Back In The Face of Self and Non-self ---- Conversation with Deng Jianjin By Yang Xiaoyan

   There’s a basic motif in Deng Jianjin’s oil painting which is the painter himself. The artist himself appears in various occasions, with various responses:some is with strange expression, some is moving suspendedly, some is with inexplicable postures, some is confronting with others, some is in the crowd but indifferent with others, some is pulling a rubber glove, some is enjoying flowers, some is numbly laughing together with others, or some is looking into the audiences but without any emotional communication. Only one piece is expressed a strong resistance in which he is shouting through a strongly aggressive flashlight. I think this piece quite has the function of bring out the theme, revealing Deng Jianjin’s intention: he has been helplessly in the face of self and non-self, in other words, he has been living in the dreamlike space between self and non-self, like acting. On the one hand, he is answering the private even embarrassing questions supposed by himself, on the other hand, he is facing the severe censure supposed by non-self. From this level, Deng Jianjin’s works are obviously different with the boredom and cynicism of the new generation. His works are of the result of a psychological illusion. They are the images present in the depth of personal dreams; they are the situations emerging in the yellow light together with a large number of bear when one is alone. It’s a silent resistance, resisting strangeness but unfortunately causing strangeness and isolation at last.

I have known Deng Jianjin for many years, and almost see him from the exploration stage to today’s achievement. In addiction to the factors of technique and style, there are the factors the painter has to deepen problems. I think his achievements should be firstly attributed to his insistence adhere to the inviolability and the territorial integrity of his painting in such an atmosphere ofGuangzhou.

So far, Deng Jianjin is making unremitting efforts in the two territories of dream and reality. Either of them is essential and plays a decisive influence for the success of the works.

In the face of the struggle between the self and the non-self, Deng Jianjin is making efforts to give his most appropriate response.

The following is the dialogue with the painter.


 [The dialogue starts from a concrete piece of painting]

Yang: This piece is with an effect of the separation colors, different with the original. The modeling is of hard edge.

[There are two persons suspended.  The one wearing glasses is obviously the painter himself]

Deng: I will adhere to this way in the coming pieces. As for or the profile, I always prefer the hard edge which could be more powerful.

Yang: You drew yourself in the painting. Is it because you have more interests in yourself than in others?

Deng: It cannot be said in this way. I feel that I am not painting self-portrait. I don’t have special interests on my own image. What I want is just to find out a fulcrum for me to observe. I am this fulcrum. Actually, I am looking at you, which also reflects that you are looking at me.

Yang: You mean the reason you putting yourself in your works is just to confirm a perspective.

Deng:  Self-portrait is like talking to oneself. Self-portrait just concerns about self, but I not only concern myself. What I concern is how I look at the others and how the others look at me. What I paint is almost a dreamlike response that the individuals have to the outside world. It’s about how the individuals separate from the group and return to the group. I believe it’s a thorny issue. Fortunately, I am just a painter. I cannot resolve the problem but I can express the emotional changes caused by the issue.

Yang: It’s obviously difficult, because it’s not pondering the self’s physical features, but a judgment of a relation.

Deng: I feel I like a lonely observer, like soliloquy but is not narcissistic…

Yang: There’s a real psychological space? A psychological depth?

Deng: I prefer to describe it as dream, a floating dream, making dreams in the relationship between individuals and groups. The core theme is violation and being violated, peep and being peeped, familiarity and unfamiliarity and so on…

Yang: It’s a sociological issue.

Deng: This is also a visual issue. It’s really hard for me to pose myself into the screen, especially it has been lasted for so many years. Painting me and posing me in anappropriate place are to provide a mode and expose a common psychological privacy or an imaginary privacy?

Yang: The last sentence is very interesting, “an imaginary privacy”. But what’s the difference with personal performance?

Deng: I don’t want to be so narrow-minded that only concerned personal performance with non-stopping talking. I paint myself, because it’s a convenient choice. I chose myself and painted on the canvas more and more clearly.

Yang: How do you explain the convenience? Is it the convenience of the nearest or the compelled convenience?

Deng: It’s not necessarily about the nearest, and a bit forced. Because only personal experience is the internal driving force that I most trust, an obsession to the past things. Later I found the obsession is universal that can be dealt as an issue turned into a visual expression.

Yang:  Are you expressing a criticism of the violation of personal territory? Or a fear derived by peed which is also a fear of being peeped?

Deng: Fear is a little excessive expression, but safeguarding the integrity of personal territory is a tough mission even hard to complete. It leads to a serious and healthy play. My paintings are healthy, quite distant from the cynicism and boredom of the new generation. I don’t think I am bored. I am also lack of cynical spirit.

Yang:  Health means you have serious issues to explore and you expose the meaning of existence from the sensitive responses individuals have to groups on a psychological level. Almost everybody can experience the plight of getting along with others and self. We don’t live frankly. Anxiety generates unwittingly from the day-to-day contacts, expands everyday and covers all of the valuable lives of individuals.

Deng: Therefore, painting myself is just a kind of choice.

Yang: Is it personal expression or vent?

Deng: It’s not like that. I chose myself and keep the motif “I”. It’s as simple as that. You know, it’s not easy to keep on such a motif which is too familiar for so many years.

Yang: Do you have any interests in painting something else?

Deng: I only have interests on the familiarities. I prefer to fabricate some semi-familiar images and put them into the screens.

Yang: You painted your wife and your students…

Deng:  I asked them to be my models, but I didn’t really paint them. There are always some other symbols in my heart. I am fabricating images indeed.

        Yang: You have probably focused the interests on your own image since the 90s. What did you do before the 90s?

        Deng:  I mainly did pottery. It’s my major. I did lots of rough pottery fired. I wanted to pursue a original sense.

        Yang: Did you paint at that time?

        Deng: Yes, I did, but they are not worth of viewing. All of them are about 85 New Wave, impetuous and self-expanded. 

Yang: There’s a process. I feel you are not easy. Your major was not oil painting but you can make such a break in the field of oil painting. I think it’s the result of persistence. You were quite lonely for a period.

Deng: Absolutely right. I always want to come up with something. But as what I just said, they were too impetuous and easy to be boring.

Yang: I think we should see these issues historically. When the door was just opened, the sun was too shining that no one could open his eyes. When we become used to it, we can see clearly the outside world. I always feel that we shouldn’t make too many demands and blames on history. Well, return to your painting. You gradually put yourself into it, even observe yourself from a strange place…

Deng: I think the word used well, “Observe”. I think I am a spectator; sometimes I am even proud of my observation, although more is nervous. There’s always a helpless nervousness in my picture…

Yang: We return to the floating dream now, a heavy float. If let me locate your pictures, I think what you expressed is a floating illusion between individuals and groups, something like the “sub-consciousness” for early Freud. Be careful, note that rather than “unconsciousness” or “consciousness”, it’s spiritual state between these two, a moment of trance.

Deng: I want to add a point: my painting has continuity. I feel I enter into the role step by step, gradually posing myself on the position between peep and being peeped. The position is like the “sub-consciousness”, a moment of trance. But I really never heard about this word… I am always painting myself, but I am afraid that it would become self-portrait. I don’t like the others ask me, “why did you always paint youself?” I have to explain again and again, “I am not painting myself. I am painting a relationship.”

Yang: Can you explain the intense sense of suspension in your screen?

Deng: I think it’s a special psychological state, a strong response to stimulus. Actually, not only do I paint the people suspended, I paint the running people aimlessly, the crowed people led by a nameless interest…

Yang: I have some other questions to ask.

Deng: Sure.

Yang: There are few artists in Guangzhou can insist on their own styles for so many years like you, because it could face two attacks: one is economical satisfaction, the other is the desire of fame. Due to the atmosphere ofGuangzhou, few painters of our generation are famous in the country, but many mainland painters are being exposed. What’s your opinion of the problem here?

Deng: How should I say? It’s hard to answer. It may be because of a bit closure. Another reason is the lack of continuity, without enough insistence. In fact, many issues are about insistence.

Yang: How do you think your position in Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts?

Deng: It’s ok. The key is that all of the people think I keep on painting, so they rest assured. I also feel no pressure. The key is not to envy the others making money. Anyway, everyone has his own living style. I am responsible for myself. The only thing I want to do is painting.

Yang: It’s caused by your personality.

Deng: Right.

Yang: I think whether a personalized art has effect on a group depends on how far the issue inside can cover. Why are someone’s ideas so pale and the other’s ideas so richly expansive? I think it depends on whether the issue inside is big, in other words, the cultural depth. It’s easier to understand in this way.

Deng: I think only the issue hidden in the motif related to groups can bring a broad prospect for the extremely personalized art.

Yang: Many artists paint during a whole lifetime, but don’t know what they want to paint. It’s saddest. Without a cultural node or issue cannot make the artist’s personality become meaningful to the others. If it’s only soliloquy, what’s the relation with me? But for you when you soliloquize you also reflect my potential plight and express my expectation. Can’t I concern or being nervous? Especially when we cross the obstacle of style, we can be convergent in the text of art works. I accept your discourse; I am moved by the power of your discourse and I become your object.

         Deng: I know what you mean.

         Yang: I am always against the alleged theory of “self-entertainment” popular in theGuangzhouart world which advocates painting is my own thing and only entertaining myself is enough.

          Deng: If so, why do they have exhibition and publication? 

          Yang: You know there are many ways of entertainment. Just being happy for one’s own is not difficult. But art has to influence one level of life rather than for one’s own requirement of soliloquy. In my opinion, the theory of self-entertainment is more like an excuse to cover the paleness, weakness and disability on art. I think you hope to ascertain a discourse system in the motif you chose from the beginning, finding a channel of a certain style to achieve a communication on a higher level.

         Deng: Self-entertainment is a kind of escape; narcissism is too mean. The premise of art is self-reliance. My point is that: find afree stateof floating and gain a drive from own experience. Take oneself as a starting point to complete the shape of style.

         Yang: This is a simple summary.