Jade Treatment: Discussing the Impact of Wang Shaoqiang's Art

A certain dimensionality informs Wang Shaoqiang's art. In a sense, Wang Shaoqiang's works, overflowing with meticulousforethought, are inevitably deduced, with the impact of a subtle blow, as ifthey were from a higher dimension. Therefore, his latest solo exhibition at theHe Xiangning Art Museum is titled Jade Treatment (Li 理), so that the logic and complexity of the Chinese character may give order to the inner energy and multiple forms of his works.


It is critical to understand this Chinese character Li. In the ancient Chinese dictionary Shuowen Jiezi, it is interpretedas "to cure jade." The Qing dynasty philologist Duan Yucai noted,"In Intrigues of the Warring States, people of the state of Zheng called untreated jade pu (璞), uncut boulders containing jade. Li denotes cutting and dividing up of such boulders. Although jade is strong, it is not difficult to cure according to its texture and natural linesto make it into a utensil. Such is called Li. One finds inner peace when everything under the sun is studied to reach full understanding with noregrets. This is called the Heavenly Principle, fine treatment, and good governance." From the treatment of jade to the studies and governance of"everything under the sun", this interpretation of the character Li is truly profound. In short, from ordinary perception, management to the summoning of reason, and even to glimpses of the Heavenly Principle, all derived from Li’s original meaning of jade treatment, fall in its category and, following the right lines. The search for Li is a process from the surface to the interior, from the shallow to the deep, from the phenomenon to the essence.


Wang Shaoqiang's daily life encompasses the practice of Li, both as a verb and a noun. The multiple dimensions of work, life, and art indeed give increased substance to these lines. He is a multi-tasker: amuseum manager, professor, publisher, designer, and more. As the director of Guangdong Museum of Art and a member of the curatorial committee of the China Artists Association, he has planned many important exhibitions and culturalevents. As a researcher and doctoral supervisor of the China Academy of Art, a professor and doctoral supervisor of the School of Art of Macau University of Science and Technology, and a professor of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, he is the recipient of many awards. As a publisher and designer, he has designed and published a large number of important anthologies on art and design. He has designed and published a large number of important, award-winning anthologies on works of art and design. In casual conversation, he occasionally mentions his family, careful and thoughtful in his discourse. As for his art, of course, he has never stopped creating. All of this boils down to the fact that one needs to have the right philosophy to support the proper allocation of one's energy and rational planning of one's time. This is the daily routine of Wang Shaoqiang's "jade treatment" - let everything be reasonably arranged, and find his own lines and order in their "treatment".


Wang Shaoqiang once spoke of the origin of one of his ink creations, "When I drink tea, the tea water will accumulate to form a certain concentration, and the image formed is different each time, which gives me inspiration. My paintings are actually created from suchfluidity, as well as from the relationship between water and air, and time, all be speaking a subjective yearning for nature and landscapes." The varying concentrations of tea water triggered an interest in ink and wash, summarizing the relationship between water and air, and time, ultimately inspiring his own creations. Those who reflect on this process come to realize that these forms of sublime connection limn a direct interpretation of Li.


On this basis, Wang Shaoqiang has gradually planned a repertoire of procedures that suit his state perfectly. He has managed to turn research, management, and creation into a trinity. Because he is always busy, he needs to find the crucial points, to make efforts where and when it is most effective, and to find ways to make fragmented time fruitful. Wang Shaoqiang's solution is to subsume a natural rhythm and let time shoulder a share of his work. Every day before he goes to work, he sprays ink onto paper, leaving the rest to the intervening hours. The next morning, the ink isdry, and he continues to ink according to the traces that have been formed, continuing thusly. He has, in essence, designed a valve with which to tap time. This valve allows air, moisture, and paper fibers to intermix and evolve according to their own physical characteristics: water will dry, dregs will sink, the adsorption of Xuan paper and the distribution of irregular fibers init will naturally produce different traces. He has effectively fused hiscreation with the laws of nature, so that in the fullness of time, the picture emanates a precious, irresistible serenity. In this fast-paced era, it is apoetic thing to mobilize time, sunlight, and air as allies in creation!


If tea is a catalyst for Wang Shaoqiang to spring from "mindless order and lines" to creative fruition, then his years of experience in design and management have accumulated a depth from which creation is intentional. Such mindlessness provides the raison d’etre for Wang Shaoqiang's creation. As a knowledgeable designer and manager, he cultivates a global view. Today's design and management are disciplines equally based on modern thinking, following the process from observation, to reasoning, hypothesis, and finally verification, the logic of which requires not only a clear blueprint of the goals to be achieved, but also a rational arrangement of each production and creation, interlinked to achieve the final blueprint. Planning, organizing, deciding, regulating all the elements involved in the process, and making them work together in an organized manner are all necessary toachieving the final vision. The curator in particular has the natural advantage of dimensionality in his vision. He must be more aware of the political, economic, and artistic workings of the world and China today, especially when the world is forced to isolate itself under the constraints of an epidemic, to find his niche and direction of work, and thus to think about what art is for, to focus on reality without being confined to the immediate. The Yijing, China’s seminal Book of Changes, enjoins us to "Look up to observe astronomy; look down to observe geography." Wang Shaoqiang meticulously follows this dictum. Star maps, square grids, satellite map markings, ink and wash materials, and landscape imagery, all are key components of Wang Shaoqiang's works, and constitute the main characteristics of his artistic style. Based on his understanding of the development of Chinese and Western art, his observation of the current art ecosystem, and his recognition and selection of traditional cultural resources within today's epistemology, it can be said that Wang Shaoqiang boasts his own creative methodology: he follows the abstract form, an element common to both ancient and modern Chinese and Western, back to the original geometric image system of Chinese civilization embodied by Hetu and Luoshu. He then introduces a unique map concept to traditional landscapes. The eight trigrams and nine domains to which Hetu and Luoshu point, aside from the complex connotations they were given during the development of Chinese civilization, were created by China’s original ancestorsas a model for understanding the world, to understand and give order to aseemingly complex and disorderly external world, and to manage their own relationship with it. Nowadays, it is the clutter of modern life that can overwhelm us. Wang Shaoqiang thus maintains a rule for his own order and lines: if globalization is a sea enveloping all our regional differences, Wang Shaoqiang will use the ancient Hetu and Luoshu to anchor his position, borne on a vessel sailing the waters of the Eastern spirit.


As for the art itself, Wang Shaoqiang has conceived and executed a standard, yet personal artistic mode. Far from static, this mode resembles an organism, one that can grow and take on new appearances as both the subject matter and the author's experience and mentality change. Looking at Wang Shaoqiang's recent works, we can find two very important such changes. One  concerns a break through incomposition, the other in color.


Shedding light on these two breakthroughs requires a return to Wang Shaoqiang's profession: art management. The former dean of the School of Design at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts has long been involved in art management, creation, and teaching, and is thus a fine arts renaissance man. It is well recognized that people long immersed in art management and design are better able to mobilize space and vision than ordinary visual artists. Certain service elements in art management intersect with certain interactions, with the integration of those manifold resources emphasized in contemporary art. Peculiarly, Wang Shaoqiang seems to have neglected this advantage over the years. Perhaps due to an overarching preoccupation with the boundary between "pure art" and "design" in his works, Wang Shaoqiang, as a painter, always seemed to intentionally avoid Wang Shaoqiang, as a designer, and eschews the design element in his paintings. But in more recent works, pure art and design have reached a reconciliation, the result of which is an emerging synergy, a global view of comprehensive control and organization, enhancing the creativity and visual impact of the picture. Take"On the New Day" for example: the entire work consists of four squareimages. When viewed close up, the texture and structure of the rocks are very clear, the details intriguing. From a distance, the work forms a continuous downward staircase from left to right, rhythmically, with obvious design implications, for an overall impact and attractiveness beyond ordinary works, brimming with the artist's confidence. Of course, design is not the same as artifice and decoration. In fact, reverence for nature and life infuses almost all of Wang Shaoqiang's works. Although he has been working as a contemporary artist for years, he has never intentionally sought to be weird or strange in order to look "contemporary". The landscapes in his paintings, no matter how many ideas they imply, still project a neutral, simple, and peaceful atmosphere. A shift in palette marks another change in Wang Shaoqiang's recentcreations. Unlike his previous style of mainly ink and wash and "dark painting", his new works make extensive use of color. For example,"Thousand Meters", "Purple Constellation, No. 3","Three Colors and Nine Thousand, No. 2" and "Color Hills, No.24" are all representatives of this new multihued approach. The first two create a thick "red mountain" from layers of accumulation on the narrow paper, while the other two create a light, elegant and misty scene. Both"Three Colors" and "Color Hills" are rendered with color within the framework of ink, brightening and livening the whole picture, withan added rhythm in its composure. If Wang Shaoqiang had been continuing the literati ink and wash tradition of Chinese painting, he has now introduced more color factors, for a more abundant composition. On the whole, both the additionof design elements and the experimentation with color mean that the artist is advancing his creation with a more relaxed and tolerant mindset, more confident in his choices, and seeking change in a peaceful, gradual manner.


One thing that must be emphasized about this exhibition is the beauty of its space at the He Xiangning Art Museum, an ideal locale for Wang Shaoqiang's work. In my opinion, the He Xiangning Art Museum is an exemplar of the traditional use of borrowed scenery and contextualization utilized by small and medium-sized art museums across China. Although built more than 30 years ago, it still remains unparalleled. Such a modern space’suse of traditional gardens provides an opportunity for Wang Shaoqiang to createand present his new work "Work of Nature: Merge of Seven". Its creation originates from traditional Chinese culture's philosophical notion that "man acts for the work of nature and assumes the task of creating new things". The number "seven" is a very special element in both traditional Chinese and ancient Greek mathematical systems. Therefore, this work is not only a meditation upon the subjects of both humanities and geography, but also a symbolic search for heaven’s will to create. Moreover, the work breaks through the artist's previous flatter creations, and truly realizes the state of "travel-able and live-able" through the creation of a landscape painting that intermediates between human and sculpture. It should be said that the leap from micro to macro, from material to spiritual, is what Wang Shaoqiang is always pursuing. Wang Shaoqiang revealed the law of life’s changes represented in geological changes as far back as in his early western landscapes. As human beings experience birth, aging, sickness and death, so do the Yardan landforms cycle from conception to youth, prime years, old age, and finally extinction, except that the unit of time marking their lives is not the"year" of human beings, but rather the "ten thousand years"of the natural world. This irresistible natural destiny, and the long processof growth and decay, when simultaneously applied to the artist's creation, becomes a visual image both real and shocking. In the painting "Images of Constellations", with its ink background and silvery cloth, the authorincorporates modern astronomical knowledge into the tradition of ancientcelestial charts, giving a sense of reality, while spurring endless imagination. In geological chronology, the zodiac, generations, epochs, centuries and periods are the basic units of time, the length of which is not comparable to the years, months and days we encompass. It is by fusing stratigraphic knowledge with a traditional landscape style that "The Folded Period" builds a new landscape image with both humanistic spirit and temporal sedimentation. Taking this as a premise, if we look at the birth of "Work of Nature: Merge of Seven" again, we find that the exploration of the inner order and lines of nature and life has become aconsistent theme of Wang Shaoqiang's art.


In conclusion, if it is one's fate to be defined, then let us define Wang Shaoqiang as having many excellent qualities which canbe interpreted in a generalized way - broad vision, extensive management, curious yet rigorous, dedicated to the details, and so on. These descriptions actually present a vivid and ascending arc of an individual life. Wang Shaoqiang is such a life form, or one of such life forms. Although he seems tobe standing on a plateau, we still can hardly find a trace of slackness in him, or in his works, both striving for perfection. However, there is another dimension to art sometimes, very casual, even a little slack. Therefore, as thecurator of the exhibition entitled "Jade Traetment", I hope that there may be a loose side in addition to all the rational arrangements in place. May I go so far as to hope it is a stone in the wilderness? A piece of jade scattered on the ground? You can sit on it, or pick it up and play with itin your hands for a while.


Both art and exhibitions can be like that, andthat's just fine.



Wu Hongliang

Beijing Fine Art Academy

August 25, 2021