The 4th IAPA Biennale Symposium Speech ⅩIII Wen Zhongyan



On November 13, 2022, the two-day academic seminar of “The Fourth IAPA Printmaking Biennale” was concluded in Kunming. The theme of this seminar is “Tomorrow's Printmaking”, exploring the future development of printmaking in the post-pandemic era. Yin Jinan, a well-known art theorist and professor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts,and Guan Yuda, a professor of Yunnan University, co-hosted this seminar. There will be 17 domestic and international guests made keynote speeches, including Joseph Scheer, Alicia Candiai, Peter Bosteels, Zhang Lian, Song Guangzhi, Kong Guoqiao, Yang Feng, etc. This seminar employed a mix of online and offline methods. Some domestic experts will discuss and speak on the spot, providing a brand-new communication and exhibition platform for Chinese and international artists in a special period. They plan the future development of printmaking by gathering printmaking leaders and elites from around the world. This is a speech by Wen Zhongyan, Diretor and Professor of the Painting Department, Academy of  Fine Arts & Design, Tsinghua University




A City from the Perspective of Art: Beijing in Contemporary Printmaking

Greetings to all of you! First of all, I would like to extend my gratitude to my Alma mater, Central Academy of Fine Arts(CAFA) for the invitation. My thanks also go to Mr. Wang Huaxiang, Mr. Zhou Jirong, Mr.Yin Jinan, Mr. Guo Hao from Yunnan Arts University, and our host, Mr Guan Yuda. It is my great pleasure and honor to participate in the Fourth IAPA Printmaking Biennale and Academic Symposium jointly hosted by International Academic Printmaking Alliance (IAPA), International Printmaking Institute of CAFA and Yunnan Arts University (YNAU). The theme I want to share with you is A City from the Perspective of Art: Beijing in Contemporary Printmaking.

For all these years, I have engaged in printmaking and painting works that show the elements of Beijing, so I would pay more attention to the works that show the style and scenery of Beijing in the printmaking, and this has also triggered some of my own thoughts. Today, I will have a specific discussion starting and supporting from a specific point.

I’ve always believed that what distinguishes writers and artists from the rest of us lies in their sensitivity and their ability to find something new in the landscape that the general public take for granted. They will experience a different feeling in their common daily life. They will express this special feeling in their works, either directly or implicitly, allowing the audience to embrace the possibility of multi-dimensional appreciation and thinking perspectives. Just as Charles Dickens is to London, Hugo is to Paris, Van Gogh is to Arles and Saint-Rémy in the south of France, and Utrillo is to Montmartre in Paris.



Beijing, for local Beijingers or long-term residents alike, carry complicated connotations because of its history, politics, humanities and other special background brought about by changes and conflicts. Beijing has positioned itself as a very special city in China. First of all, since Beijing is the capital city, and the political and cultural center of China. In a sense, Beijing can represent China. Most of the time, the situation in China can be observed through the changes taken place in Beijing. What’s more, it is one of the few large cities in China that provides the most concentrated and complete preservation of traditional Chinese architecture. Within the Second Ring Road of Beijing stand the so-called old Beijing City formed since the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The urban texture of the old city of Beijing is constituted by the dotted courtyards, criss-crossed hutongs as well as large-scale, majestic and solemn royal complexes. This is what Mr Liang Sicheng mentioned about the city’s most beautiful skyline form a special backdrop for the blend of imperial grandeur and Hutong street culture that characterized the old city. At the end of the 20th century, a batch of large-scale buildings with strong pioneering experiments, such as the National Centre for the Performing Arts, the Bird’s Nest, the Water Cube, and CCTV, which brought a brand new look to the time-honored Beijing city and become new landmarks of Beijing.



Around the 1980s, a batch of printmaking works representing the theme of Beijing appeared,including the black-and-white woodcut Spring Breeze Again by Mr. Guangjun, showing the Turret of the Palace Museum; Mr Gao Rongsheng’s series of black-and-white woodcut illustrations for Lao She’s literary works Rickshaw Boy and also a series of silk screen prints by Mr. Zhang Guilin, City Gate, Turret, Wall; Zhou Jirong’s  works about Hutong and classic buildings, including the Waking of Insects, Landscape,etc. Mr. Kang Jianfei’s woodblock watermark works Bird’s Nest, Water Cube, etc. There are also some artists who choose ordinary landscapes that are ubiquitous in Beijing for their creations, such as Fu Bin’s original woodcut and colored works landscape Parallel Lines series. Sun Tianlong’s series of silk screen works and digital printmaking The Hermit show the scene of the empty subway stations with no one around.

I am quite familiar with these artists and their printmaking works, some of whom are my teachers at CAFA, my college classmates, my colleagues after work and students I have taught.



To talk about these works, we should first mention their living background and the city of Beijing. Mr. Zhang Guilin and Mr. Gao Rongsheng are local Beijingers, who born and raised in Beijing, and they have a continuous special cognition and experience of old Beijing. Therefore, there is more or less an indescribable nostalgia reflected in their works, which is a kind of true expression from the inside out. In comparison, Mr. Zhou Jirong, Mr. Kang Jianfei, Mr. Fu Bin, and Mr. Sun Tianlong all came to Beijing after being admitted to university from all over China and they worked and lived in Beijing after graduation. For them, it is actually a gradual process of getting familiar with and cognition from the outside to the inside of Beijing. I feel that they always have a perspective of outside-in viewer, including myself of course. Due to different backgrounds and experiences of growth, different styles have all be presented through the artistic breakthrough point and the way of expression.





Here I would like to introduce five artists, Mr. Zhang Guilin, Mr. Zhou Jirong, Mr. Kang Jianfei, Mr. Fu Bin and Mr. Sun Tianlong, who represent the printmaking works of Beijing. Mr. Zhang Guilin is a typical local Beijinger. For him, whether good or bad, Beijing has already become his home that he can not live without. Many things have been deeply engraved in his blood, for many of the scenes may only bring reaction and feeling to local Beijingers. Mr. Zhang’s works are bright in color and many of them adopt the symmetrical layout of the traditional Chinese architecture. While the spatial conflicts formed by floating clouds, shooting stars across the sky, traffic signs and other off-screen objects have created a surreal sense of dream. For a long time, Mr. Zhang has lived in Meizha Hutong next to Wangfujing, the heartland of old Beijing, a place witnessing the city’s transformation as well as the joys and sorrows of Beijingers. In the 1990s, as the fastest and the most intense period of urbanization in old Beijing, hutongs have carried the memories of generations of old Beijingers who have experienced the largest-scale demolition and renovation. Mr. Zhang is deeply touched by the disappearance of many hutongs and he has transformed this feeling and emotion into a series of silk screen prints. In my opinion, it is a kind of releasing strong emotions and leaving artistic trace of an era through works. Cranes, airplanes and treasures, folded from old newspapers, cast huge shadows on the mottled walls of hutongs, including a series of contrasting and juxtaposing dialogues between ancient and modern buildings in Beijing that he made later. Reminiscence, helplessness and even a little sadness come alive on the paper.



I believe that Mr. Zhang’s works belong to the painting works in the first place, which is produced through the way of silk screen painting, so his printmaking works is more like painting. Written in a flowing and lucid style, the subtle changes in ink color and layers of color have all formed a unique style and appearance of Mr. Zhang’s art.





The contents for Beijing-based theme selected by Mr. Zhou Jirong and Mr. Kang Jianfei are completely different. The former focuses on the buildings and hutongs of old Beijing while the latter focuses on new landmarks in Beijing. However, they have one thing in common among their works, that is, the purification of the background and the image. In front of the empty background stands a huge single complex, like a monument telling the history. The single complex is reproduced almost without embellishment, and the processing of some details even go beyond the scope of human vision.

Professor Zhou Ji’s works has examined the changes of Beijing and its people from the perspective of the viewer to examine the classic ancient buildings of old Beijing. It serves as a photographic record of these solemn and grand ancient buildings. From the Waking of Insects series and the Last Memorial series that delicately depicted the texture of images in the early days, to the Landscape series in which images are superimposed in recent years. I believe that the generation and use of images has always been an important element of Zhou’s works. The Last Memorial impressed me most by its patience and delicacy in presenting a part of the world that was beyond reality, it gives the audience an illusion of going astray. In comparison, Landscape actually belongs to a kind of plausible, real and illusory human geographical space formed by interlacing and superimposing rational images. Zhou’s way of self-interpretation and presentation of the images and the interlacing of multiple images, forming out-of-focus, with more historical attention and individual feelings for specific landscapes, just like these pictures of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square with a strong political color.




Actually, Mr. Kang Jianfei examines the new landmark buildings in Beijing from the perspective of the audience on the theatre stage, leading more viewers into private space created by him. Water Cube, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Bird’s Nest and other works have used the most traditional Chinese woodcut watermarks to represent these massive postmodern buildings, leaving strong dramatic conflicts in itself. Among these works, a man-made tranquil space, in which a large real building stands, reducing the purity of color. Instead, the brand-new building presents a magical atmosphere, which is more like a giant man-made toy in the center of the stage.



The artists born after the 1980s and the three artists born before the 1970s introduced above have presented a completely different perspective on the theme of Beijing. Their current living environment and experience are completely different from those of Zhang Guilin, Zhou Jirong and Kang Jianfei.They basically have no contact with those ancient buildings or classic buildings in their daily life, which these artists were far away from them instead. What they could see in their daily lives was the ordinary scenery of an ordinary city, which is the similar scene of thousands of cities formed after the modern city-building movement. Therefore, the ordinary scenery has become the carrier of their artistic expression. The printmaking works of Fu Bin and Sun Tianlong are representative in this respect. Fu Bin worked as the curator of “Constellation: Yunnan Printmaking since 1978”, which was jointly hosted by Yunnan Arts University and the Contemporary Gallery Kunming (CGK) at the end of last year. His Parallel Lines series is quite distinctive, with only two links,engraving and coloring, There is no final printing step in traditional printmaking works, and there are no plural prints. It is a single piece of art.I think he used the links that can be used in printmaking and also cannot be replaced by other methods to complete his artistic works. In my opinion, the printmaking plurals are emerged due to historical reasons and also a result of the need for social communication at that time. Now the plural social communication function of printmaking has basically disappeared, or has been replaced by other more efficient methods, so whether plural is still a unique attribute of prints. I think it is also a topic that requires further consideration. Fu Bin’s works are a series of uninhabited urban architecture-based landscape, eliminating the existence of people and thus turning into a more pure picture. The use of architecture as a carrier in search for more pure composition and form also achieves what Bertolt Brecht calls the dramatic effect of “alienation”, thus separating the works’ content from its familiar and immersive visual senses and allowing the audience to maintain appropriate psychological distance from the building.



Young artists like Sun Tianlong have their own understanding of printmaking. The limit of photography is improving day by day and becoming more ruthless day by day. In comparison, warmth can be observed in ruthlessness, for example Ni Zan’s works Along the River Banks. I think we can also use the temperature of painting to reconcile the digital image environment we live in every day, and use the wonderful response of the printmaking handmade paper and water-based pigments to deal with the algorithms of color in the computer, and the creation will become less rigid. The view intersects with the slanted line of the image I choose, and the light has become the color regulator, which lingers on the indoor passage where the light and shadow are refracted repeatedly. His works are actually images that you can see when you look down in the last subway between Yanjiao Studio and Qinghua Garden.




To conclude, I would like to talk about the creation in printmaking, especially the modern printmaking, from the theme of “A City from the Perspective of Art—Beijing in Contemporary Printmaking.”. In my opinion. it can be divided into several types. One is to keep digging in a field, digging deep in a specific field and extending this field in depth. Only when you reach certain depth, can you completely distance yourself from others and form your own unique artistic language or artistic outlook, allowing others to think of those few characteristic works when they think of this theme or content.In this regard, I think Mr. Zhang Guilin has served as a role model by creating old Beijing with decades of silk screen prints.

The second is to form a unique artistic outlook in one field and moderately expand to related fields. The concept “moderate” should be highly valued since there are various ways of art and too many temptations nowadays, including sound, light, electricity and multimedia. For artists, I think, need to have a clear judgment on what is the most suitable way for them and which work style is the most suitable for their own artistic creation. It is impossible to pursue expansion and extension without limit. In my opinion, Mr. Zhou Jirong has provided us with a case for further study and analysis in this respect.

The third is to take printmaking as the central focus, by constantly expanding beyond and adopt the thinking pattern in printmaking for a variety of artistic creation. Actually, all kinds of logic and thoughts from the art creation all follow the thinking pattern of the printmaking, as is the case with Mr. Kang Jianfei and Mr. Fu Bin.

The fourth is to get rid of printmaking completely and use other ways of artistic creation for practice and creation. What I mean is “relatively thorough” rather than “thorough”, since the trace of printmaking can be found in the works of these artists more or less. This tends to be especially obvious when juxtaposed with other artists’ works in a gallery. I believe this is a very interesting phenomenon.On the contrary, it has formed a style and routine that is different from those of some professional artists, and it is easily recognizable in the exhibition.

The four methods I have mentioned are neither good nor bad, nor of high or low status. It is just a natural choice made by each artist after certain practice and accumulation. It is precisely because of persistent dedication to a certain filed that the special artistic creation method of printmaking can continue to develop and continue in a sustainable way. Internally, this has been regarded as the basic factor, featuring fundamental, insistent and inherent. Besides, what I mentioned the art working methods earlier, including the moderate expansion, the expansion of printmaking as the center to related fields, and the relatively thorough separation from printmaking, have allowed printmaking to continue to grow and develop today, especially in the future. This is extrinsic and open, bringing a power of outward expansion. I believe that, with the inherent power and outward expansion, the future of printmaking can be be well expected.

This is what I would like to share with you today, thank you!