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Painting commodities

Author: Ban Shanyang Nov,2003

Ji Wenyu is interested in everything from international politics down to Lux soaps. But his main focus is the psychology of common who are consumers and consumed as well.

Slang and straight language of ordinary people enters Ji Wenyu's paintings of international conflicts. He mixes graceful behavior with vulgar issues of ordinary families, or exaggerates ordinary things (like a piece of cooked pork) to the same importance as world events, put Chinese dumplings together with world leaders, table salt and pepper on the same level with Shanghai skyscrapers or paints a fruit basket covered by clear wrapper so that it occupies the whole canvas .

These seemingly everyday and commercial trivia look superb and colorful in Ji's paintings. What's more, everything what people talk about, from city redevelopment to Iraq war, from flirting hookers to indecent subcontractors, from dirty secrets to Chinese food, is in Ji's paintings, rendered in Ji's style, full of heads as idlers, who are witnesses and parties concerned at the same time.

Sometimes Ji really reminds us of a shopkeeper. In his continuous peddling of his goods, art is transplanted to the common people who are normally not respected by artists. But the vulgar surface conceals Ji Wenyu's calm thought, sharp observation, tolerant reflection, humor and comic irony.

Ji Wenyu has constructed a dazzling human world for us, full of rich life and fantastic pleasure. It appears superficial, common and comic-like. But in fact, it is an epic of commoners.

Ji thinks that the reason why the Opium War drove (traditional) Chinese paintings into the corner, is because Chinese paintings failed to be connected with the community, the society, while in western countries paintings were from very early on related with activities of the normal people. Some peers and critics can not tolerate the way he puts commercial society, earthly life and commoner's attitude into 'pure' art, how stirs and dissolves the nobility of culture and art with commodity and market. They may also reproach, that his art is to Chinese, not international. But the localism that he deeply analyzes is definitely an important and inevitable aspect in the process of the current internationalization (globalization) of the world.

Many artists from other cities are very surprises to see Ji Wenyu's images. They say that they re-acknowledge Shanghai through Ji's works, and actually re-acknowledge that China is worth of more reflection.

I always call Ji a very Shanghai artist, because the attitude that he expresses with his Shanghai experience can be regarded as localism, but it is a kind of localism closely connected to the world. It will never outdate because he doesn't describe the fashion in Shanghai. He mingles with the vulgar and earthly Shanghai so intimately that it is sometimes even disgusting. But who can escape from that? Between the worship of the western world and our own tradition, between grace and commonness, don't we ignore the existence of deeper collective unconsciousness that needs further insight and analysis?

Due to the amnesia of the human being, Ji's seemingly chatter become a historical memorandum precious in this time. He has recorded the changing psychology of a nation and a race under the temptations of this dazzling world, partial, typical and profound.  
Concerning the characteristics of commodity, during this specific historical stage, the commercialization of art is a double-blade sword for China, which pushes Chinese art into the new age under disastrous risks. Today, in a time of  global information and economic globalization, self-enclosing art (national art) is hard to grow. The 'modernization' of the art in China is confronted with two kinds of ordeals, one is 'internationalization', the other is 'commercialization'. Ji faces the latter one.

The fundamental consistency between art and life will not be erased by the difference or even conflict between art and life in specific historical stage. The value of Ji's creation is his deep insight, humorous wit and comedic irony, which starts to cover, communicate and connect the relationship between art and life, which has been distorted by alienation, in this special period that commerce blurs and emphasizes boundary.

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