大概我们中的很多人都拥有对童年时的玩具snowball(一种玻璃球，球内有装饰有小屋等，将球体倒置摇动，会有雪样的东西飘落)的美好回忆。在圆形的玻璃球内，一望无际的原野上飘落着雪花，炊烟从小木屋的烟囱中冉冉升起，美丽的圣诞树暗示着幸福宁静的家庭生活。端详着这玻璃球的孩子们，不由得都会被这美好的一切所吸引，并渴望着能够融入其中。但他们很快会明白，这个愿望是无法实现的，并因此而倍感消沉。有的孩子甚至不惜打破玻璃球，以求一触这个美好的世界。但这个极端的手段带给他们的则是更大的挫折感。直到有一天，孩子们长大成人，才对 snowball 逐渐变得无动于衷。艺术正是长大了的人们的 snowball。它就好像是现实世界中的玻璃做成的神秘的空间，艺术家们细腻入微地体味领悟生活就像在体味艺术这个充满魔力的世界。人们在各种照片、时尚设计、化妆、礼品包装等方面表现出来的感觉也许仅仅是某种感觉，也许是经过培训的感觉，但艺术却绝不如此单纯，它是艺术家本身对生活的感受、对世界的看法即艺术家世界观的表现。因此，如果我们从艺术品中得到了某种感动，那一定是欣赏者与艺术家本人看待世界的视角达到了某种程度的一致，形成了共鸣。叔本华说：艺术是人格本身(art is personality itself)， 布丰也提到艺术是灵魂的面容( art is physiognomy of the soul)。因此，只有艺术才能将人内在的灵魂表现出来，而这种灵魂的表现是我们所无法分析的。我们所能做到的，不过是感受到它所传达的信息从而受到感动，又或者没能感受到它的提示，而将其忽视这两者之一罢了。
艺术家江衡通过带刺的语言来揭示物神化的世界。他笔下的美女们无一不符合我们亚洲人的审美，妖娆、艳丽、性感，而我们从这些看似青春与美丽的美女身上感受到的是现实中的巨大的空虚与无奈。实际上，他画的并不是这些美女，而是我们的现实世界。现代社会错综复杂(complex)、多变(labile)动荡(unstable)，渺茫(distance)、无常(transience)、暧昧(obscurity)是它的实质。而为了所谓的人生的概括(universal summation of life)，即财富与名誉，也只不过是为了获得世俗的爱而作的虚无的努力罢了。同样，现代艺术也很难超脱出这种社会背景去。现代艺术失去了米开朗琪罗、达芬奇、伦勃朗、 歌德这些人文主义文化的代表所具有的光环。那时的艺术将形象(form)与灵魂(soul)、静止(stasis)与动态(movement)、形象化的空间(pictorial space)与叙事性的时间(narrative time)完美地共现在了一起。而生活在当今时代，在社会上扮演各种角色的人们(social actors)，借用叔本华的的话说，就像在永远也无法满足的欲望的洪流中漂流的孩子们。对于包括知识分子、艺术家、劳动者、公务员等在内的所有人们来说，这是一个由各种各样阴暗的碎片堆积起来的并不完美的时代。
而江衡的艺术正是扎根于其游刃有余地观照这一时代、积极等待这一时代的进步的乐观的坚持之中。被无数的文化要素环绕着的我们体会到的种种感受，绝对不是毫无意义的。现代社会的各种媒体本质上都具有冲突的属性，每个人是无法体会到所有其他个人的感受的，但同时又不能完全将所有的东西都拒之门外。这个时代的文化还停留在不断发展的阶段，而江衡的艺术世界为我们提供了超越这个不确定、不成熟的状态，并且期待在下一个季节，在由被欲望的洪流带来的阴暗的碎片堆积而成的土壤上可以有所收获的信心。他的散落的物品(stray object)系列、偶像(idols)系列虽然批判了前面提到的阴暗的文化土壤，但还是非常饱满地强调了绘画的两个力点-- 美与和谐。他批判这个社会不合理的一面，但也决不扼杀希望。他不是无条件地拒绝社会的失衡，而是为了展望更远的地方而闭上双眼不断内省。在他的作品中，美丽的女子不管在受到令人联想到男性生殖器(phallus)的避孕套、手枪的威胁，被同样可以联想到男性生殖器的弓箭射伤流血还是服用了药丸而陶醉于幻想的世界时，都保持着美丽而又灿烂的微笑。这也正代表了江衡本人对于失衡、充满不确定性的社会并不放弃，相反充满了无限地信任与爱意的态度。
实际上，江衡是90年代中期以中国广州为中心展开的卡通一代美术运动中最具代表性的艺术家。在中国美术史上甚至世界美术史上，将卡通或漫画、动漫等作为绘画体裁，甚至掀起以此为主体的美术运动还是首次。这次美术运动在中国南方广东省以广州为中心波澜不惊地开展时，正赶上以北京为中心的玩世现实主义 (Cynical Realism) 和波普艺术(Political Pop)完满落幕的时候。这两场运动提倡的理念有着明显的不同。与前者反对官方主流的强烈要求相比，卡通一代则是一次寻找是什么给人们带来了影响、反省自身的成长历程，质询内部世界本质的航行。广州市邻近自由都市香港，又是离政治中心北京最远的一个大都市，因此可以比较容易地接触西方思想与文化。卡通一代不再追问世界是什么而是致力于探求我是什么。在亚洲，生于70年代的一代人在2008年的现在都已30多岁，虽然他们还没有成长为社会的主要力量，但却是亲身经历了最多变化的一代。他们不能像上一代一样无条件接受西方价值观就能成为精英，而得面对越来越激烈的世界化竞争，温暖的大家庭社会逐渐走远，他们不得不独自游戏独自承担一切。父母教给他们的单纯的、无条件的爱和他们面对的有选择、有条件的爱更使得他们无比困惑。在整个亚洲，这一代的人们的共同点就是在急剧变化的都市风景中，利用游戏、卡通等轻松愉快的手段来填补情感的空缺。而江衡几乎是无数的卡通一代艺术家中唯一一个将外部世界与自我完美融合在一起的艺术家。他用积极的态度拥抱充满变动、不安、失衡的现代生活。正如我前面提到的，任何单纯的卡通即使与江衡创作的艺术形象十分形似，但带给观者的感受却是截然不同的,理由正是因为它们没有被赋予在与外部世界冲突、融合的过程中绽放的江衡的灵魂。今后的10年中，70年代出生的人们将立足于世界的中心。我从江衡的艺术作品中看到了我们所创造并为之苦恼的普遍意义上的记忆和义务。
A look at The Garden of Earthly Delights Hieronymus, a triptych by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, guides the viewer to the full gamut of human life in history condensed into a single work of art. The Three Poisons (i.e. greed, hatred and delusion), Seven Vices, Earthly Delights and their surroundings dominate the painting via the symbolic language represented by a bird. The word vogel in modern German means bird which had been widely used since the Middle Ages as a common expression for sexual intercourse in art works. The Boschs painting lets its viewers instantly know the meaning of truth, morality and beauty that mankind seeks after. In his painting, viewers recollections about what is life, how we lead a good life, and what results are made from this life are not separated from each other but integrated to make a whole.
A modern Chinese painter Jiang Heng tried to construct on his painting the same agony that troubled Hieronymus Bosch five hundred years ago when he painted The Garden of Earthly Delights. One may argue that there is a difference between the two: The Boschs panels display imaginary aspects of human life painted to highlight the value of life in this world while Jiangs work raise a question via dramatization of distorted reality what is the valuable life. The pictures by Bosch may hurt the viewers sensibility by guiding them to the conventional judgment that the beauty imprinted in their brain via idolatry, fashion and exaggeratedly beautified women is directly related with the market. The pain from the judgment is then soon replaced by a sense of freshness or even hope. We may not feel the same sense from similar images in cartoons, magazines and still pictures from animated films, but quite mysteriously the Jiangs pictures make us have the same feeling.
One may divide beauty into two categories. One is that given by nature to mankind as a gift, and we call it sublimity. The other is the artificial one, the beauty made by mankind. This manmade beauty appears through various media including fashion, design, photography, makeup, cartoon, caricature, food, courtship, coquettery, gift, architecture, bridge post, door, youth and adventure tale. Here, however, we tend to divide the artistic beauty from the beauty mentioned above.
Many of us have a loving memory of snowball that we had in our childhood days. The memory often contains a landscape consisting of snowy field unfolding itself as if in a magic glass ball, a cottage with smoking chimney and a Christmas tree inside it. It creates a perfect scene for a happy family. A boy looking into the glass bowl is soon drawn into the world of magic unfolded by the fascinating landscape in it. His journey into the magical world abruptly comes to an end, however, because he soon realizes that he cannot be part of the world. He yearns to get into it even by breaking the ball by dropping it onto a hard surface. The excessive method leads him only to a larger frustration. It is only after he has grown into an adult that he can have full understanding of the snowballs secret and contemplate it with the artists indifference. Art is the Snowball of the people who are grown up. Art is the world of magic which is effectively divided from the real world. Indulgence into this magical space is the same as the participation in the way the artist looks at the world. Sensibility that created fashion, photography, design, makeup or gift wrapping is nothing but sensibility. It may have been born or made. Art, however, transcends simple sensibility. It is the whole of what an artist feels and knows intuitively as he or she lives on in this world. It is the way he or she looks at the world, that is, the symbol of his or her world view. If one is moved by a work of art, then, it means that he or she is moved by the way the artist looks at the world via the work. The situation may be better explained by the Schopenhauers expression, art is personality itself, or Buffons, art is physiognomy of the soul. One can safely conclude, then, that art is the only means with which we can reveal our soul to the world. Similarly, we cannot analyze this expression of the soul. We feel it and are moved, or just pass by it without any sense of feeling.
As suggested above, the Jiang Hengs soul reveals the fetishistic world with tangible language. His women, who are well trimmed to fit the sensibility of Asian viewers, turn into stuffed specimens by rich sensuality, eroticism and hallucination surrounding them. The surface of the stuffed samples still maintains the same beauty of a living thing, but they are in reality lifeless, affecting the viewers sensibility. The women in Jiangs work do not represent female sex in mankind but rather symbolize the contemporary world we live in. The todays social reality is too complex, too labile and too unstable. It might be better described with the words such as distance, transience and obscurity. His women are engaged in nothing but fruitless efforts to gain wealth, fame and love in baser sense of the word which are often dubbed as universal summation of life. Contemporary artists also feel it hard to flee from this social reality. Their art lost the aura created by culture based on rich artistic heritage from old masters such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Goethe. The art established by these great masters is marked by a perfect symbiotic relationship between form and soul, stasis and movement, and pictorial space and narrative time. The social actors who direct the contemporary world are, however, the children, as Schopenhauer once said, who are adrift on the cold waves of desire that can never be satisfied. For those who live todays world, which include intellectuals, artists, workers and public servants, life is nothing but a dark pile of pulverized individuals, obsession and a lack of well-wrought codes.
The beauty of Jiangs art is in the optimistic view with which he can give a room for the spirit of todays chaos. The emotions sweeping our existence surrounded by numerous cultural elements will never be meaningless. However, it is not that every individual is given a significant meaning. Todays media exhibit nature that makes them clash with each other. An individual is instable because it can neither digest all the elements that form itself nor defy them outright, because culture of our time is remained within the narrow-minded process leading to the well-made codes. The current location of Jiangs art is where he is convinced of, and waits for, the next years rich harvest produced in the dark sedimentary soil offered by the uncomfortable, bad-tempered and cruel waves of desire. His series of stray objects and idols criticize the aforementioned cultural soil, but the form of his painting maintains a tense conflict between the two force points, beauty and symmetry. He criticizes the contemporary world he lives in but never tries to slaughter it. He does not unreservedly defy the vertigo created by the todays world but rather tries to contemplate it to get prospects further away. The degraded objects and women in his paintings never lose the bright, beautiful smile even when they are under threat from phallic condoms or guns, blooded by the phallic arrows, or estranged from the reality via phallic pills. The images show that Jiang never gives up his boundless trust and love for the world despite the chaotic situation succumbing it.
As is widely known, Jiang Heng is a leading player of the Guangzhou-based Cartoon Generation that dominated the Chinese art world in the late 1990s. It was a rare phenomenon not just in China but the entire world that cartoon or animation emerged as a major artistic movement in painting. The movement began in Guangzhou, a city of southern China, by the time when the Cynical Realism and Political Pop in Beijing were nearing the end of their success. These two art movements were running for different goals. The first was, for instance, a powerful message for the outer worlds, social and political worlds, whereas the second, Cartoon Generation, was a journey in which artists were seeking after a question of identity concerning the questions, what affected us and how we grow.
Materialistic Idols Reluctance to Grow Up - Jiang Hengs Flirtatious eyes and Gaze Yang Xiaoyan
The geographical condition of Guangzhou as a neighboring city of Hong Kong and one of the faraway metropolises from Beijing, the capital of China, helped the city to become one of the Chinas first cities to contact liberal Western culture. The artists of the Cartoon Generation were the first Chinese artists who raised questions such as what is the world? and what am I? Those who were born in Asia in the 1970s are now in their 30s. They may not be the principal axis of the society but one may say that they form a generation with richer experiences because the last three decades were one of the most tumultuous periods in Chinese history. Unlike their predecessors, western values didnt let them automatically promoted to the elite group, and the currents of globalization led them from the traditional family-based society to the age of limitless competition between individuals. They were of the generation who learned of life not from their parents but who had to suffer a sense of futility from the freedom guaranteed from selective love. The common point linking the generation across entire Asia is that they tended to spend more time on computer games and cartoons within the urban landscapes suffering rapid urbanization. Jiang Heng has been almost the only artist of the entire members of the Cartoon Generation who was able to reconcile the outside society and the self forming the inner world. He embraces this chaotic and whimsical world with devoted love. As mentioned above, both simple cartoons and complex artistic images by Jiang generate different moods among viewers despite their outward similarities thanks to his soul fully bloomed in the process of its conflict and reconciliation with the outside world. Our world in a decade from now will be dominated by the generation of people who were born in the 1970s. I find in the art of Jiang Heng the universal memory and obligation of the world that we generate and perform.
Speaking of Jiang Hengs art, one must mention a few key points. They are:
First of all, we must speak of Jiang Hengs professor. Jiang Heng was a student in the oil painting department at the art college of Huanan Normal University, and studied under professor Li Bangyao. Albeit our common understanding that Huanan Normal University categorizes as an institution of a lower tier in comparison to the Guangzhou Academy of Art, however Huanan Normal University hired a groups of professors from Hubei Academy of Art in the early '90s. They were once important players in the movement of contemporary Chinese art. As a result, their presence at the art college has gradually changed its artistic ecology of the former academy. With the local southern artistic sphere, it had induced completely different artistic outcomes. And Jiang Heng is part of its harvest.
Among the artists who came to the south and are still teaching at the art college of Huanan Normal University, besides Li Bangyao, there are also Fang Shaohua, Yang Guoxin and Shi Lei, they each occupies an important position in the framework of contemporary oil painting. What is especially important is their importation of artistic thoughts and compositional concept from Chinas interior. It includes the Political Pop art from Hubei in the early '90s and the artists individualized approach of representation in expressionism. More importantly, throughout their teaching, they have always put the emphasis on highlighting individuality, emphasizing on incorporating the individual with his emotions, emphasizing art as an intervention on reality. With which, meaningful artistic issues could be formulated, and using it as a base of entry to current matters. Looking at a few oil paintings from Jiang Hengs earlier period, they were indeed influenced by foreign elements. For example, Jiangs Untitled series from 1994 depicts a red male body in swing as its main subject and contrasting with a background motif expressing desire. These works have mixed certain styles of pop art, yet was executed in the expressionist approach. There are shadows of the Hubei style of painting. And the Cartoon Generation series from 1996, has stylistically reflected the art of Li Bangyao. Without a doubt, this was the formative years of Jiang Hengs artistic style.
Secondly, the cartoon generation movement headed by Huang Yihang in the Guangzhou area in the mid-nineties has also had a direct impact on Jiang Heng. Today, no one questions the significance of the Cartoon Generation from Guangzhou, even though there are different opinions about it. Although if we trace back on the origin of the so-called cartoon wave now popular in the art arena, we find close ties with Guangzhou. I am not making the statement that art with cartoon features are all derived from the Guangzhous Cartoon Generation. In my view, the reason for the popularization of cartoon style is more complex than what we imagine, its sources were diverse. However, similar styles were indeed first appeared in Guangzhou. What is interesting is, as a professor of the Guangzhou Academy of Art, Huang Hanyi had to come to Huanan Normal University art college to seek for support. Thus the first and second exhibitions were successfully held at the exhibition hall of the art college. It demonstrates certain moving tolerance from the art college of Huanan Normal University. Jiang Heng has been one of the active participants in the formative stage of Guangzhous Cartoon Generation, and testified for the rationale of cartoon with his own style of oil painting. Consequently, he became one of the most representative Chinese artists from the Cartoon Generation in the mid-nineties. The aforementioned Cartoon Series was a direct outcome of this sizable southern artistic movement. Later on, his famous signature style wide opened eyes with the nave and flirtatious gaze on the highly materialistic female idols, was formulated in this process.
Moreover, the rapid transformation of Chinese society in the '90s, especially once the wave of economic reform hit on the southern provinces, not only the existing spiritual framework and its artistic approach of representation were completely changed, but more importantly, this wave has induced the direct representation of the New Generations materialistic desire. One should not belittle the material desire induced from this transformation, nor should one treat such desire as a passive reaction. In contrast, the materialistic desire in China today has far exceeds the boundary of the individual, but has grown into a spiritual phenomenon. If we ignore this phenomenon, we will be unable to make the slightest objective judgment on the art of today.
In other words, the artistic trend from Chinas interior, the local uprising of artistic movement and the rapid transformation of Chinese society make part for the external conditions of Jiang Hengs art form. Without these conditions, it would be difficult to imagine how he could formulate the style we are familiar with today.
Besides, Jiang Hengs perspective, his unique view on life and society, as well as his overall understanding of others and on art were also crucial to this formation.
Today, Jiang Hengs art people are familiar with is his repetitive symbolized beautiful women gazing with flirtatious eyes, they smile innocently, posing in various flirtatious poses and expressions that satisfies the secular standard. They display this kind of so-called nave and beautiful gendered information. To a certain extent, I think Jiang Hengs women with flirtatious looks is a repetitive statement of sarcasm, it conveys information contrasting with its superficial appearance, or even of opposing and conflicting content.
I remember in one of my essays discussing the Cartoon Generation of Guangzhou, I have mentioned certain causes for the formation of this style,
The primary subject of the Cartoon Generation is the self, whether the self possess sufficient ability of transcendence, can the self go beyond the boundary of southern culture in order to gain a new platform of observation, and to redefine themselves according to the cultural value of their artwork. As a steppingstone to foreign civilization, there are indeed certain advantages in the south. However, as region on the periphery, it is lured by various sources, therefore it is easy for art to sidetrack to the path of superficiality and contentiousness, which is now obviously a fact. what influences us is precisely the abnormal infatuation of the so-called depth. cartoon overflowing into china caused the traditional way of reading to rapidly collapse. This gave birth to many of the cartoon characters from the 1950s and 1960s. At the same time, the popularization of computer technology and the increase on artificial environments further barricade the organic relationship between human and nature, yielding large production of computer characters besides the already existing cartoon characters. The founder of Cartoon Generation, Huang Yihan has entitled his first work, We are children reluctant to grow up. The truth is, this title accurately refers to the younger generation who has physically reached maturity yet are psychologically lacking behind a generation who completely immersed themselves in comics and computers.
This southern art movement at the time was once almost rejected by the entire art world. And not so long ago, its similar style has become the illustrative choice for most young artistic groups born in the 1970s. The contrasts of this phenomenon in time have even caused people to ignore its initial fact. As I have mentioned at the beginning, Jiang Heng belongs to the earlier Cartoon Generation, the formation and development of his symbolism has been almost ten years. From this perspective, I am also one of the earliest critics who have commented on this artistic phenomenon. As I retrieve my comment from the time, I discover that my interest was not on the cartoon per se. To analyze them with todays context, the so-called cartoon perhaps was only a intelligible strategy of compositional appropriation. Of course, from which we also find the visual reference specific to that young generation. As critics apply different concept to comment on the styles of todays cartoon, I think one of the problems among them is their gullible believe in Cartoon, and have forgotten that similar style has already been important content in publishing and film industries around the 1970s. The reason I am reiterating my comment from the past is that I discover, even with my view at the time, I have already more or less treated cartoon as an intimate issue reflecting on the process of growing up. The Children reluctant to grow up proposed by Huang Yihan was perhaps his subjective view of young people as an elder. If we enter into the particular context of the new generation, in terms of growing up, what is before them is obvious not unable to grow up, but refusing to grow up. This attitude of reluctance strikes a cord with the social and historical background associated with growing up, which reveals the intense, or even conflicting relationship between the adult society and its non-adult counterpart. I admit, what I noticed at the time was the symptom of physical maturity and psychological immaturity, but have perhaps neglected its meaning. In my view, the reasons for artists to choose cartoon or cartoon-like forms, from the surface its an outcome of their specific visual influence during their adolescent period, more thoroughly, it infiltrates their attitudes on the adult society that manipulates their growing process. If this hypothesis is true, then certain types of uniformity shown visually are in themselves an interesting response. It tells us how they view the grown-ups society. In dealing with the grown-ups society, that is becoming gradually pretentious and cynical, as artists, they can perhaps only use forms that has once been abandoned or neglected by the grown-up society, such as cartoon, to express their rejection of this society (here I am referring to the art world in the grown-up society). Of course, as the art world transforms itself, cartoon began to come a prominent style, and letting this rejection to become the beginning of a new cycle of art movement. Whether its later followers shared similar motives, or was driven by the prospect of future success and have chosen cartoon, of course needs to be discussed otherwise.
As I set Jiang Hengs flirtatious beauties against the background related growing up, the sarcasm of his works began to emerge. The rosy dream hidden subconsciously in the early years of adolescence or pre-adolescence was once oppressed from the adult world, and also parts separate ways with the promotion of depth in the art world in the past while. Naturally, as of sarcasm, I am not emphasizing Jiang Hengs intended flirtatious beauties as a visual description to react or ridicule. I believe he did not have any sarcastic creative intent. In other words, he is not interested in the superficial reaction. Or even, hes not rebellious at all. In the contrary, he is only concerned with the material desire conveyed through the images. It is precisely for this reason, could I have interpreted the certain truth in his works, because what it essentially displays, perhaps he might not even be clearly aware of, is a kind of deterrent attitude in rejecting the grown-up society.
With this, I think we have a better understand the flirtatious beauties under Jiang Hengs brush. They were not representations of true beauty to begin with, but the imagined idols of desire, who are placed in a void, gazing with pretentious and nave eyes, observing the constant inflation of the grown-up society with their constant facial expression. In sum, Jiang Heng has not only realized his intent of rejection with the women gazing flirtatiously, but have allowed that age to be eternally planted in a moment of enjoyment for the artist. At the same time, he has also concealed a type of sorrow of adolescence, and has used idols to replace the intervention of reality.