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Xue Feng Solo Exhibition – Seurat Studies: Monitors and Printers

Exhibition details

Opening / Event Date:
27 November, 2021
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Closing / End Date:
31 December, 2021
Event Category:

1. Xue Feng is far more interested in the printed material than in the landscape.

2. Before Xue Feng’s painting style had fully formed, two events had a major influence on him, and became creative resources. The first took place in 1997, the year Xue Feng graduated from college. He accepted a job painting 20 copies of Isaac Levitan’s famous work By the Whirlpool. He was not interested in the beautiful painting, the moving story, or the summer dusk; what interested him was why he achieved a different effect with every one of the 20 copies of the painting. Were these subtle differences caused by variations in the colors he mixed, the brushwork, or his mood? These doubts, like the ripples in the whirlpool in the painting, lingered for quite a while without dispersing. Second, Xue had, by chance, collected many miniature images of the Huangshan Welcoming Pine and various printed versions; the same landscape and the same tree appeared differently because of different cropping, color mixing, and printing equipment. Some were cooler, and others were warmer; some were darker, and others were brighter. Xue came to love and habitually collect the same object, similar to an encyclopedia, archive, or comparative anthropological and iconological study. He collected multiple versions of the same pictures, miniature images of West Lake landscapes from several periods, and different editions of the same catalogues. Without access to the original work, many misunderstandings can be caused by printing and technology, and sometimes that printed material or screen actually becomes “true.”

3. Stories have never been at the center of Xue Feng’s work. He consciously reduces the narrative element as much as possible, in order to better convey the differences between the images. He needs to repeatedly depict the same subjects and forms, and he tries to make the themes as monotonous as possible and the spaces as simple as possible, which is how he prevents the viewer’s eye and mind from being distracted. Complex forms and narratives would only destroy the theme of the work. Xue Feng needs to choose as simple a form as possible to narrow the work’s scope; only then can he magnify and strengthen subtle differences of color, brushwork, and composition in similar pictures, making these differences the only central theme.

4. In his revolutionary “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” from the 1960s, Sol LeWitt wrote, “There is no reason to suppose, however, that the conceptual artist is out to bore the viewer. It is only the expectation of an emotional kick, to which one conditioned to expressionist art is accustomed, that would deter the viewer from perceiving this art.”This view laid the foundation for the essential distinction between traditional and contemporary art. The traditional offers emotional delight, which nurtures taste, character, a soulful aesthetic, and spiritual redemption. The contemporary attempts to convey a concept, discuss something, or express a series of viewpoints; aesthetic concerns are not of primary importance.

5. Xue Feng’s paintings stem from Georges Seurat and the Pointillist painter’s scientific, rational attitude toward color separation. As a Post-Impressionist, Seurat expanded on the Impressionist tradition of using natural light to observe and describe nature; however, he also rebelled against industrial, mechanical, and design-oriented composition and accuracy. Classical painting gave nature an inherent vitality, and that ended with Seurat. In his work, Seurat transformed colors into the dots of pigment that make them up, embarking upon a rational, abstract, and structural pursuit. Fields of scattered dots allowed the light and shadow of time to flow through the crevices, creating endless variations. He influenced traditional painters like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the 1880s, as well as the development of constructivism and cool abstraction. However, Seurat also separated the study of painting from art itself, which served as a source for the technical revolution. Color separation and shading techniques are remarkably similar to the principles of the additive color model used in television and computer screens. A similar rationale underpins inkjet printing. Seurat was the nineteenth century’s living inkjet printer.

6. Regardless of the subject depicted, his Seurat studies, monitors, and printers are games that dissolve subject matter into color, light, and shadow. They do not present an isolated event or individual; they are abstractions common to joy, sorrow, indifference, and passion, common values to all of humanity.

7. We need to see Xue Feng’s work in the context of Seurat, but a nineteenth-century painter like Seurat cannot sufficiently articulate contemporary issues. We need to employ the principles of printers and monitors, supported by the tone curves on the screen. By adjusting the numerical values for exposure, saturation, color temperature, tone, acutance, definition, image noise, and vignetting, humans and machines can create countless differences and changes to a picture. These possibilities help us to understand the differences between the 20 versions of the Welcoming Pine, the colors and fine brushstrokes in Xue’s images, as well as the principles and methods that produced them. Similarly, the techniques of cutting, layering, copying, and pasting help us to understand the layered spaces in his paintings, a gateway to infinite replication. Through sequencing, grid spacing, location, base, and background, we can understand the size and distribution of the images in Xue Feng’s works. Only when Seurat, monitors, and printers are combined as the basis for our viewing experience and way of thinking can he create new feelings and meanings in his paintings.

8. More or less beginning with Peter Doig, monitors, fluorescent lights, and inkjet printing effects began to enter painting, and what we could call “the era of digital painting” began. By 2008, Xue Feng had already started experimenting with color separation, screen colors, and printing techniques in his paintings in China. At that time, we were still mocking the excessive ornamentation and rationality of electronic images, the lack of good taste and human talent, and the absence of any painterly interest or larger subject. We complained that it fractured the great tradition of classical and modern painting, but the mode of painting with which we made a living still proudly existed after this major technological leap. However, this revolution was deadly; electronic images shook painting to its core more than any other crisis. More than ten years later, they have become essential to the new generation of artists born in the 1990s and 2000s. They grew up in a world of screens, electronic games, and printed designs; their reality is the digital image, and not printed matter or publications. They quickly forgot how to draw from life, and they use all of their second-hand colors to read second-hand reality. They accept and take pride in this change, rather than being anxious about it, even as they declare a new met-averse.

9. Xue Feng is a bit old-fashioned and pedantic. He is more interested in considering when something new appeared, rather than accepting or declaring the advent of a new era in painting. What caused it to appear? After it appeared, what kinds of changes did it inspire? This is what he has done with his studies of Seurat.


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