Is the man in Fang Lijun's "Series II: No 2" (1992) screaming or yawning? Is this extreme anguish or utter boredom? And what is his relation to the group of almost identical men standing in the distance behind him? Is he... [more]
Is the man in Fang Lijun's "Series II: No 2" (1992) screaming or yawning? Is this extreme anguish or utter boredom? And what is his relation to the group of almost identical men standing in the distance behind him? Is he just one guy in a crowd of undifferentiated guys, or is he asserting his individuality in a society that renders everything bland? None of this is clear.
Fang Lijun's paintings never are. They effuse an attitude of indifference and uncertainty, as well as a quirky love of the absurd. For Fang, to be clear -- to make an honest, authentic statement in these times in China -- would be na've. The only admirable attitude is a playful, fun-loving cynicism -- Fang mocks himself as much as he does his subjects, discovers humor in his powerlessness and boredom, and mercilessly ridicules every emaciated state of affairs.
Despite the ambiguity inherent in his work, Fang's attitude about contemporary China is quite clear. "We'd rather be lost, bored, crisis-ridden, misguided punks than be cheated," he says. "Don't even consider trying the old methods on us, we'll riddle your dogma with holes, then discard it in a rubbish heap". Black humor, for Fang, is the solution to the problem China presently poses.
His paintings are indeed darkly hilarious: his subtly distorted figures appear as glassy-eyed oafs -- but then, they might be well aware of this. They might be mocking themselves. They might be quite pleased with their own powerlessness. Fang's stylized reality pokes fun while it doubles over on itself, cringes in pain, cries out, or yawns. In any case, the artist behind these paintings is intent on not taking anything too seriously.
Fang was trained in the school of Soviet Socialist Realism -- a training that is apparent despite its perversion. The odd blend of ennui and rogue humor, the caricatured figures (who often look like prison inmates), and the minimal backgrounds combine into a distinct style. The subjects of his paintings might be quotidian, but his insistence on the absurd within the mundane opens a perspective that transcends the everyday. He offers his own solution to China's contemporary troubles: a casual resignation that mocks any dogma that attempts to impose itself. [show less]