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Appearance - Guo Jin’s Return

Appearance - Guo Jin’s Return

Pi Li


The tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast--
The branches grow out of me, like arms.
Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child -- so high -- you are,
And all this is folly to the world.
          Ezra Pound, “A Girl”

   Words are insufficient to describe the excitement upon looking at Guo Jin’s paintings. They remind me of Friederich’s withered trees and ruins, and the American poet, Ezra Pound’s, famous verse, “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough”. A feeling, still prominent after I have known the artist for over a decade, is not only astonishing, but also exciting.

  Since the mid-1990s, Guo Jin surged to the fore as a vanguard of a new wave in post cynical realism. Among his paintings, we don’t find any poignant political symbols; in contrast, memories and experience dominate the subject matter, and these are repeatedly presented. According to the chronology of contemporary Chinese art history, the artistic style Guo Jin pioneered has been considered a conscious flight from the so-called “post-89’”movement; their internal essence is in fact the same as the so called new generation, the difference is that while the new generation focuses on the mundane, Guo Jin laid his attention on the memories of Childhood and the conception of time. The appearance of such imagery, on the one hand, is an inheritance from the so-called Sichuan School's sensitivity to poetry and memory. On the other hand, it is probably related to the city in which the artist lives – Chongqing. This is a place where fashion has not being undergoing the process of urbanization like in Beijing and Shanghai; climatically speaking, thin fog shrouds the city all year round, it is as if being one is in a space without the awareness of time, force or distance.


  Guo Jin’s earliest style consisted of three elements: children, rusticity in the depth of imagery, and implications of the universe. What is understood as the representation of the universe is transcendence and escape to a particular time and space. This was also the artist’s attempt to differentiate from the symbolism that was popular at the time in the contemporary art world. Children and rustic manipulation of the image forms a kind of two ways contrast – the children motif is adverse to time, in an unidentified space, they seem to mark the beginning of time, the image of rusticity (rust) reinforces the power of time. Some critics have described it with these words, “Guo Jin’s art makes these children ‘old’”. The traces of time are inlaid on new life, such a shocking contrast positions us in a kind of startling contradiction in front of these paintings – moved by the birth of life and fearing the passing of time. These are not exactly purely abstract emotions. To a certain extent, they are also a projection of individual being at the time, “one ages from birth, but is still immature upon death”, yet such projection is often embedded in the unwritten territory of the images.

  The children motif has always been the subject matter of Guo Jin’s representation, in the years that followed, the fables of Anderson and Green, and child heroes with violence from the communist era came to life under his brush, and these images have always been favored by audience. For the art world at that time, his rustic manipulation became “a standard style of Guo Jin”, and children have also become a typical presence in his works.  The spatial arrangement resembling the universe in his earlier works is now simplified into spatial relations through the use of flat smearing. With such a background, the distance between the figures and the environment is reduced; this seems to be a position between reality and fiction. However, as he intensified the purity of the colors he used, the gray area bordering reality and fiction became more interesting. It is like children’s ability to enter the world of fables without understanding their symbolic meanings, whereas adults can be enlightened by symbolic meaning but unable to be alarmed by it. The meanings in Guo Jin’s fables are often ignored by the audience. In reality, the fables painted by Guo Jin are no longer fables per se, in the course of narrating these stories, the artist has put emphasis on metaphorical topics for the adults. For example, little red riding hood’s fear and vanity, the co-existence of violence and idealism in communist children heroes, or the cruelty in children’s acrobatics, etc. Guo Jin has thus lived through the years of the 1990’s in the art world, and welcomed the prosperity of the 21st century. Yet, from the artist’s perspective, he has been involved in an invisible “wrestling” with the audience.  What he wished the audience to comprehend is the emotion in fables and one’s individual interpretation, whereas the audience has been determined to step into the world of fables.

  In my view, perhaps this is the essential motivation for Guo Jin’s new paintings – leaving the motifs of children behind. In terms of composition, ever since his work on little red riding hood, the artist’s portrayal of bushes has become increasingly predominant. In the recent “Crow” and “Alternative Angle of a Tree”, they became the protagonist. The artist has given up on personal narrative and socially accepted endless wrestling. In these works there is no particular storyline, but rather a pure visual experience. When we spoke of these paintings, Guo Jin conveniently mentioned that, “I am attempting to achieve a kind of return”. Indeed, these works complete a kind of return. They are a continuation of his earlier works – the spatial and time relationship like that of the universe, empty yet tangible.


  These works have chosen dawn or dusk, periods of transition. The trees and crows are like silhouettes placed in the wind. They seem to have suddenly appeared in front of our eyes from another world. The rustic manipulation of the images is not quite as apparent as before, yet exists quite strongly among the images. It warns us of the passing of time, an invisible velocity. Even though the artist has continued to apply his flat smearing style, its effect is not to create the lovable yet empty effect of time in fables, but a true existence. In terms of their artistic language, it is an evident return to romanticism, although spiritually, it points to the lonesome, helplessness spiritual confusion of people today. Their existence is romantic, but also filled with imagination. By looking at Guo Jin’s own past, they seem to be distinct from the symbolic tradition found in contemporary Chinese art, but rather mark a return to the visual aspect of the painting itself. For Guo Jin, these works return to the spatial representation of his earlier works, although what is before us is a kind of revisited strength and pure visual effect.


  The fable disappears, and the strength returns.


  For Guo Jin, it is at once a return and the beginning of an emergence of force.

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