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【评论】李天元

2012-05-29 09:45:42 来源:艺术家提供作者:乔纳森•古德曼
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  李天元,北京画家,一九八八年毕业于著名的中央美术学院。他画的是油画,而按照批评家冷林的说法,相对于业已式微的国画来说,油画家在中国仍然是颇受尊敬的职业。李天元的风格属于神秘现实主义,在他的画里,关于人物与自然的种种形态沉默不语,却仍能相互沟通。他的作品既单纯又老道,形式纯熟,主题凝练。观者不禁想了解画家选择这些主题的原因,但这并不容易。他对于笔下对象的选择似乎没有特别的原因,让人觉得他作画好像没有具体的目的。当然,李天元的观众的修养不至于此,他们知道,艺术家创作出的图像不可能没有内容:即便这内容确实极难表达,但作画这一行为本身就已是它的载体。然而,李天元对待人物与自然的那种冷静超然似乎强调着当代艺术中所指的缺席。他的画的缄默感令心理与政治的异化成了主题,其内容被循规蹈矩的外表隐藏了起来。

  但观者须对李天元的意向保持清醒的头脑。差异性并非他笔下形象的主要特征。他在绘画上面临的难题往往导致某种社会疏离感,从而促使他将对『隔离』的描绘当作自己的主题。即便是像他二零零六年的油画《树 Tree》里那种简单的形象,也呈现出怨闷的情绪,甚至有种迫在眉睫的末世感。树位于画面中央,叶子的笔法生猛。树周围的草地看上去十分鲜活,仿佛不是草地而是一片大海。画面的背景是一束玫瑰和紫色的天空:天然的与人工的共冶一炉。面对这样一幅画作,观者很难确定自己看到的究竟是黄昏或黎明的景象,还是一幅末世图景。那颗树看起来十分活跃,深浅不一的绿色枝叶在烈风下摇曳,充满了黑暗、危险的原力。作品中富于意境的孤独感会令观者以为那些树带有寓言的意味,然而色彩与图像之巧夺天工使人不愿意在这幅高超的风景图画中插入符号式的读解。在这里,树从本质上说是自然的再现,它呈现出的自身能量似乎拒绝了任何强制式的解读。

  《树 Tree》像是一个隐喻,可以脱离我们对它的论述而存在:其自足性令它处在一个自己的世界,在这个世界里,我们关于它的种种主张都遭到了质疑。这种情况在李天元的作品中时有发生,对它们的随意读解必定会遭遇作品本身的自我完备性。它反对诠释,因为它所处的世界独一无二,想像力在其中只能运作于视觉层面,而非通过解释将意义强加于一个臆想的主题上。李天元的作品之不可解释仿佛是对那些无意被说明的图像的一种禅宗式的引介--分析在此只会对美学造成伤害。李天元以想像力为基础,创作『远离意向』的作品。对内涵的放弃令他获得了对艺术的自治。而他的观念重新导向了画本身。这样的作品就像没有解码表的密码,对它的一切期待都将落空。

  在二零零六年的《绿 Green》里,我们看到一片绿色林间空地,有的绿色偏淡黄,有的较黑。画面右边有几条白色垂直物体,看上去像细树干,偏右下方站着一个女人,她的头转向后方,故我们只能看到头发,她的身体被切到了构图之外。整幅画的色彩十分混杂,几乎到了混乱的程度,只有女人的手被画得十分仔细,姿态极富意蕴,惹人遐想。她像是在望着一块光能够照到的空地。尽管画面的颜色由于大范围偏绿而显得近乎抽象,但这个观看者的存在令我们有了身历其境的感觉。女人于是成了我们的感受力的替身,甚至也可以说,成了我们的替身--尽管我们仍然不了解她代表着什么。

  二零零六年的《小白杨 Little Poplar》里也有一个凝视自然的人物形象,这回是个男人,身穿运动装,位于画面右侧。他面对着一排小白杨树,黄绿的枝叶谱写着对春天之欢愉的赞歌。男人看着白杨树,我们看着他,双方的注意力合二为一。这幅画的主题不只是自然之美,还有人对于这美的认知。『观看』在该作品中是一个关键,这不只是从作者的角度而言:『观看』这一动作为画面注入了能量,于是我们也可以分享这精美的图景了。自然在此以一种近乎崇敬的心情被表现出来,那种强烈可以被读解为对于环境之脆弱的注释。《小白杨 Little Poplar》的特殊之处在于它向观者心中传递了意义,这既是对于自然的冥想,也是对『观看』这一主题的致敬。与李天元的其他作品相比,《小白杨 Little Poplar》实在要明快得多。

  李天元有两幅混合了人物与风景/天空的作品显示了他的技巧。在二零零六年的《S 先生 Mr. S》李,一位年轻人身穿白毛衣、黑围巾、深色裤子,盘旋于一束向右弯曲的小溪上空。在他身后是树木和绿地,深灰色的天空说明那要么是黄昏,要么是天公不作美。同年的作品《Sky at Shang Yuan》里,一个约十岁的小男孩将右臂伸向空中,他活泼的眼神强化了年轻的能量。男孩身后的天空一片黄色,略带粉红,其中浮着几片灰色的云和几滴很有绘画感的水珠。画面的下方是一片灰色风景,和男孩穿的灰色西装背心相映成趣。而在男孩背后的稍近的风景呈深绿色。这两幅画互为对照:S 先生望着我们,眼神深邃哀伤,可以说,他完全不属于这幅画面,而是像画家描绘的那样,浮游于小溪的上空。不过,小男孩似乎颇与周围环境水乳交融,这幅作品更多地传达了『希望』这一信息,而非像李氏的大部分作品那样,有一种哀伤的怨闷。

  李天元是复杂的,这种复杂很难评断。或许可以这么说:他常常有意让自己显得含混不定,但同时对他笔下常常出现的人性/自然主题的图像又保持着控制力。他的感受力活在当下,经常展现人类本性的疏离,而他对待自然的方式往往处在悲挽边缘。他今年完成的一幅题为《黑与白 Black & White》的作品描绘了一个站在树丛中的女孩,透过树从望着远处一个身穿褐色外套的人。令人不解的是,女孩的左手里有一幅十分波洛克的图画:条条点点的黑色颜料被涂在白色背景上。除了显示李天元对于现代主义及其对他本人所利用的传统的影响有所了解之外,这幅图像似乎没有什么意义。这是李天元最好的作品之一,它以谜一样的方式出入于数个传统之间,否定了任何随意性的诠释。除掉这种诠释,单独存在的图像会有更大的力量。

  乔纳森•古德曼,作家,擅写亚洲艺术。撰写关于当代中国艺术的文章超过十年。现居纽约,任教于普拉特学院及帕森斯设计学院。

  Li Tianyuan is a Beijing-based painter who graduated from that city’s prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1988. He is a practitioner of oil painting, which, as critic Leng Lin has pointed out, remains a vocation of particular prestige in China, in comparison to the relatively moribund state of ink painting. As a painter of mysterious realism, in which states of being, describing both people and nature, are often communicated without spelling out their meaning, Li creates an art that is both innocent and experienced, formally adept and thematically dense. One seeks reasons for the kinds of decisions the artist has made regarding his themes, but they are not easily forthcoming. His subject matter would appear to exist for no outstanding reason, as if the artist was taken with the idea of painting without purpose. Of course, his audience knows better than that—it is impossible for an artist to make images that deny their own content; something, even if it proves close to impossible to express, is communicated by the very act of making a picture. Yet Li’s apparently calm treatment of people and nature can seem to underscore the lack of significance in contemporary art, in which psychological and political alienation become themes by virtue of the paintings’ reticence, in which content is hidden by what passes for conformity.

  But the viewer must not be confused concerning Li’s intentions. He is not a painter whose imagery is characterized by diffidence. His painterly conundrums often enact a social estrangement, so that his topic becomes the portrayal of isolation. Even so simple an image as Tree, Li’s 2006 oil on canvas, has been painted to convey disaffection, perhaps even an imminent apocalypse. A tree with wildly brushed foliage stands in the middle of the painting, rising out of a green field so actively painted it seems as much a sea as a meadow of grass. The background of the image is a rose and purple sky; manages to be natural and artificial in the same moment. The audience hardly knows whether it is looking at a magnificent dawn or twilight or the end of the world; the tree appears to be animate with dark forces that play out as dangerously alive, its light and dark green strands of leaves tossed by a strong wind. In its visionary loneliness, the tree strikes the viewer as an example of allegorical intent, yet the paint and image are handled so well one hesitates to read symbolic import into what is a remarkable image of nature. Essentially a representation taken from nature, Tree seems to work against any imposed reading, it is so strong a depiction of its own energies.

  As a trope, Tree functions independently from what we would say

  concerning its presence; its self-sufficiency enables it to exist in a world in which our claims upon it are rendered moot. This happens quite regularly in Li’s work, which tends to remain autonomous and self-contained in the face of any easy reading of its purpose. It resists explanation and interpretation because it exists in a world of its own making, such that the imagination can only ally itself with the paintings’ visible objectives, without doing damage to them through a construal that would force a meaning upon a would-be theme. There is an inexplicability to Li’s art that serves as a Zenlike introduction to images that do not care if they are elucidated, in the sense that analysis would do damage to their esthetic. Li reclaims the imagination as a fertile ground for work that remains remote in regard to intention; by eschewing connotation, he vouchsafes the essential autonomy of his art. His ideas, then, lead back to the painting, which refuses to acknowledge what is expected of it, operating as a cipher without a key.

  In Green (2006), we see a glade consisting of a wide range of greens, some made lighter by the presence of yellow, some made darker by the presence of black. On the right there are a few white verticals that look like the slim trunks of trees; a female figure stands in the lower middle right of the painting, her head turned away from us so that we can only see her hair, and her body cut off by the edge of the composition. In a work that almost anarchically mixes and muddles color, Li has painted the hands very carefully; they are frozen in an expressive position whose meaning can only be guessed at. She seems to be looking into a clearing into which the light can penetrate. While the painting appears to be a celebration of color nearly abstract in its overwhelming greenness, the presence of a witness humanizes our own participation in the image. The figure thus becomes a stand-in for our sensibility, and ourselves even though we remain in the dark about what exactly it is that she stands for.

  Little Poplar, a work from 2006, also has a figure gazing at nature; in this case it is a man wearing a track suit on the right, looking at a row of young poplar trees whose yellow-green foliage lyrically celebrates the pleasures of spring. We look at the young man as he watches the poplars, uniting our concentration with his own. The subject of this painting is not only the beauty of nature, it is also the recognition of such beauty by people. Seeing is central to the work’s existence, not only in an authorial sense; the act of vision in the painting energizes it so that we too can share its exquisite imagery. Here nature is expressed with a feeling that approaches reverence; its intensity reads as a comment on the fragility of the environment. Little Poplar is unusual because it actually yields meaning to its viewers, both as a meditation on nature and as a tribute to vision as a theme. It is not nearly as dark a work as many other works by Li are.

  Li demonstrates his technical skill in two paintings that incorporate figures into landscape and sky. With Mr. S, done in 2006, a young man wearing a black scarf, white sweater, and dark pants hovers over a stream that bends to the right; behind him are tall trees in a meadow, while the dark gray sky signals twilight or bad weather. In Sky at Shang Yuan (2006), a young boy about ten years of age extends his right arm into the air; his animated gaze underscores the energy of youth. Behind him is a pinkish-yellow sky, underscored by gray clouds and a number of painterly drips. In the lower part of the painting a gray landscape rhymes with the gray vest the boy is wearing; in the foreground, just behind the youth, is a dark-green landscape. The two paintings exist in contrast to each other; Mr. S looks at us with a soulful, melancholic regard; he is quite literally not part of the picture he occupies, floating above the stream Li has painted. The boy, however, seems attuned to his surroundings; this is more of a painting with hope rather than the doleful disaffection that is so often an experience of Li’s art.

  Li’s complexity is hard to gauge. It may be said that the artist is a painter who often remains deliberately obscure, but who is also in control of his imagery, which regularly addresses humanity and nature. Being contemporary in sensibility, he regularly asserts the remoteness of human nature, and his treatment of nature often borders on the elegiac. In a painting done this year, Black & White, a girl stands in the midst of a thicket, looking through the trees at a brown-coated figure in the distance; mystifyingly, she holds in her left hand a very Pollock-like image, in which blots and skeins of black paint have been painted on a white ground. The image makes no sense except to prove Li’s awareness of modernism making inroads on traditions he himself makes use of. It is an example of the artist at his best, mediating between traditions in an enigmatic manner, holding back from us any easy explanation, which would lessen the impact of the image in its isolation.

  Jonathan Goodman

  Jonathan Goodman is a writer who specializes in articles about Asian art. He has been writing about contemporary Chinese art for more than a decade. Based in New York, he is currently teaching at Pratt Institute and the Parsons School of Design.

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