Curator: Liu Ding
“I always think dusk causes a sadness in people and that the night is deeply mysterious. Looking back to my childhood, it had a special significance to me and it seemed to imply an overpowering yet indefinable melancholy. What’s more is the immense sense of things ‘unknown’ – where everything is seemingly hidden along with their unrevealed possibilities. Dusk turns into something that captivates us because of this unknowable feeling. This is precisely the reason why issues relating to expressions of this ‘mystery’ continues to captivate me.”
Magician Space is very pleased to present its inaugural solo exhibition with artist Duan Zhengqu.
This exhibition is curated by Liu Ding, who brings together three different perspectives to outline the remarkable humanism characterising Duan Zhengqu’s system of artmaking. The main part of the exhibition is formed by new works from 2015 onwards. As an introduction to the entire exhibition, it begins with three watercolour works on paper between 2012 to 2015. Beginning in the 1980s, this first chapter describes the early stages of Duan’s career and focuses on a collection of sketches and oil painting – this body of work spans an extensive period to present exploratory forms of liberation for the artist. The second chapter will display a series of 15 works comprising watercolour and pastel on paper, each with an enigmatic aura to them. The third chapter will take two different styles to highlight the major significance landscapes have had throughout the artist’s life. Rather than presenting a ‘retrospective’ per se, this small-scale exhibition looks to offer reflection into the artist’s comprehensive body of work – what is noticeable are the recurring threads as they persist within his practice, while also overlapping with one another. With up to 40 years of work, there is seemingly an uninterrupted flow and indefatigable energy to his continued observation into reality since the beginning of his career.
Duan Zhengqu has emerged as an important artist within the historical context of China’s progression since the 1980s. He first began his studies at the oil painting department in Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 1979. As early as before his graduation, Duan had never become fully satisfied with merely reproducing styles related to Western modernism. On one hand, he attempted to explore the formal capacities of expressionism, surrealism, and ancient Chinese mural painting. Whilst another side of his work comes from the portrayal of familiar objects unearthed from the local milieu of his surroundings. Elaborating on this further, he has sought to establish a congruent methodology to join these two facets in order to discover ways to perceive and mark new cultural subjects within his work. The Shanbei region of northern Shaanxi province has become a stimulus for the artist to absorb the outside world. Around the formidable Loess Plateau, the deep river valley with its steep precipice, or the low-lying mountains around this terrain, the people persevere with a simple life, unfettered, as well as warm – a state that is internalized through the constitution of more new worlds created by the artist. In these worlds, they are constituted not only by the colors, forms, and sounds of the external world, but also through pleasurable pursuits and the joys of the artist – these are worlds that are equally constituted by the expression of many things.
Through this overview of Duan Zhengqu’s work since the 90s, we predominantly look to use three themes in order to outline a rudimentary trajectory of his work. The first theme includes the beginning of his panoramic landscapes, which approximately begin in the mid 90s. These paintings have a subdued palette, filled with grandeur and a visual tension to them. The second theme foregrounds the relationship between man and nature, which is used as narrative content for imagery within his work. He employs tropes characteristic of magic realism to portray exaggerated figures shaped by thick colors that fill the composition with contradictions, the implausible, and a theatricality–this sets the entire tone for the work, which is filled with agitation. He also employs geometric compositional forms to lend a sense of stability to the image. In respect to how figures are shaped within his paintings, he borrows methods taken from Balthus’ depiction of characters, which draw on the symbolic as well as awkward features. For example with the depiction of movement, ways of using exaggerated expressions or with the theatricality of these people – in this way, he is able to form his own unique qualities within the work. The construction of the entire image is set by either the dark night or a backdrop of dark colors. This enhances the staged or ritualistic quality to the work, which in turn foregrounds the dissonance between different distances in relation to reality.
From 2010 onwards, Duan Zhengqu begins to again display an inclination towards presenting more landscapes within his work. This is especially apparent in the recent works where he still builds up a dusky atmosphere within the work. However, he now uses tempera to create his paintings. Having been influenced by this new material, fine strokes are used to create the image and to soothe out the ambience of the work. In this way, tempera retains certain characteristics that give the work a unique luster and causes the dark colors to appear more transparent. Naturally, this transformed technique is also applied to his works by oil painting or watercolour. The landscapes in the new work together form a distinct contrast between splendour and the sublime, which presents a comprehensive yet effortless visual impression to the viewers.