Today, the term “New York” is no longer a term inferring to the past, neither would it prompt the excitement of asking “Why New York?” Because we have became friends in New York in the 1990s, as much as our approaches to painting had been disparate, we invariably agree that New York had transformed these three Chinese artists.
Ma Kelu, born in the 1950s, had been one of the key figures of the No Name Group at the end of the 1970s in Beijing. In his early years, he painted succinct and concise landscapes, which soon led him to the endeavor of abstract paintings that had been tabooed at the time. In 1988, he first traveled to Europe, and eventually settled in New York, where he expanded and continued his practice of abstract painting in larger dimensions.
Feng Lianghong, born in the 1960s, is a graduate of the former Beijing Central Academy of Arts and Crafts in the 1980s, had experimented with a variety of painting styles. In the 1990s, he traveled to New York, and trolled with the game of abstract expressionism, an endeavor he soon written large and expanded.
My approach to figurative painting has been unwavering. Having relinquished the thematic subject matter on Tibet, it’s unfathomable that the juxtaposition and sketches I tempered with were in fact warped influences from Pop Art and the new Euro-American paintings from the 1980s.
The conceptual and stylistic tropes found in New York are countless. Although abstraction, abstract expressionism, pop art, new paintings may seem passé, but our inherent memories have always been those works on canvas, so what New York provided us were the various models for the two-dimensional and surfaces, which inevitably invigorated our former undertakings.
Those were the undertakings of our choice, a way in which we distanced from the “right thing” without seeking profits. In the 1990s, neither us was represented by a commercial art gallery nor the favorites of the art market. We’ve all painted portraits on the street of New York in order to support our endeavors in the art studio. This pleasure had been inspired by the general condition of the New York art world. De Kooning only had his first solo exhibition at age fifty, the lives of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were lost before they could enjoy any of their success. In comparison, how fortunate are we!
In the new millennium, we brought our New York Memories back to Beijing, and moved into large artist studios that we did not dare to imagine when we first left, as we come to share the individualism invented by local artists. Behind the large dimensional canvases of Ma Kelu and Feng Lianghong, the New York character I have once identified with gradually manifested in Beijing. At the same time, their apparent personal transformations were also underway.
I enjoy observing the synergy and displacement in an individual’s life trajectory in relation to these two metropolises, a perception unique to those who hold the memories of New York. Moreover, we share an even more distant memory, that all of us are natives of Shanghai.
Kelu and Lianghong entrusted me to jot down these thoughts. Of course, with this opportunity, I would like to thank the Shanghai Gallery of Art for inviting us to present this group exhibition.