to exempt and “escape” from the established vision and pays close attention to the upgrading of concept and form as well as developing new narrative, in other words, in a combined way of diverting, resetting and blending, the idea is to make oneself encounter others even interactively join them. This kind of amendment eliminates and blurs the conventional distinction between oneself and others. Only in this way, the fixed boundaries can be blended even surpassed.

Pang Maokun’s “The Living Room of Diego Velázquez” (180x280cm, oil on canvas, 2017) is a kind of adoption, resettlement and amendment of “Portrait of Pope Innocent X” created by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez in 1650. Tracing back to the character in the original painting, he was Pope Innocent X who was succeeded to the throne in 1644. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was invited by Pope Innocent X to paint the portrait, in which the painter accurately captured the complicated mind and spirituality of the character in the moment. The portrait shows the steadfast, vicious, shrewd look of the Pope, it also reveals his spiritual weakness by portraying his feeble hands on the armchairs. In addition, the fiery red silk in the painting highlights the solemnity of religion, the white rochet and red cape give rise to a distinctive contrast of color. However, Pang Maokun alters its regulations of artistic language through adding a grotesque tone to the classic image. In other words, the artist introduces himself in a dialogue with the Pope in the painting, such a modification literally transforms the denotation of the original painting, and metaphorically symbolizes religious issues, i.e. the conflict of today between Middle East and Europe and America. The conflict, in fact, is between Christianity and Islam rather than between civilizations. It’s indefinite whether the painter himself implies a Buddhist symbol, however, it conveys a sort of dialogue and negotiation. This is a grotesque, non-sacred, and complementary parody and reconstruction (same as Pang Maokun’s other paintings, e.g. “The Sky of El Greco”, “Reader”, and “Corresponding Portrait”), the time, space, character and story are “tampered” or “modified” into another narrative, this brings extra imagination, reflection and thinking to the audience. This picture showcases the artist's extraordinary skills and sagacity.

Apart from oil paintings, Pang Maokun also made a great amount of sketches. Like his oil paintings, his sketches also have a rather independent quality. Most of Pang Maokun's portrait drawings are derived from the Internet which allows individual links to associate with links of groups in different time and space. Through the folded portraits, he presents possibilities of uncertain encounters, symbolizing a sense of encounter, communion, comparison, conversation and communication between the classical and the contemporary, East and West, past and present as well as face-to-face and eye-to-eye interpersonal interaction. Meanwhile, his portraits have become the subject of his sketches as well as oil paintings, he is quite adept in sketching. In terms of structure of picture, he attentively focuses on the presence of portrait itself instead of creating background. As Pang Maokun also carefully designs the frontal composition of characters, he views sketch as an independent artistic creation, and he even reverses the conventional way from practicing to creating. He starts with oil paintings before making sketches. When drawing sketches, he mainly puts together lines to compose, he is skilled in presenting the light to the fullest even though he ignores to apply any tone of color. To deal with light and shade as well as backlight, he still chooses line as major language of image, the artist handles the shade in a flat way of painting. His sketches fully manifest a painterly quality.

It seems a bit ironic to talk about aesthetics in the context of Chinese contemporary art, however, in the artistic context of Europe and America, taking about aesthetics in the artistic context of Europe and America still remains commendatory, positive and favorable, and this is quite contrary to our view at home. The reason in all likelihood is that the academism and avant-gardism have long been opposed to each other, it is also due to the hidden ideological discourse of it. Anyway, although Pang Maokun’s portraits are classical, the artist introduces a postmodernist approach which undoubtedly inspires us to rethink the “dimension of beauty” and “dimension of portrait” as well.

Throughout the work of Pang Maokun, we will find that the artist adheres to the times, and he distances himself from it at the same time. Pang Maokun’s paintings indicate a sensible insight and touch upon existence of “human” (specifically oneself). In a quite unique perspective, with a particular artistic concept, Pang Maokun fully displays value and dignity of human beings. Just as German philosopher Max Scheler contends, in the sequence of values, the value of personality takes up the highest position.",

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