Feng Xiao-Min

  
 

Feng Xiao-Min

b.1959 China



Heir to a several thousand years old culture, Feng Xiao-Min stands at a double crossroads. The first is the intersection of dream and reality experienced with the landscape, which he interprets in paintings suffused with the breath of the cosmos. “Art comes from nature, it has no other womb”, he says.


The world and the image he offers us lead us to an immersion of the senses. The other is the meeting of the paths that sustain the practice and thinking behind Chinese painting, which makes Western artists turn towards the East and its philosophy, questioning writing as a sign for reinventing their gestural practice.


While Paris became a flourishing centre for lyrical abstraction in the 1950’s, six-year-old Feng Xiao-Min started his apprenticeship in the art of calligraphy in the middle of the 1960’s, followed by the study of painting. This initiation led him to the Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai, his birthplace, and then on to the Fine Art School in China to perfect his training. In 1988 he decided to move to Paris. He was admitted to the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he developed his skills, especially in oil painting techniques. He achieved a synthesis of the two cultures without assimilating them. Almost fifty years passed before he perfectly mastered calligraphy and painting. 


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Heir to a several thousand years old culture, Feng Xiao-Min stands at a double crossroads. The first is the intersection of dream and reality experienced with the landscape, which he interprets in paintings suffused with the breath of the cosmos. “Art comes from nature, it has no other womb”, he says. The world and the image he offers us lead us to an immersion of the senses. The other is the meeting of the paths that sustain the practice and thinking behind Chinese painting, which makes Western artists turn towards the East and its philosophy, questioning writing as a sign for reinventing their gestural practice.

While Paris became a flourishing centre for lyrical abstraction in the 1950’s, six-year-old Feng Xiao-Min started his apprenticeship in the art of calligraphy in the middle of the 1960’s, followed by the study of painting. This initiation led him to the Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai, his birthplace, and then on to the Fine Art School in China to perfect his training. In 1988 he decided to move to Paris. He was admitted to the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he developed his skills, especially in oil painting techniques. He achieved a synthesis of the two cultures without assimilating them. Almost fifty years passed before he perfectly mastered calligraphy and painting. These were “two branches emerging from the same root, which demand discipline and technique” for the master Shi Tao, born in 1642, whose iconic work places him among the highest ranks of traditional calligrapher-painters. Known by several nicknames—the Honorable Blind One, the Bitter Gourd Monk—he has left us several works, including Reflections on Painting by the Bitter Gourd Monk.

According to this master, venerated by calligraphers from history and contemporaries such as Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh-Chun, “Everyone can paint, but no one masters the rule of the Single Brushstroke”. Automatic action is one of the skills acquired in an occupation that, while expressed freely, is anchored in tradition. Feng is a product of it. There is no doubt that he owes a great deal to his fundamental intuition of nature. But before representing landscapes, we must have, according to him in his mature paintings, a notion of the cosmos. 

A natura that is no longer naturans, but a blend of space and silence. The Chinese painter never works with motifs. He is the one who looks, knowing the finitude of the universe according to the Tao. The painting becomes a site for simultaneous encounters orchestrated by the fervor of writing, the flow of colors, the light, and underpinned by the energy of matter. While the Western painter portrays a landscape, the Chinese painter lives it intimately, nourished by the sensations experienced in the face of nature. The quickness of his trained gestures finds the overt meanings and intuitively shares a common organic dimension with the world. Feng Xiao-Min’s paintings merge with a poetic space. It is a pictorial space in perfect osmosis with real space.

The titles change nothing in his thoughtful painting. Inspired by a season, a color, the rhythm connecting the elements, it is the quest for an imageless image. Or rather the expression of a state of mind during a period of contemplation where the imaginary mingles with creation. Feng Xiao-Min seeks to express something that no longer has anything to do with transposition, but only a time suspended between silence and breath, after being impregnated by what surrounds him. Plunging in the sources of tradition, his painting is born of his double understanding of Chinese painting and Western art. 

Neither abstract nor figurative, it reinvents under the impetus of his internal vision. To suggest green valleys, hills at sunset, mountain summits disappearing into the fog, immense seas whose horizon merges with the sky, amounts to providing aspects of the world by using only sensorial indicators —those of color that create a magical space. His painting has resonant contrasts: blues, greens, oranges, reds, yellow ochres, browns, blacks, which have a refined visual generosity based on layers of nuance that are reminiscent of some of the innovations of the Song landscape painters. The colors are applied in flowing, incandescent, translucent coats, worked in steamy magmas and fluids criss-crossed by shadowy shreds, signs that are born of the rhythm specific to their movement. Writing has been transformed into a living trace that reconnects with the great rhythms of the universe.

Bursts of sunlight, twilight shadows, trees, waterfalls, reflections in the water, clouds and air are merely sketches and brief impressions. The light itself is movement. The gesture is an organic impulse. This is what no Western painter will achieve, the perfect harmony between speed and control. The gesture connects with the original beat and gives birth to rhythmic forms for a perfect balance between contradictory registers. The heavenly vault echoes the oceanic depths, and splendor and chaos are united in a pantheistic metaphor for immersion in nature. 

This essay is a version of a review by Lydia Harambourg, Corresponding Member of the Institute, Académie des Beaux-Arts.

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