溯源-蔡锦

Cai Jin : Return to the Source


蔡锦:溯源

唐冠科


蔡锦有一件早期作品仍挂在她的工作室里,看起来好像一幅以红色为基调的风景画,色调相对暗雅,有些地方更接近紫色甚至黑色。它犹如齐丹后期林木密集的风景作品中的一块块石头,但实际上这件作品画的却是她工作室的地,并散发出一股有机的能量。我们在这张画布上所看到的图像与一些自然形成的图案—比如潮湿的墙壁上的霉斑或地上的种种污渍—之间的关系便是她艺术创作的基本韵律。

当然之前有很多年,表面的具象掩盖了她作品背后真正的活力。我所指的便是自1990年来作为她主要创作灵感源泉的植物,那便是她在安徽老家见到的一棵凋零的美人蕉。那棵布满尘埃、枯槁的植物深深吸引她的缘由可以说是超越理性思考的,不久她便用了好多胶卷来捕捉此种植物的各色形态。最近出版的个人画册中包括了蔡锦1990年至2012年之间所创作的345件《美人蕉》系列作品,而艺术家似乎也没有终 止此系列的迹象。这一植物在蔡锦的艺术创作中无处不在,出现在画布、床单、鞋子、自行车座椅、浴缸甚至地板等各类媒材上,可以说对蔡锦作为艺术家下了定义。而她最近的作品中,却展现了更多无法 辨识、具有脉动的形态,从不同程度上让人联想到植物或身体器官。经过了漫长的创作积累,生长或腐朽的自然进程成为了她艺术风格的另一面。

由于包括个人、艺术、尤其是心理上等各种原因,蔡锦发现自己对美人蕉的情有独钟逐步减退,甚至不再出现在她的作品中了。从个人角度而言,不难在她的作品中察觉出其人生中的几个重要转折点。在对这专一主题痴迷了七年之后,她移居到了纽约,一待就是十年。在那里她生下了女儿易易,出于对颜料气味可能危害婴儿健康的顾虑,在1999年至2001年之间她将绘画搁在了一边。2007年她带着女儿回到了北京,自那以后开始投入到“风景”系列中。

蔡锦对外界有所保留,当艺术评论家让她去阐述自己的作品时,她往往避而不谈。她给出的答案往往是, 不,她没有试图用作品去表现女性主义的观点,在鞋和床垫上画美人蕉时她的脑海中也不曾出现过鲜血。 她也不倾向于从形式上分析自己的作品,却更乐意分享自己在画画这一过程中感受到的强烈的乐趣。实际上,在讨论其作品的意义的对话中,她强调的是绘画的过程本身。在大尺寸的画布上,为了避免身体的过度伸张,她从大约肩高的一小块地方开始,顺其自然地扩展到画布的各个角落,从中她得到了一种愉悦。

虽然一贯如此,但当她的作品大体上抽象化以后,就更明显了。当1991年美人蕉在她的绘画中替代了人 体之后,在画布中很少有机会能捕捉到美人蕉周围的真实景观。蔡锦在安徽省祖母的家中长大,她谈起了自己从小就一直对霉菌繁衍的图案和雨水沿着窗户留下来等自然现象非常着迷。一旦找到绘画的主题 后,她的创作便籁于天成地扩展开来。她不假思索,每落一笔就自然而然地促成了下一笔。画布上美人蕉顺着她的笔触自然蔓延开来,就好似她小时候观察入微的污渍和霉斑一样。

在她的很多作品中,颜料多层厚重,给人一种幽闭恐惧的效果。但也有时背景中的空间豁然开朗,创造出一点呼吸的罅隙。当我们将《美人蕉209》和《风景4》相比较后,就能察觉到2003年是一个明显的转折点。《美人蕉209》中几片叶子背后斑点状的背景成为了《风景4》中的前景。对蔡锦而言,在从一个状态转变到另一个状态的那一刹那,作品就变成了风景画。

这些画又如何是风景画呢?为了回答这个问题,我们需要先看看她的油画和素描是以什么样的形式产生 的。与此次展览中的巨幅油画形成对比的则是一系列水果素描。她被两只放在餐桌上的梨所吸引,花了两个月的时间仔细观察后,梨干瘪了。她的素描风格与众不同,笔触并非是传统的直线形式,而是以细密的圆圈方式有节奏地在纸上移动铅笔或圆珠笔。如此通过长时间耐心的工作,她创作出了十分独特的素描作品。这样写生静物的方式看起来好像太费时间,不是很有效率。然而,恰恰是通过这些深浅不一 的圆圈式的笔触,她创造出了这些事物的三维效果。

仔细观察她最新的油画作品后会发现相似的圆圈式笔触从落下第一笔后即兴随意地扩展开来,逐渐消失在画布上颜料运用较为松弛单薄的区域,然后又凝聚成更加具体的形象。这是一个不可预测的过程,就像蔡锦拒绝多做阐释一样,很难用文字去表达。但正因如此,便可以用各种方式去诠释这些油画。我们看到的是夜空中的星云还是肉眼无法观察到的微生物繁殖?这些形态的原型是动物、植物还是矿物?她 所钟爱的蓝色也不禁让人联想到天空和大海,而那不规则的形态则好似云朵或海洋生命。换句话说, 它们将观者引领入一个浩瀚的空间领域,而不是像一株静静地立在那里的美人蕉。

对艺术家而言,这些油画并不是本意上的风景画,而是心中的风景画,是她在画布上花了无数个小时、 凭直觉任由画笔牵引的结果。这样毫无目的的创作过程就好似在幻想中的一片风景中散步一般,给了她本人极大的乐趣。她非常惬意地陶醉在自己的绘画过程中,创作完的作品展现了她在重新找回自信及生活的乐趣的同时,所进一步达到的愉悦的精神领域。

无疑,移居纽约十年后又回到中国是她作为一名艺术家的生活发展道路上的里程碑。在纽约的十年中,她与家乡几乎没有联系,唯一的接触也就局限在那些破损的、她年轻时拍的美人蕉照片。一回到祖国,重新浸浴在出生成长的熟悉环境及琐碎的日常生活中时,她的情绪一下子放松了。另一个幸福源泉则是她女儿易易的成长过程,易易也同样在新的环境中茁壮成长,学到的中国水墨画技能让母亲感到十分欣慰。 这一系列事件对她的作品产生了巨大的影响,反思它们的意 义时,蔡锦认为她新的风景作品应该说是一 种“溯源”,她又回到自然中寻找灵感和发现生命与喜悦。这些作品也给人一种喜庆的感觉,如同还没有画神灵之前那种洛可可式的天空、海边岩石间充满各类生物的潮水潭、或宇宙中的壮丽景观。我们可以随心所欲地去诠释这些作品,就犹如墙上的污渍和地上随机产生的斑驳印迹一般!

2013.5唐冠科博士

Cai Jin : Return to the Source

John Tancock


One of Cai Jin’s earliest works, still hanging in her studio, resembles a landscape painted predominantly in tones of red toned down to purple and close to black in some areas. It could be a view of rocks in a dense forest landscape of the type favored by Cézanne late in his career although in fact it represents the oor of her studio pulsating with an energy that is seemingly organic. This relationship between what we see on her canvases and naturally induced patterns, whether spreading areas of mold on a damp wall or uni- denti able stains on the oor, is the fundamental rhythm of her art, although for many years more speci c forms tended to obscure what lay behind them.

I am referring to the plant that has been her major source of inspiration since 1990 when she came across a dying meiranjiao plant in her native Anhui province. Something about this dusty, dying plant appealed to her a level beyond rational analysis, leading her to take several rolls of lm of other specimens shortly after. The recently published catalogue of her work lists 345 paintings on this theme painted between 1990 and 2012 and there is no indication that she is going to stop producing them. Painted on canvas, mattresses, shoes, bicycle seats, bathtubs and even the oor, the diverse forms assumed by this ubiquitous plant have come to de ne Cai Jin as an artist and rightly so. Underlying this proliferation of unidenti able, pulsating forms reminiscent to varying degrees of plant matter or bodily organs, natural processes of growth or decay, is another aspect of her artistic personality that has taken a long time to emerge. 

For various reasons, personal, artistic and perhaps most importantly, psychic, Cai Jin has watched as her obsession with the meirenjiao has diminished to the extent that it no longer appears in her paintings. On a personal level it is not dif cult to point to the events in her life that might account for shifts in her painting style. Seven years into her exclusive attachment to this motif, she moved to New York and remained there for the next decade. While in New York she gave birth to her daughter Yi Yi and from 1999 to 2001 largely refrained from painting out of concern, misplaced perhaps, that the fumes might harm the baby. In 2007 she returned to Beijing with her daughter.

Cai Jin is a very private person and is generally not helpful when critics ask for help in interpreting her work, replying that no, she is not making feminist statements, that she was not thinking of blood when she started painting meirenjiao on shoes and mattresses and so on. She is no more inclined to discuss her work in formal terms, preferring to speak about the intense pleasure she feels in the act of painting. In fact, in conversation with her about the meaning of her painting she concentrates on the act of painting itself, the pleasure she takes as her paintings grow organically from a small area in one of her increasingly large can- vases, probably about shoulder level where it is easy for her to begin without stretching too far.

This was always the case but now that her paintings are essentially abstract, it is more than ever apparent. In 1991 when the meiranjiao supplanted the human gures she had painted before then, there were only glimpses of the environment in which they grew. Cai Jin grew up in the home of her grandmother in rural Anhui province, and has described how she was always fascinated by natural phenomena such as spreading patterns of mold and mildew and rainwater running down windows. As soon as she found her subject, she began to nd that her paintings grew in the same organic way, one mark generating the next without any preconceived ideas to guide them. In turn what remained of the canvas once the plants had emerged from her brush grew organically, just like the stains with which she identi ed so closely as a child.

In many of them the effect is claustrophobic, the paint layer dense and clotted, but on occasion the space behind opens up and there are intimations of air and space. By 2003 a de nitive break emerged for the rst time as we see if we compare Banana Plant No. 209  with Landscape No. 4. In the painting of the banana plant, a few leaves emerge from a more loosely painted stippled background whereas in the landscape the background becomes foreground. For Cai Jin, when this transformation of one state into another occurs the painting becomes a landscape.

In what sense are these paintings landscapes? To answer this question, we need to look at the way in which her paintings and drawings come into existence. Contrasting with the large expansive paintings in the present exhibition is a series of drawings of fruit, two pears that sit on her dining table, dry and shriveled af- ter she has been observing them for the last two months. Her drawing style is highly unusual, her distinctive mark not a owing line but a tight, circular rhythmic action through which distinct forms emerge only after hours of patient draftsmanship. It seems to be a highly inef cient way of conveying the reality of observed objects but through the varied density of the circular strokes, light in some areas and dense in others, she conveys the three-dimensional solidity of observed objects.

Close observation of the new paintings reveals a similar pattern of curled brush strokes, growing spontane- ously from the initial mark, that fade away into looser areas of brushed color before congealing again into more solid forms. It is an unpredictable process, not easy to describe in words as Cai Jin demonstrates by her own refusal to interpret, but the paintings that result are open to a wide variety of interpretations. Are we looking at nebulae in the night sky or the growth of organisms too small to observe with the naked eye? Are these forms animal, vegetable or mineral in origin? The blue she favors is equally suggestive of the sky and the ocean, the amorphous forms hovering between cloud formations and submarine life. In other words, they offer insights into a realm of great spaciousness, unlike the meirenjiao which stood rmly in the way of such release.

To the artist, then, these paintings are not landscapes in the literal sense but landscapes of the mind, the result of countless hours of wandering on the surface of her canvas wherever her intuitive grasp of the be- havior of her medium guides her. These journeys without destination are like long walks through imaginary landscapes, an activity that causes her a great deal of personal happiness. She loses herself in her painting in a totally agreeable way, the nished works re ecting a new level of psychic satisfaction that mirrors her new-found self- con dence and satisfaction with life as it is.

Without question the return to China after a decade in New York was a key event in her personal develop- ment as an artist. For ten years her contact with the country of her birth was essentially through a few tattered photographs of meirenjiao that she had taken as a young woman. Once back in China, her mood lightened as she re-immersed herself in the day-to-day routines of ordinary life in the country of her birth. Another constant source of pleasure and satisfaction has been the growth of her daughter Yi Yi who likewise seems to have ourished in her new environment, developing considerable skill in Chinese ink painting to the delight of her mother.

Reacting on the meaning of these events as they impacted her painting, Cai Jin felt that her new series of landscapes could best be described as a Return to the Source, to nature as inspiration and source of life and joy. Certainly, they are festive and celebratory in feeling, suggesting rococo skies before gods and goddesses swoop into the picture, rock-pools teaming with life or majestic events in outer space. Like stains on the wall or naturally occurring patterns on the oor, we can read into them what we like!

2013.5 PhD  Dr. John Tancock