As a fellow of the art world, I feel deeply delighted that Gao Yun’s representative works are brought together in an exhibition at the time of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China. Although he has published a number of artbooks before, and his works have frequently participated in exhibitions throughout the past decades, his artistic approach is much clearer when the works are anthologized panoramically. The exhibition provides a precious chance for the fellow artists to exchange ideas and a comprehensive presentation of the works to the public.
Gao Yun is an artist who grew up and stepped to maturity in the great era of Reform and Opening-up. The tremendous historical changes and developments in Chinese society provided rare opportunities for the artist to release his talents, and also challenged him at the cultural and academic level. The merits of Gao Yun laid in how he cherished the opportunities, strived to closely follow the changes of ideological trends, and consciously synchronised with the epochal pulse. For decades, he has always adhered to a firm cultural ideal, always upholding the passion for an artistic practice that looked to the epoch’s forward strides. The era moves and inspires him. He is also determined to eulogize the era with continuous artistic exploration. In his works, whether they have historical or realistic themes, large-scale masterpiece or small and exquisite composition, they always show a clear sense of the era in terms of themes, conception, mood and formal construction. His works are filled with the aura of broad-mindedness and clarity. His style is fresh and lucid, reflecting the flourishing atmosphere and the high spirits of the times.
Reform and Opening-up has brought about a historical change to the context of Chinese arts and culture. For an artist, this change put forward a test on the macroscopic understanding of the culture. It propelled artists to seek for development in the process of change,to effectively address the relationship between inheritance andcultural innovation, to examine history from the perspective of art theory, and to seek the right coordinates for his art practice in face of contemporality. A sober cultural consciousness continuously runs through Gao Yun’s artistic development. This is highlighted in his practice; think before paint, thoughts lead the acts. His art not only obtained an individuality early on, but also shows a firm creed. It is this steady and sustained spiritual pursuit that gives his art a stable quality. For a Chinese painting artist, changes of the times suggest new issues at a concrete level of the practice. The new collision and exchange between Chinese and foreign cultures, the impact and influence of international art trends on Chinese art, especially on Chinese painting, as well as the challenges presented by global informatisation to the
aesthetic style of art images, are all unavoidable cultural contexts and actual circumstances necessarily encountered by Chinese painting artists. Gao Yun also did not escape these challenges for Chinese painting, nor has he attempted to evade them. He has always been full of confidence in the contemporary development of Chinese art, and constantly strives to innovate. He focuses especially in overcoming problems of artistic conception and that of the ink-and-brush language; learning from the traditional culture, he has formulated a constitutive framework for his own research. In-depth investigation of daily life and perceptions of reality are original source for his motivations, propelling him to make each creation process a research process that endeavours to solve problems. In the conception and expression of every piece or group of works, he seeks breakthroughs and pushes boundaries in the realm of artistic expressions, and builds a prolific art world.
The opportunities bestowed by the epoch to different artists give different returns. Gao Yun’s outstanding achievements in Chinese painting are not only reflected in the profoundness of his thoughts and the exquisiteness of his art works, but also in his rich life experience. He is an artist with multiple ‘identities’. He has worked in fields including art editorial and publishing, and museum management and cultural administration. His experience encompassing multiple official posts has provided him with a broader cultural vision and an incomparable aptitude of understanding. In his case, administrative work and creative research can complement and facilitate one another, formulating a unique artistic approach. His talent lies in the ability to bring together a variety of experience and transform them by virtue of a creative energy. He can mobilize and utilize his work experience, converting forces felt outside of the art practice into painting, so that the works reflect a broad realm of reflection and profuse involution. Such is the distinctive characteristic of Gao Yun’s art.
To be more specific, Gao Yun’s art has three prominent features.
First, he is good at expressing historical themes with contemporary perspectives, thus assigning new meanings to the history. Over the years, he has concentrated on creating works of major historical themes, and investigated the involution of traditional culture. For paintings of historical subjects, they have long been required to‘offer edification and record the vicissitudes in history, so that what happened in the vast span of thousands of years can be presented in visual form’ (from Guhua Pinlu, by Xie He). To be able to express the spirit of the new era, strengthen national self-confidence and boost the national spirit, paintings of historical themes form an important path in fostering a culture of harmony and cultivating civilized practices.
We can clearly notice Gao Yun’s research of this subject in his art career. In his works such as Broken Soul at Mawei, The Making of the Great Canon of the Yongle Reign, and Remember Us?, it can be seen that he strives for a grand and unequivocal expression and attempts to effectively combine characters, plots and scenes in a way that expresses a specific historical significance. They are laid out as masterpieces with both a historical density and a unique art style which does not literally translate a historical narrative. To create a painting of a historical subject not only requires a comprehensive grasp of large-scale scenes, but also a rigorous textual research of the history. To create a historical scene with authenticity, artists need to have the capability to delve into historical facts, study the social backgrounds and cultural situations of the time, and collect historical data, documents, pictures, anecdotes, etc. With continuous consideration and careful deliberation, Gao Yun is able to create works of historical subjects that integrate historicity, creativity and aesthetics, and compose epics that praise the spirituality of the national history.
Secondly, he is a master in grasping artistic composition with the spirit of ‘rise and fall’; unfolding plots with images and shaping images with plots. From large-scale paintings of historical subjects to those with classical figures, from picture storybooks to stamps, from meticulous gongbi characters to gongbi-and-xieyi scholars, Gao Yun dabbles in a rich variety of subject matters and genres, which shows that he is able to comprehend new things by analogy, and he is passionate about diving into art creation. Similar to the richness of his work experience, he is also a versatile artist. But with it comes a basic as well as a protruding puzzle, that is, how to bring out the new in every piece of work within a painting system grounded in concrete forms, in other words, how to formulate a pictorial style that contains both traditional implications and contemporary understandings. In view of Gao Yun’s oeuvre, we can clearly see the consciousness and rationality of his art practice.His research focuses on the composition and layout of the scenes, arrangement of figures, lines and colours, as well as an integral lyricism. He has always concerned himself with insightful and innovative exploration of content and form, presenting an organic rhythm through a vivid constructive consciousness of modern art. Shen Zongqian once said: ‘grounds of the heaven and the land lie in the opening-closing (rise-and-fall)’. The opening-closing of paintings is similar to the blocking of stage, or the rise-and-fall of writing. Gao Yun has a flair for manoeuvring formal combinations of large masses, deftly handling the visual relationship between the major and the minor, scenes and objects, complexity and simplicity, and sparseness and denseness. With a balance of loosening and tightening, his ideas bloom at the tip of brush. Complex plots and arrangements of figures naturally emerge at the turning point of the opening-closing, blending into a wonderland. For instance, in The Making of the Great Canon of the Yongle Reign, the figures in the background painted in baimiao (‘monochrome- outline’) complement the central figures in heavy colours. Thus, not only the procedure and the complexity of making the Great Canon are represented, but also the awe-inspiring occasion of the emperor’s inspection under the spotlight. Many of the stamps he designed also pursue a grand and timeless expression, making these small pieces extremely lively with vivid subjects. He is a genius in arranging the relationship between figures, objects, scenes and space. He tries to present the panorama of history and culture through a great diversity of forms, constructing images that closely connect with the historical, social and cultural environments. In this respect, his work experience in organizing and guiding stage art has played a unique role. A painting is like a stage. He is like a theatre director, arranging actors and scenes, plots and images. He guides the actors to become absorbed in acting in the ‘play’. He constructs the scenes to express the ‘play’, and invites the audience to enjoy the ‘play’. Gao Yun has devoted his life to a stage by and in painting, walking among the ‘figures’, ‘scenes’ and ‘minds’. By projecting his own understandings of various subjects into the practice of painting, Gao Yun has significantly developed and enriched the expressive power of contemporary Chinese painting.
Thirdly, he has researched and developed the expressive capacity of lines in Chinese painting. By shaping forms, the lines communicate an epochal aesthetics. Gao Yun has been enraptured by painting since he was a teenager. Later he participated in the provincial creative art class and entered the public’s view. He was then admitted by Nanjing University of the Arts and was taught by great masters of art including Liu Haisu, Chen Dayu, and Zhang Wenjun. During his study at NUA, he gained a good command of sketching and generating expressive power through lines in Chinese painting. His handling of the lines can be compared with the poise and ease of seal and running scripts, the zigzag of withered vines or silk threads, cadences and transitions, charms and appeal. Whether they are flowing brushstrokes in a xieyi style, or meticulous gongbi lines, the shapes, layouts, up-and- downs and movements of lines are all exquisitely expressive. Decades of practice have trained the sensibility of his lines. He accurately shapes images with careful and precise lines, infusing emotions in the running of them, so that they become threads spun out of his mind. At the same time, his lines are closely related to the colouring and smearing. He seeks for an elegance of the overall tone, and pays particular attention to the quality of colours and the liveliness of rendering. By complementing the lines with the tone and the texture of smearing, the painting achieves an organic integration of line and colour, form and meaning. The beauty of lines emerging out of all these features has become an essential contribution by Gao Yun. In recent years, he also used portraits of classical western oil painting as blueprints, transforming them by re-presenting them by Chinese painting, converting the system of light and shadow to the lines. It shows his concentration and fascination with the structuring and shaping potentialities of lines, and reflects his cultural confidence in the language of lines in Chinese painting.
Gao Yun’s artistic journey has built itself on tradition and proceeded
by a rendering and creating anchored on subjective consciousness. Reflections on the transformation of the contemporary significance of Chinese paintings are represented through a fluent ink-and-brush language. These reflections and transformations are to be found in the visual construction of a double language overlay of traditional aesthetic values and contemporary art forms, activating an open space for a new path of artistic explorations. The achievement of ink-and-brush will be accomplished by a language of the picture plane that is realistic, lyrical, and signifying. A language of ink-and-brush that transmits the warmth of its epoch is formed in between historical narratives and images of people. One can imagine how Gao Yun, contemplating in front of stretched paper, looks out to the valleys and peaks of history, the fumes and clouds covering and revealing. He can’t help but be deeply moved and touched by the dim but gleaming nuance of history. Over the years, he sees light flowing like water, and becomes imbued with an orchid-like temperament. His artistic creation always begins with the ‘actuality’, from which he finds the materials needed while saving the cumbersomeness of the humdrum. Though borne out of the ‘actual’, his art creation arrives at a sublimity expressive of inner experience. They are Gao Yun’s visual projections of social environments and historical culture, as well as a free exploration of the private artistic mind. Among a group portrait made up of copious and beautiful figure paintings set against simplistically elegant space, the emotions and feelings are intertwined within.
Today, the broad context of the new era has brought opulent condition and space for development to the field of Chinese painting. To meet with the challenge and to strive for the future development of it, the practice of Chinese painting needs to be transformed and re-created with a strong foothold in the traditional culture on the one hand, and on the other, with valid investigation and exploration that synchronize with the epochal pulse. Gao Yun has accomplished his own artistic quest and arrived at a commensurate spiritual realm. The unraveling of his future practice will ascend to a soaring peak.
May 2019 in Beijing