Painter places lacquer at heart of his creations

By Lin Qi | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-21 07:21

Lacquer was for centuries an important material used to craft artistic objects in the daily lives of the ancient Chinese. A coating of the material brings a shiny finish to an object that has already been carved, painted or inlaid with decorative materials.

In today's highly industrialized world, intricate lacquer work has mostly been replaced by faster, more convenient production processes.

But one artist, who has lived with the deep tradition of lacquer craft for years, has devoted himself to regaining the glory of traditional lacquer but within a more modern context - by adding a very contemporary, abstract touch.

Shen Kelong, 53, studied mural painting at art college in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, where he hails from. After graduation, he moved to live and teach in Fuzhou, Fujian province, a city that boasts a long-standing history of lacquer craft.

Through this, he found a new direction for his painting. He puts lacquer at the center of his creations as a means to explore to what extent the cultural temperament of the East has been retained.

Painter places lacquer at heart of his creations

Magnificent and Changeful, Shen's solo exhibition currently running at Asia Art Center's space in Beijing, brings to the audience more than 20 of the artist's more recent paintings. The exhibition is designed to communicate the thoughts he has accumulated over the past 30 years on the nature and character of lacquer, and its relationship with Chinese culture.

"For a long time I studied the traditional way of making of lacquer work. But I didn't want to be just another artisan repeating exactly what his predecessors did," Shen says.

"The cultural DNA that has been preserved in our ancestors' interaction with lacquer over the centuries is what I'm truly interested in, but I want to transform it and give it a more contemporary feeling that makes a visual impact on people today."

The paintings on show are often 1 or 2 meters in height. Shen frees lacquer from being seen as purely an ancilliary material to one of realistic depiction. The lacquer itself forms the subject of Shen's work, as the artist presents its smooth textures and soft, reflective luster as the focus.

"Lacquer is very often difficult to control, given its nature. Sometimes you can't totally predict how it will finally set and present itself on the canvas.

"That is why people doing lacquer work are often called 'dancers moving with chains'. But it's the troublesome side of working with lacquer that actually fascinates me so much."

Shen says painting with lacquer is not a battle where either his hands or the material ultimately vie to take control of the other, but more of a negotiation in which the two sides encounter, progress and compromise until they both find a sense of comfort.

He says it is the same process of finding harmony that humans seek to achieve with nature in Chinese philosophy.

He adds that his works not only bring an imposing visual sense of composure and momentum, but they also recall the closeness of nature and the warmth of human handicraft.

If you go

10 am-6 pm, through Sunday. 798 Art District, 2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Beijing. 010-5978-9709.

Painter places lacquer at heart of his creations

(China Daily 11/21/2017 page18)

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