The Day Doesn’t Understand the Darkness of the Night
He Jinwei is one among the few sincere and passionate artists in current China. Art has always been the friend of the sincere, partner of the passionate, or it will degenerate into the craft of the technician, game of the player. He Jinwei’s sincerity and passion come from his plainness. Born in a remote county in western China where traffic is inconvenient and culture is backward, while people there lived a truly and broad-minded life, he set off to the road of seeking the truth of art out of the initial passion for art, and for that reason, he remained committed to it though going through ups and downs. He officially began his art life since his study at Sichuan Fine Art Institute. For most people, changing of the environment is just some sort of continuous adjustment, but for He Jinwei, the changing of human situations involve every aspects of history, humanity, political ecology, economic pattern and living experiences, and thus he formed a deep understanding of the contemporary societal culture. In fact, he’s more likely to have a discussion in the manner of self-reflection. His works all come from his own living experience, and intensify self-reflection and inquiry through the identification of a “migrator”. Soon, he realized that “migrate” was the most important element in a changing situation, while developed into a daily and worldly behavior amid turbulent contemporary social cultures. Thus, he is devoting more efforts to express various aspects like living, identification, belonging, adaptation and acculturation
He has gradually finished his “Individual Living Area and Practical Sentiment” series from 2003 to 2005, which on one hand inherited the characteristics of self-reflection of the former stage, on the other hand, divorced from individual experiences and turned to thoughts on group ideology. This is a special phase turning from the inward to the outward. Mr. He not only tried to depict the groups’ image, but also began to transform portrait of changing situations into some kind of “situation”. On the appearance, in this series, figures are set in the metropolitan background to clarify the cultural context of “being away from hometown”, however, Mr. He both reflected the changing environment brought about by “migrating”, and stressed the living reality, that is the living circumstances in the emerging cities. While creating figures, He also created some sort of metropolitan settings, which are usually common corners of the metropolitan, ordinary but exists around us. Employing a naturalism approach, he adopted “night scenes” to tailor pictures and depicted objects through the position of the light sources. For the “night scene” works, some sentimental moods filled the pictures, which gradually transformed the creations on changing situation into situations of works, and became organically poetic based on the sad reality.
If we say the group thinking of the “Individual Living Area and Practical Sentiment” series is still based on individual experience or setting situations, then what he would do next is to “intensify the social publicity of art”. He Jinwei is more aware of the “migratory” elements behind changing situations, and he is beginning to recognize the daily and worldly prevalent existence of “migration” in the contemporary society, and he further deduced that “migration” is not only of social circumstances, but is more about migrating in a cultural and physiological sense. And these are facts and living bases of contemporary Chinese society. He tried to demonstrate his own thinking through his works, searching for answers with the method of “situational generalization”. The so called “situational generalization” is a process of realizing group situations as well as an integration process with publicity. He began to use “revolutionary sites” that are familiar to the Chinese as his works’ “obvious” sites. In fact, what “revolutionary sites” like “Tian’anmen Square” and “the Monument of the Nanchang Uprising” reflected is not an actual depiction of facts, but memories of the history, so they also contain complex cultural re-shaping and gradual changes of cultural stances. However, he doesn’t seek to explain the “revolutionary sites” in a contemporary view, instead, he just want to showcase some kind of obvious social publicity through them. Among works of this period, figures were combined with specific circumstances of the “revolutionary sites”, however, the “night scenes” hindered that “practicalization” process, bringing more uncertainties and even some mood drifting, which added more physiological vacancy compared with the contrasts of the yesterday and today of the “revolutionary sites” .
What a Magnificent Landscape is a large piece of work measuring 12 meters in length. It serves as a link between past and future. The title was drawn from Chairman Mao’s poems. Its sites were not confined to some specific “historic sites”, but borrowed the horizontal sight effects of long scrolls to depict numerous figures and grand mood atmosphere. The sites, “night scenes” and situations were about the past, while the pursuit of large size, design of figures’ backs and deliberate handling of “backlighting” were about the future. After this work, He Jinwei created more giant oil painting works, wielding a better control of large-size works, but his depicted objects were divided: one is focused on the marginalized people like migrant workers, and the other focused on the children left behind in rural China. Actually, what He Jinwei intends to explore is no longer the surface of the changing situations, but the real core of the China’s reality, since both China’s cities and rural areas are undergoing earth-shaking changes, and more and more people or regions are getting marginalized with the rapid pace of urbanization.
From 2007 till now, He Jinwei has created a series of works on migrant workers. They are usually of big size, like What a Magnificent Landscape. Migrant workers, as labor forces from rural China, have nothing to do with the urban life in the real sense though they work and live in cities. Their migration between rural and urban areas like migratory birds reflected clear political and economical traces of contemporary China. As subjects of spatial movement, migrate workers may already occupy some imaginary positions during social class’s deviation and re-organization, but they are kept being constructed as scenes of “others” or outsiders’ existence, finally they became the “contemporary pains of China’s modernization drive”, embodied with various meanings of the current social hardship and grassroots representation from a vague naming. He portrayed them to reveal the “double alienations” of China’s contemporary society—the alienation from agricultural production to industrial production and the one from rural life to urban life and then further reflected on the lacking of social systems and fairness, which exhibited clear social critics and acute perspectives. In the specific portrait, He tirelessly expressed the migrant workers’ “awkward subjective position”, that’s why the city backgrounds were always at the distant skyline or in the depth of the painting. Still, he adopted more “night scenes”, the light sources, however, were simply in the one direction from the painting to the outward side, which reduced the overall brightness and always put the figures at the “backlighting” positions. As a matter of fact, Mr. He only recognizes this way of dealing, since “it blurs the individual side of migrant works, and portrays them as a group. Their vague images represent our indifference to them and obvious conclusions of our understanding of outsiders.”
Like the lyric “the day doesn’t understand the darkness of the night?”, maybe we know something about the indifference to migrant workers, but for most of the people, they turn a deaf ear to the problem of the children left behind in rural areas. If we say the migrant workers’ moving to cities added new problems to cities, then the children left behind were problems aroused in the rural areas by that migration. He Jinwei’s depiction of those children enabled us to see the degenerated side of the countryside used to be beautiful, meanwhile, those children’s hard situations foretell the future difficulties the rural China faces. During creation, He didn’t simply express sad emotions, with some sincere enthusiasm of “Going Back to Countryside”, he disclosed the real emotions in line with those children’s living conditions. In fact, through his brush, the painter gave us a unique understanding of the prevalent “migration” in the contemporary society: it’s not only social, spatial, cultural, situational, physiological but more about some kind of “separation” of human emotions. We may still be indifferent, but our hearts are already feeling the aching through his forceful revelation.
By Zhao Li