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True To Oneself - Wang Zhongjie\'s Existential Quest - by Monica Dematté, (2009,12,8)

Monica Dematté

      When I first stepped into Wang Zhongjie’s studio, what struck me most was the strength and the originality of his work. This happened about two years ago, and many of his paintings at that time were quite large. Pervaded by the enthusiasm which I feel when I am facing works of art which makes my inner chords resonate, I started a conversation with their author. Zhongjie spoke to me in Henan dialect, and excused himself, saying that only in that language could he feel truly at ease. I realized he was concerned with research going far beyond the painting medium.
      I have hardly ever seen visionary, spiritual works of this nature in China. Colours are daring and patches of strong light, dazzling as if coming directly from a supernatural source (it reminds me of Caravaggio’s ’Saul’s conversion’), alluding as it does to another existence beyond the everyday reality.

      The paintings are populated by mysterious creatures, both human beings and animals, and I feel that there is little difference between the two. Human males might be deers, wolves or rabbits, while females and the intimate parts of female bodies are often symbolized by butterflies.
      Bodies lie on the ground, in complete abandonment, as if trying to fuse themselves with the mother earth; Mutating through animal bodies into new entities, they resuscitate to a new awakening.
      Alternatively, human bodies are standing or sitting pensively, solitary, curved under the overwhelming weight of the eternal uncertainty of the eternal quest.
      The moon is bright, and rather than being high in the sky, it often shines, round and full, lower than the human feet.
      The painting style is either very rich, baroque, free, daring, or cold, geometric, controlled-or else a combination of the two.
      I have seen a skull and a bucket full of scorpions in Wang Zhongjie’s studio. He loves poisonous animals. He needs to recall that death is just another part of existence.
      The rooster appearing here and there on the canvasses helps the awakening-its singing
at the sunrise is a reminder that a new day is coming. Maybe a new possibility or maybe a new life.
      The monkey seems to be a trickier presence-something like the human’s alter-ego, it is both colder hearted and alert, yet wilder than the other beasts.
      Deep reds and deep blues, and velvets or bright, luminous, supernatural white, light, enlightenment.

      One year later, I went back to Zhongjie’s studio and found that the paintings had changed greatly. They were simpler, mainly divided into two areas by the line of horizon. I have to admit that from a visual point of view I was a bit disappointed-they were not as astonishing as the previous ones. Then I understood: Zhongjie was looking for an existential truth beyond any aesthetic consideration.
      This year I went to visit him again-there were friends with me, and we could not speak freely. He kept that pressure within himself, the need to tell me something which he was afraid that his works could not express fully.
      I think I can understand his urge as I feel it deeply myself.
      What strikes me is the fact that in every single moment, in every expression on his face and his eyes, Zhongjie is true to himself. A truth which may be a burden as it cannot rest on habits, fixed expressions, and everyday habit-bound language. It requires a full commitment to each moment of his life, which makes him face life and death, and-what is even more difficult-it makes him meditate constantly on his personal reasons for living and dying.
      I feel the heavy load that Zhongjie is carrying-I feel the intensity of his stare and the vulnerability of his soul.
      I wish that, by telling him how much I feel this same burden, I could help him carrying it.

      This year’s paintings are smaller, moving from disquieting geometry to visionary symbolism.
Doors and shelves, open and closed. Three-dimensionality refers to a third dimension which is somewhere else-in the spaces beyond, in the black and in the white, in the mirrors, in the distorted reflections.
      Birth and death, the origin of life-in Courbet’s sense-gives sense to everything if one can find contentment in it.
      Colourful clouds break into geometric spaces, like hints of the unconscious in a rational mind.
      Skulls and tombs, roosters and female nudes, evoking new life, are placed side by side with death.
      A simple blue surface, like water, seems to be the ultimate existence.
      I feel that, like the great American painter, Rothko, Zhongjie might one day renounce his baroque symbolism for simplicity.
      I am not sure, though, that simplicity is the only way to the ultimate truth.

      The other day, a friend told Zhongjie that he feels that all his imaginary figures are nothing but his personal deities.
     “What did Zhongjie reply?” I asked.
     “He just laughed.”

Vigolo Vattaro,
8th December 2009