The field of color painting is a crowded one, even now in the third generation; it is a triumph of painting in defiance of figuration, it is hope, existentialism, l’art pour l’art, art for art’s sake, painting for color’s sake. Whatever new can still come about? Are not all the niches occupied?
What happens then when a Chinese with a degree in art – of a practical and very theoretical, art-historical nature – comes to Germany and then continues his studies under Gotthard Graubner? Will he lose his original roots, his cultural connotations? Will he give these up in favor of a western standpoint or will he succeed in finding a synthesis of thesis and antithesis that allows in the new. But that would imply an already modifying character as to the quality being sought, namely that of the aesthetic middle-of-the-road.
Many artists that have brought off this east-west, west-east crossing, which is inscribed deep in their biography and their artworks, have looked for such a solution that tends towards compromise. It is different, though, with the works of Chen Ruo Bing. He has found his own field. He builds up pictorial tensions that are subject more to the dictum of color than of form, all in favor of a new equilibrium that pervades the European format, be it large or small, but always constructed of right angles. The viewer recognizes completely different gradations than the ones he is used to. Behind this, in fact, is minimalist thinking, a less-is-more that is anchored in Chinese philosophy. Beyond this, the relationship of the pictorial elements amongst each other reflects an almost narrative association, something the European would not be able to find this consistently. The memory of the refinements of ink painting is linked to the masterpieces of the European Informel and abstraction.
Chen Ruo Bing understands how to overcome opposing poles in rationalist meditation, yet without stripping them of their bite. He offers the possibility, points out options, that hinder warring confrontations, so as to make clear that in art a vocabulary is possible that politicians will probably never master. He concentrates on himself; he recognizes his individual person as impulse giver. He accepts his biography with its journeys. From out of these conditions he produces new criteria in a new pictorial affinity. Chen Ruo Bing visualizes something new, something different, which cannot be categorized by means of European knowledge alone or of Chinese insight alone.
But the paintings do not lie somewhere or other in-between. They are not afloat on the world’s art historical ocean. They are concentrated on themselves, form islands, solitary blocks as picture that the viewer maneuvers around on the ship of his vision. The paintings seem not to have a beginning or an end; they do not fence off, nor do they invite in. They are between the two, caught up in a new reality: art.
His paintings, as still as they are, present a state that excites, demands, prompts. Perhaps it is a European element, a German – quasi expressive – element that sustains these pictures. The exhortation to the viewer is to become engaged with the painting, but not to become so engrossed as to be romantically assimilated into it. An enlightening quality has developed, which yet does not exclude the viewer’s becoming involved. This makes the paintings very agreeable, quasi beautiful, although they bear within them this resistance.
This rebellious quality as regards their reception is, in general, otherwise seldom found in the very entertaining, even animating, color painting in Europe. This is a result Chen Ruo Bing succeeds in bringing about without retreating into a monochromist mirror, without pushing minimalism so far that almost nothing is recognizable. His paintings have an intelligibility that calls for a new justification as regards portrayal. The abstraction of the narrative or “narrative geometry” (Hildegard and Harald Joos), the storyline of an abstraction, the philosophical and its interpretability, are all found in independent visual resolutions.
Chen Ruo Bing is Chinese and, at the same time, European in his role as artist. Centuries-old, millennia-old problems are crystallized in his artworks. Once again the silk route, the scent of spices, the long journeys, the camel, Inner Mongolia (Joseph Beuys), longing and the romantic, technology and craftsmanship, philosophy and dreams, the explainable and the mysterious. Polar opposites become visual reality, which simply surmounts the potential for the political conflict of the past centuries.
Bonn, August 2004
From the German by Jeanne Haunschild