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Ouyang Chun: The Puzzler

Author: Guo Xiaoyan 2014

Ouyang Chun, long passionate about painting, attaches great importance to this exhibition, believing that these works are representative of a pivotal spiritual moment in his evolution as an artist. This is an exhibition that holds within it the primitive spiritual motivations that drove the beginning of his artistic career and the start of its attendant creative ideations.

With this group of works—the fruits of a 15-year span of artistic creation—Ouyang Chun intends to construct a “child’s” world. Could the fact that the artist calls upon this perspective perhaps imply that he is attempting—through the narrative of the canvas, through the force of colors and of lines—to free his own painterly practice from reliance on any pre-formed “existence” of painting? Is he hoping neither to rely on fixed conceptions and “formulas,” nor to give into the temptation or influence of these notions? Perhaps this is something we can only discover after we have gone to see the exhibition ourselves.
As for the central concept behind his long-term body of work, Ouyang Chun has hoped, from the start, to act on an ongoing passion that instructs him to take action in the world of painting through the creation of an entirely new understanding of the craft itself. Ouyang Chun's individual ordering and conception of the painterly craft is embodied by the things he depicts. A decisive attribute of these works—upon which the artist places central significance—is the fact that it they do not possess much in the way of external reference, whether to painting or art history at large. Conceptualized interpretations or understandings of certain artistic or critical approaches are not imposed upon them; rather, he has used his own worldview to engage in a re-ordering of his materials. The objects he portrays in his paintings are objects of his own spiritual reality and psychological perceptions, perhaps even realer than the "originals" themselves. This is Ouyang Chun’s own self-sufficient painterly territory. He is like a precocious and reckless child, an explorer in a somewhat directionless world who relies on the passion and determination of his sheer curiosity and adventuresome spirit.
We can clearly see that during the period over which he produced this work, Ouyang Chun possessed a good degree of confidence in his mastery over the canvas. The works are done always with a sense of ease, as if completed overnight without a stray moment’s hesitation. They are not made to appear heavy, but rather are part of an arrangement that emanates a random, unguarded, brash, and even, perhaps, neurotic temperament. The images here are either a little bit ambiguous—owing to a kind of sentimental attachment to unconfined expression—or otherwise rife with an element of suspense, hidden within stubbornness; this style appears to be born of absent-mindedness, but is in fact hand-in-hand with the emotional state and informational system of the artist’s individual experience of reality. The simultaneous presence of absorbed focus and sheer mystery here is derived from the sort of understanding and life experience only a child completely invested in and transfixed by the game he is playing could possess.
Ouyang Chun has a powerful mastery over detail. The canvas appears to lack any degree of aesthetic traceability, and indeed has a riskiness about it because of this. But the uniqueness of his paintings rests most importantly in a certain precise, self-imposed order. Even if he does make use of certain image resources from time to time, he still emphasizes spontaneity and accident. Ouyang Chun has almost no set theme for this group of works; what we see is an observant gaze, extended outwards onto countless layers of perception in society and in daily life; onto everyday, existing things; and at the same time in touch with the abstract world and with spiritual reality. Even more importantly, the artist places stress on intuition and perception through awareness. This group of works is not in fact concerned with careful external descriptions of the appearance of things, but rather with the depiction of the internal content that this surface appearance projects onto the mind. Picture planes seem to take screenshots of mental images, abandoning and in turn transforming these images from within conventional experience. Deviating from the path of established usages of language and weakened both intentionally and incidentally, they are cut away to form a kind of casual but balanced linguistic style. Perhaps here, the artist purposely short-circuits any potential specific definitions of painting, precisely such that the plane of the picture and the content towering beyond it can come face to face with one another.
The content of these projections may possess a certain personal significance as Ouyang Chun’s self-inflicted suspense and metaphor. In his paintings, content is often gradually hidden away, transforming into something wholly ineffable, such that a paradox lives and breathes through the canvas. The extremely sketched, scrawly nature of the background provides us with incomplete information and leads us to suspect that these works were completed quickly and brashly. Behind the brush strokes there may indeed be doubts, depression: not only as indicated by the painterly language alone, but also brought to the canvas through the change that time itself will bring to a painting. Ouyang Chun has produced the "realistic image": the missing passcode. Time and space become incoherent; the fuzziness of the canvas, having lost its track, has broken to pieces; the mottled, dim colors dance…but behind it all there is yet another layer: an artist's first-hand experience of a spiritual adventure.
When he paints, Ouyang Chun goes beyond contemplating and revealing the world from a personal standpoint; furthermore, in dealing with colors, forms, and space, he never forgets to express the clash of human emotions. One can feel emotion emerging directly through the language of his paintings. The intensity of this language increases by degree until it seems the container of the painting itself will no longer be able to bear it. But then, at the crucial moment, the wellspring is kept under control, and has indeed been measuredly controlled all along. In his approach to the canvas, Ouyang Chun's work seems to incorporate a certain expanded range; he knows very well that the original intention of painting itself is intuited through the experience of painting through “childhood,” but he takes this and goes a step further, advancing to an even more distant and vital realm—one that possesses a symbolism that the perspective of childhood alone could never draw out. The rhythm moving atop the picture plane seems to purposely allow the solidification of a thought-provoking moment, a freeze-frame effect as the unspoken truth behind the canvas comes through. The painterly language wondrously enlarges and then shrinks as the linguistic subject is weakened and nears “defamiliarization,” allowing it to break through the image surface’s layers of heavy fog. Thus the contemporary nature of Ouyang Chun's paintings is built upon an intrinsically systematic dynamic of reduction and retreat. The melting away of a narrative subject; the lack of a central point of view; even the residual sense of unease that comes with the "departure" from and absence of an air of knowledge or historical sensibility following an intentional obscuration of theme; the deliberate crudeness, the heartsickness, the careless scrawls and scratches: this—all of this, together—is Ouyang Chun's painting world.
It would appear as if Ouyang Chun is using the spirit’s images in an outwardly casual way, absorbing them freely and constructing out of them the "stories" behind his content. These stories involve subjects depicted through such vast and varied matter as still lifes, landscapes, parts of things, the spiritual world, and so on. As he himself has said, the sincerity of a child is the yearning of his curiosity, while calm and caution are the sources of later strength. The earnestness of a child bestows the artist with his secret tips for painting: invent and doctor that which might occur behind what is visible, doubt the so-called truth, purposely cut away the peripheral offshoots of the artistic lexicon, obscure and muddle the pristine accuracy of language, transform the “perfect” world into a reality of ruin, and then re-assemble it into a false world with a new face. In this moment, painting has once again become the bold re-weaving of language itself that it was meant to be.
Perhaps Ouyang Chun’s belief that painting is the birth of a new order following the loss of visual language is the (painterly) reality which naturally results from a necessary re-examination of the world, after the peak and subsequent retreat of form and content in modernism.

Related Artists:
OUYANG CHUN 欧阳春

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