Painting from Another World - Comment on Mr. Lei Liang's Oil Painting on Rice Paper
It is said that the world our naked eyes see is only a surface plane that the nature presents. Then, does there exist another plane in the nature that our naked eyes are not aware of? Only when I came to Mr. Lei Liang's studio (he lives next door to me) does this world emerge suddenly in front of me, a world that consists only in religious theology and philosophical discussion since thousands of years. I was struck with awe of the world unfolded here on these paintings exhibited one after another. The painting has apparently a bewitchment to drag my thinking and to curdle my earthly aesthesia, leading me to step into a dim and far-reaching world...
This is an ancient and desolate world, full of mysteries: Lengthy and broad land, distant mountains, no any human being there. Superposed and overlapped multipeaked mountains and rushing rivers, all of them are in a silent position. All visible substances abide by the quiet law in this current world, and even if a tiny bit of wind blowing will destroy its perpetual beauty and splendor. Everything on earth consist of quiet and refreshing factors, and except this, the whole world doesn't allow other factors to exist. The sun loses here its temperature. Although very red, it is cool, and its existence is only for the purpose of ornament. Here its temperature is not needed, even the brightness has nothing to do with it. Herein, this is such an awe-inspiring, quiet and serene world, that looks like arranged specially for those souls that require to be consoled. Souls, coming here and not hoping to expose their body figures, intent to quietly appreciate the recuperation that the silent and secure world brings to "them" for their heart wounded on the earth. Therefore, land, mountains and waters here are crowded of souls, that you can't see but you can feel the nimbus everywhere in the mystery.
I looked and appreciated his paintings once and again, and came to myself after a long while from this illusionary world. I don't know how Mr. Lei succeeded in painting this world that nobody has set food in since the ancient times. It may exist on the inverse of the world visible to our naked eyes, but it doesn't mean the so-called inferno. Souls coming to this world should be virtuous, otherwise it will not be so quiet, elegant and charming. Is it possible then that Mr. Lei himself comes from this world? If he has not in his preexistence realized this world's scenes, and remembered all the trails in his subconsciousness, then, how could he conceive of such a marvelous world? Furthermore, it is said that Mr. Lei loved painting from his childhood. Maybe this subject for him was as easy as winking, he then turned away to study English. He graduated from Western Languages Dept., Beijing University, and teaches now English at Central Academy of Fine Arts. He took up paint brushes and self-learnt painting. His painting materials are also quite fantastic: Chinese traditional rice paper + oil paints. And with the method of Chinese and western combination, he achieved this wonderful success: oil painting on rice paper.
In most cases, art is a spiritual product created by people's thinking and sentiments. The creation process is one of spiritual projection by the artist on the creation object. Especially for painting, the value of all the art works rests with the content of a painter's spiritual projection, namely the painter's spiritual "dissolution" extent when painting. This spiritual dissolution is generally intituled as "Zen". If a painter's Zen realm arrives to a fine cultivation, he will forget both the world and himself when painting, and only at this time will his art works often be crackajack. Therefore, it is completely two things between master's painting and limner's painting, the former is spiritual embodiment of Zen while the latter is only mechanical trace of an object.
Mr. Lei's painting is the spiritual product in Zen realm. Perhaps he himself doesn't realize this point, that people can get to know from the oddity of his painting and titles. Before starting to paint he doesn't have a title, and for the "Inaction"work under unconscious status, how to intitule it? His method is quite bizarre, as he uses figure number, that is the date when burgeoning creation and starting his painting work, for example, "95-5-26" and "95-6-24" etc. Sometimes a certain sentence or an idea comes to his brain, and he will take a note for painting title. At times he even used a certain sentence when talking with friends or a certain phrase happened to hear from the radio. So, his titles are often independent of the painting content. In case somebody hopes to judge the painting content by titles, he will be at a loss, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. For example, in "Sea of Misery?" (950621) you don't find the sea; in "Too Miserable Fate" (950510) you see only mountain ridges below the sun; in "My Big Fish" (900506) fish are flying in the sky, while stars, the moon and bow-arrow occupy the whole painting. In addition, "The Worst Known, and the Heart will be Calm" (950921), "So Many Years Sleeping Alone" (950601) etc will also let you sink in the confused clouds. However, this will not debase the painting value, as in the nature there is no name and title at the beginning, and that can only be realized in Zen realm.
If to surpass name and title is an obvious feature in Mr. Lei Liang's painting, to surpass visual experience will then be another obvious feature in his painting expression method. You can't define simply his painting as "realistic" or "abstract". Looking from the abstract side, he uses realistic method; while looking from realistic side, your vision will not approve it since the chain of fluctuant mountains and outstretching road are not in the space and perspective relation conforming with our experience. But you can't say there is no perspective; without it, how can we feel on the painting a broad and distant view? To sum up, it conforms with perspective but it surpass our 3D vision experience. This surpass sometimes allows us to look at his paintings upside down. Magic emerges once you accidentally look upside down at a painting showing valleys and rivers. The lofty valleys are turned into broad plain, and the flushing torrents into beautiful sky. Apparently the painting hue is also changed totally. Former gloomy valleys and muddy yellow waters are suddenly changed into dark and boundless heaven and earth. The V-form emerging from the former valley is changed into a big road running out to the distant sky. From former gloomy, oppressed and asphyxial scene is suddenly changed into a vast and extensive world full of poetry and free thought. Most of his paintings are provided with this "magic change" function, an undesigned effect.
Since Mr. Lei's painting is naturally achieved in Zen realm, it will inevitably surpass name and title, as well as ordinary visual experience, and inevitably possess multi-informational connotation. Different people, in front of his painting, fetch respectively what they need and obtain different feelings. Therefore, his painting is at the same time realistic and unrealistic, abstract and non-abstract. As the painter's subjective spirit corresponds with the natural rhythm, the other side of nature, exhibited before us through his wonderful hand, refreshes our vision and thought.
Li Yuan, October 1996
Author Introduction: Li Yuan, master degree post-graduate at the Religion Institute of China Social Sciences Academy, Buddhist scholar. Published many Buddhist works and articles.
Publication: China Art Daily, Oct. 3, 1997
English Translation: Lei Liang