The first time I saw Xu Ning’s work was at the “Joint Graduation Exhibition of 5 Art Universities in Tokyo” at The National Art Center Tokyo. I was taken by surprise by the sheer vigor and intensity that they harbored. Thereafter I was appointed as a judge of Art Award Tokyo Marunouchi, and having had the opportunity to view files of her previous works, I became interested in her expressions that combined a sense of delicacy and dynamism. Meeting and talking with her about Chinese literature and the art of various countries, I found that her mix of Eastern and Western elements was different in nature to that of Japanese artists, and I was indeed fascinated by the way in which her ideas and concepts appeared to instill flesh and blood in her canvases.
Tomio Koyama Gallery is pleased to present “Season – Letter,” an exhibition of works by Xu Ning. This marks the artist’s first solo exhibition as well as her inaugural showing with the gallery, and focuses on a selection of new works replete with strength and passion including a large-scale painting measuring over 3-meters.
【About Xu Ning and her works: elaborate, fortuitous, and dynamic paintings influenced by ancient Chinese thought, Jan van Eyck, Dolce & Gabbana, and the beauty of nature】
Xu Ning was born in 1979, in Beijing, China. She moved to Japan with her family in 2006 after graduating with a degree in oil painting from Capital Normal University in Beijing, and completed her doctoral degree program in painting at Tama Art University Graduate School in 2020. In the same year she was awarded the Grand Prix of Art Award Tokyo Marunouchi 2020. She currently lives and works in the Kanagawa prefecture.
In her practice, Xu has been greatly influenced by her encounters and discoveries of matters that transcend time, national borders, and genres, from the ancient thoughts of her native China, to the true to life reality of Netherlandish painting such as the works of Jan van Eyck, the decorativeness and innovation of Dolce & Gabbana’s fashion, the beauty of nature, and the ephemerality of life.
Xu’s work illustrate her painstaking precision of painting fields of color and lines one by one upon a large canvas using a fine-point brush (a brush with an extremely thin and elongated tip). At the same time, she enables the coexistence of fortuity created through the splashing and dripping of paint, which together with the vividness of her palette as well as the contrast between the textured areas and flat white spaces, serve to generate a sense of dynamism and vigor.
As the artist herself states, “for me, the reason why I paint is the same as the reason why I live,” Xu Ning’s works reflect her unbreakable conviction in attempting to pursue who she is and what truth is through earnestly engaging with all sorts of affairs that permeate society. Furthermore, they are rich with emotion and convey various forms of love, as well as an endless sense of time that come to manifest through her meticulous accumulation of brushstrokes.
【On the exhibition “Season – Letter” and the featured works: The purity of primary colors, and the freedom and courage brought about by the seasons】
When viewing Xu’s work, the first thing that catches the eye are the brilliantly vivid primary colors of red, pink, blue, green, and yellow that are painted vigorously on the white canvas. The artist regards primary colors as representing a radiant purity reminiscent of “the way in which fresh leaves that sprout in spring open up the landscape in front of one’s eyes.” What is more, when paying close attention to the details of her works, which at a glance appear to be abstract expressions, it is possible to notice Western architecture depicted on a red surface through the texture of the paint, and that the thin, flowing lines look like leaves, petals, butterflies, and birds.
The title of this exhibition is eponymous to the title of the work that Xu Ning produced in the second year of her graduate studies at university. The work “Season – Letter” marked her first attempt in working with two conjoined large-scale canvases measuring approximately 2.6 x 1.9 meters each, with the size of the canvases themselves reflecting the vastness of nature. The artist mentions how the changes in the seasons have made her aware of the passage of time, encouraging her to question the meaning of human life, while at the same time instilling her with courage and moving her emotions. As such, she expresses a desire to convey its splendor to viewers in the way one would deliver a letter.
The artist states as follows regarding her work:
“I pursue freedom through painting. The lines upon the picture plane at times come together to create surfaces, and in other instances appear like the thin threads of a spider’s web or strands of hair, and change into free thoughts. Flowers bloom within my paintings. At times rain falls. At times the droplets sink into the depths of a river. At times they transform into birds. There was a time when something reminiscent of a bird appeared upon the picture plane, not because I had intended to depict a bird to begin with, but naturally emerging due to accumulation of brushstrokes. Perhaps herein lies my freedom.”
【The coexistence and balancing of opposite elements in Xu Ning’s work: Colors and the idea of Yin and Yang】
Among the brilliantly vivid colors within Xu Ning’s work, her use of red is in particular most striking and impressive. Xu mentions that this is influenced by the fact of red being a color that represents auspiciousness in Wuxing (the Five Phases), which is a concept native to China where she was born and raised. In addition, in studies of religious paintings centering on Netherlandish painting, red is considered as a symbol of blood, and represents salvation and love.
Relative elements coexist within her work, such as East and West, abstraction and concreteness, delicacy and dynamism, elaborateness and fortuity, flat areas of the picture plane and the built-up texture of the paint, fields of color and blank white spaces, lines and colorfulness; creating a unique sense of balance and intensity. It is indeed possible to regard this as subconsciously having ties to the concept of Yin-Yang that forms a significant part of the philosophy of her homeland China.
Things are by nature two-fold. The moon passes from one phase to another in a repeated cycle from a new moon to a full moon. All things have a beginning and an end. Human beings are always destined to die from the day that they are born. Life can at times be joyous, and at times can bring about distress and unhappiness. While such are contradictory, one cannot exist without the other, and natural order can only be maintained when they are in harmony.
The concept of Yin and Yang, which was born in China, was introduced to Japan around the fifth and sixth centuries, after which it developed independently in its precept and interpretation. Xu, who was born and raised in China, expresses a love and affection for the rich nature of Japan, which considers as her second home, as well as the kindness of its people. With passion, she attempts to deliver the fresh green of spring to the depth of people’s hearts. As the gallery’s the first exhibition of this year, we hope viewers will take this opportunity to view and embrace the vibrant energy of an artist living in our times.
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