Back Indissoluble Knot -Deng Jianjin’s Works and Others By Li Xianting

“Indissoluble Knot” is the title I prepare to use for one exhibition, intending to summarize a discourse phenomenon in contemporary art, that is the wart-like knot shape emerging in varying degrees in the expressions of the artists regardless of their paintings are about people or other stuffs. The comparatively famous ones such as Tianjin based artist Cai Jin, Anhui based artist Chen Yufei, Sichuan based artist He Sen and Zhao Nengzhi, and so on, and Guangdong based artist Deng Jianjin this article will describe.

“Knot” as a noun of object is often used to describe the undissolvable and pent-up emotion. Early in Wei and Jin dynasties, the dark of society made the intellectuals’ hearts full of pain, therefore the words like “a block in chest” often appear in their poems. “Block” is “knot”. The well-known poet, Su Dongpo once metaphorizes the knot in his heart by “tree node”. “Knot” in the popular Chinese means “lump (GeDa)”. In spoken language, it is frequent to say that we have lumps (GeDa) in hearts. Block, knot, and lump are the words describing objects but also the words describing the inner feelings. This is a character about metaphor in Chinese and Chinese art. In fact, the “knot’ in English also has the understanding of “Knots in the mind”. It seems that there are many common characteristics for people’s use of language to express feelings. Perhaps the theory of “imitation” in the western aesthetics is too strong. In the art before the twentieth century, we seldom see the works of metaphor in Chinese definition.

In Deng Jianjin’s self-portrait period, the touch of “knot” has emerged. His works since 1996, especially Adolescence, Taste, The Love Song of Dream, Breathing and some other works in the same period, have the key factors through the brushes showing the knot-like shape. Naturally, the primary factor of Deng Jianjin’s works is “what he painted”, in which the activities of the figures about the sexual desire are obvious. These activities are direct. For example, the activities of stretching tongue in A Piece of Afterglow, Breathing, Evanescent Landscape in A Flash, The Love Song of Dream, the activities of closing eyes, opening mouth and slightly vibrating nose in Taste, the activity similar to masturbation in Adolescence No.2, etc. However, these activities didn’t directly express sex, but express sexual desire or express the inside oppression by sex, because all of these activities are of single person’s private movement. Even in the picture with two persons, it’s also a kind of inaccessible depression. The background of the activities is the second “factor” of the discourse of Deng Jianjin’s paintings, such as a crowd of heads above the surface like hypoxic fish in the background of Breathing. Here the work is transformed to be a discourse of image, metaphorizing the feeling of oppression by the crowded and hypoxia. Most of the others works also adopt this method. The background of Evanescent Landscape in A Flash with aircraft and lumps of cloud might metaphorize the feeling of being separated with his wife. The third discourse factor in Deng Jianjin’s works is “how to paint”. Back to the focus of this article— knot of brushwork, this is the most irreplaceable factor in the modeling language. Deng paints most of the images in the form of knots. It’s just because knot has a synaesthesia with pent-up emotion, then the painter can express the inside knots by the image of lumps. The Chinese traditional literati paintings always use this method, which benefits from the precocity of the aesthetics of calligraphy. The ancient literatures have more records, such as Ni Zan’s little pen and his solitary mind and Shi Lu’s brushwork of lumps and the plums in his later years. Of course, color is also a kind of discourse. Deng often uses strong colors, and uses them in a raw, vigorous and scorched way. In particular, he uses the “scorched” colors taboo for others in common sense, lack of moist and transparency. For example, the scorched red, green and yellow always give audiences a feeling of nausea. However, so far he can express indescribable the pent-parched and thirsty desire. The scorched color and the burned psychology here is also a synaesthesia. This feeling was entangling in the painter’s heart for a long time, becoming a indissoluble knot and being expressed through certain activities, backgrounds, brushwork and color.

In Deng Jianjin’s recent works, taste is quite special. It is about the emotion of experiencing sex-closing eyes, opening mouth and slightly vibrating nose. The color is totally different with the scorched color usually use but turn into the soft and warm grey. What special is the brushwork: heavily using oil, and the more fluent brushwork than usual make the screen has a liquid-like sense of flow. The figures here are beyond realism and become the image of sex that the painter has. The key inside is that the painter takes the making process as the process of his own experience, and then the knot in heart is dissolved in this experience. The knot of brushwork is thus dissolved as peristaltic liquid which is sticky and wet.

The above is just reading not judgment. Judgment is putting the work in certain context to find its significance. When sexual repression becomes the common sense of people in a certain environment, it also becomes a cultural context. The expression of personal feeling the artist has therefore gains a sort of contemporary consensus. In so far the discourse of Deng’s works has certain contemporary meaning. However, his works are a bit monotonous, because behind the sexual repression of human being, there should be more complicated and rich sense of survival. Second, art nature is language, so it is necessary to put the works waiting for evaluation into the whole art context to measure its creative quantity contained. Deng’s discourse basically comes from the two language clues: expressionism and surrealism of symbol and imagery. In this way, there is a large amount of works in either world art or Chinese contemporary art. The Chinese works of this kind mainly tend to the “strenuous” sense, which directly features Chinese arts in the international contemporary art. I think it’s because the Chinese artists gained too many shackles from the training of realism and realism is not perfect in general. They cannot help doing realism, so they cannot free themselves. The second most important reason is that the generally spiritual depression causes an overall sense of tension on language. Deng Jianjin’s work is especially tense. Of course, this is only limited to the scope of painting. Expanding to the worldwide contemporary art, the Chinese works of this kind seem too dependent on the traditional linguistic structure of realism and short of creativity on language. In the process of globalization of contemporary culture, it almost hard to find local contemporary art unless it’s not contemporary art. Therefore, on one hand, the geographical features of contemporary art needs to find a cultural focus in the geographical context, on the hand it has to find its location of creativity in the whole context of art history.