Back Deng Jianjin By Yi Yiong

An artist paints some privacy themes. If these works are displayed in public places, some controversies will arise, most about the accusation of immorality of offensive to eyes. It seems that these accusations are speaking for the public, but actually, they are from some kind of fear in inner heart. There are many unsayable things in art. Saying will become tokens. Deng Jianjin’s painting can be taken as a token. He is speaking many unsayable things. The unsayable includes two aspects: one is inconvenient to say because of some scruple or taboo, and the fear of the others’ unacceptability or the committing of “moral line” as well as the accusation from the apologists.  The other one unsayable is something hasn’t be realized by oneself. It is still unknown by oneself even if it is spoken out. In fact, both of these two unsayable ones exist in Deng Jianjin’s art.

       In Deng Jianjin’s early works, his own images always emerge. This pent-up and drifting image together with the surreal space is the real reflection of his spiritual world. Deng Jianjin never takes the professional training of oil painting, which gives some degree of freedom on his creation.  Freedom also means some degree of truth. He doesn’t think of how to meet these rules and dogmas, but accesses the power to touch others by truth and freedom. In the paintings at that time, he created a pent-up image with painful expression, twisted body, absurd perspective and virtual space. Although this image comes from him, it’s more about the exploration of the inner heart. This image is nervously watching outwards, which means there is another one watching him as well. This is the one making him fear; the one suppresses and disturbs him in his life. In some works, the emergence of the urban background is an important hint. City as his living environment has the decisive impact on his spiritual state. At that time, the early 1990s, Chinese society is undergoing the huge changes; the process of urbanization along with the rapid development of economics influences the people’s lives. The artists of the new generation make profound reflections to this change. However, the artists of new generation record reality mainly by realistic ways, while Deng Jianjin emphasizes on the psychological description and expression. According to the traditional classification of modernism, Deng Jianjin should belong to the type of surrealism. Surrealism implies the self-examination of subject and the object suggested by the spirit of subject. In Deng Jianjin’s early works, his spirit is not totally reflected in the surreal form. The subjective will is the mirror of the objective reflection. The pain and tension, the sexual oppression and the longing for love, and all of the results caused by objects are expressed by self-image. This characteristic makes Deng Jianjin unique from the beginning in the new generation. On the other hand, the formation of the state is much related to his actions violating rules. To any point of view, Deng Jianjin’s oil paintings are not orthodox. The conversion from pottery to oil painting is for the internal need. This need is covered by his preference to oil painting. In his paintings, we can see no standard language of oil painting. The inner impulse of teller is always emerging in the irregularity, forming his unique form of expression. It is difficult to classify him to realism, expressionism even surrealism; the space of non-depth and emptiness, and the plane image without cubage does not need too many skills of oil painting and don’t carry the burden of technique, which is more suitable to his free expression. When talking of his own creation, Deng Jianjin is mostly frequently talking about form. His forms include two aspects. One is the formal originality. He deeply looks down the set of academic rules of oil painting. The dead and unspiritual language of oil painting only belongs to history and cannot describe today’s life which asks for new expressive ways. The second is that the form as the personal expression. In the contemporary life and reality, his personal experience, his observation and experience, as well as his situation and thinking, are expressed in his own way. This also relates to the theme.  Originally, the themes are not important in his works. Self-image in addition to the treatment of form is his subject. However, to some extend, the anxious self is the object (theme) departing away from the subject, which is the personification of object. The subject is divided into two: one is the subject watching the object; the other is the subject being watched by objective mirror and another subject.  Therefore, Deng Jianjin’s works are never self-expressive; the object always exists but exists in its own way, which also creates it unique form.

       To the philosophical sense, the split of subject is always the split of thinking and body. Subject as the thinking entity reflect the life without thinking. The life without the dominance of thinking is the body of desire, which is disdained by thinking. Around 2000, Deng Jianjin’s works lift the veil of object. The self retired and the mirror-object of self emerges. In this set of works, the self-image disappeared and the surreal empty space disappeared. They are replaced by landscape or objective images, but these images are of symbol and metaphor, rather than particular figures. In the 1990s, the trend of Pop art finally had an impact on Deng Jianjin. The obscure colors are replaced by bright colors which are neither the natural colors nor the tone pursued by traditional oil painting. They come from the space of contemporary life that is the visual space of icons and landscapes. However, for Deng Jianjin, this new form should not be directly from his visual experience but the impact of art trend. In other words, it’s the impact of the pop art fashionable in the 1990s. Since the early 1990s,China’s economy has rapidly developed. The market economy has replaced the planned economy. There are profound changes have happened in the social life. The various phenomena derived from power and money, wealth and poverty, and desire and reality fill in lives. Deng Jianjin began to concern these phenomena and wanted to explore the reasons of these phenomena. His typical work of this period is the seriesDream Records about Witness (1998-2001).Most of the artists of the new generation came to the expressions of pure objects, from language modal to objective scenes.。Under the drive of commercialization, these expressions soon turned into symbolic models. Deng Jianjin noted these changes. He departed from the dark psychology. The self is located in the public symbolic space, but the symbolic object is the condition of self-existence. The situation of the self’s being removed from history is changed from the modern to the postmodern, but there’s a half retained in history. What does it mean? It can be interpreted through the screens. InDream Records Series, the screens mostly have two parts, namely, two figures without faces, men and women, the men in suits and the almost naked women. Both of them are holding a pistol, confronting with each other or affecting each other. The two figures are of dream-like scene, unclear of their identities, with weird acts, and different with his previous works. In his previous works, the subjects of the figures floating in dreams can be recognized, but the space is illusive. Thus, there is an absolute subjectivity. Both of form and image reproduce the spiritual world of the self.In Dream Records Series, the self is abstracted and split into two fuzzy images. In other words, the two figures in the works are oneness. It’s the split of appearance and nature, desire and reason, and mind and body. In fact, there exists the third part on the screen: the colors. The figures in the screen are represented by a variety of solid colors. Some backgrounds also use solid colors. The solid and unharmonious colors can be taken as the visual environment of the society of spectacle constituted by business, consumer, and public culture and so on. The color of landscape is the basis of self-split.  It represents the material profits as the origin of desire. The personality is split into the conflict of desire and the firmly standing by the traditional character. Men represent reason and tradition; women represent desire and body. The pistol in each hand is the symbol of conflict. The conflict is not absolute. Sometimes they are confronting with each other, and sometimes they are combining with each other, like the temptation and achievement of desire. Here the female image has duality. She is both the object and symbol of desire and the sensitive part separated from man or self. However, the male image doesn’t represent thinking and morality, but it falls into the abyss of degeneration under the temptation of desire. The appearance of desire has internal factors as well as external factors. As the external factors, the design of color and the set of some symbols are the important implications, namely, the appearance of the society of spectacle, the material interests above everything else, the loss of reason, the poorness of thinking, the spirit falling into vainness. The internal factors are represented by sex and concretely embodied in the intersexual relationship. However, sex doe not refer to the concrete sexual action and object, but the impulse of subconscious desire. As the painter indicates in the title “the dream records of witness”, as the saying “the night dreams reflect the daytime thinking”, so the witness can be understood as the artist himself. The observation and experience of daily life are reflected in dreams. Dream is not the copy of reality, but distorted and deformed by sub-consciousness whose nature is the sexual conflict. If we explore dreams alone, they are just the distorted reflections of personal life, but the object of witness stipulates the object of sub-consciousness is not the personal sexual oppression, but the reflection of object. We are not clear whether Deng Jianjin is taken himself as “witness” truly recording his dreams or it’s a embezzlement of style, namely, the contemporary copy of the surrealistic model. If it’s the latter, Deng Jianjin realized the breakthrough of form, on the basis of observing reality reflect the profound changes of society by surreal symbol. This way also includes the profound experience of the artist himself.


The Dream Records of Witnessachieves the formal conversion to surrealism. The key of the conversion is visual experience and social phenomena of the society of spectacle. Because the previous works of Deng Jianjin are of the traditional surreal style, reflecting the survival experience of the 1980s, the conversion seems very important. At the same time, the conversation also provides him the new form which is not formalistic but with the spiritual and realistic connotation. The split of subject is the objectification influenced by object. InThe Dream Records of Witness, this objectification is embodied in the body of the opposite sex. InWhy Does Sunset Make Us So Beautiful, body is allowed to be independent, dream becomes reality, subject is separated from object, subject becomes observer and object becomes reproduction. According to Deng Jianjin’s interpretation, whether the former or the latter is to reflect the thinking of reality, and the fuzzy expression of the social phenomena caused by youth, sex, violence, desire and so on. In fact, the most consideration of Deng Jianjin is the ontology of art. The reality is the inducing agent of the realization of form. For Deng Jianjin, the reality is vague and abstract. Although all of the social facts are concrete, his goal is not to directly reflect the reality. InWhy Does Sunset Make Us So Beautiful, the figures are not specific. They seem like the implication of some phenomena rather than the statements of facts. Body is no longer the symbol of object separated from subject, but directly the target of subject. The naked women imply that they are the carrier of desire. The colors constituting images are the symbol of consumer society. “Beauty” is aimed at the sexual consumer; “sunset” is the metaphor of degeneration. In other words, gender has been degenerated into an object of consumption in today’s society. Everything can be sold for money. Impressionist painter Manet’sOlympiafirstly demonstrates this social fact. Sex becomes the public legitimate goods.Olympiais side-lying in bed watching her client; the maid alongside is taking over the flowers the guest brought. The beauty of “Olympia” is the goods waiting for the guest to consume. In Deng Jianjin’s paintings, this relationship is virtualized. It is no longer the reflection of real scenes, but the interaction between form and content. The experiment of form is more than the expression of content. How far the Pop style since the 1990s impacts on Deng Jianjin can be seen from these screens. Pop art takes the consumer society as the background. InChina, the limited consumer society, pop art is not purely reflected. Deng Jianjin’s use of pop art is also like that. The treatment of background obviously has the characteristic of the pop icon, which can be taken as the influence of the trend and the requirement of the screen. More importantly, the icon also includes the personal visual experience of the artist. For him, it is the conversion from rustic experience to urban experience. It should be noted that Deng Jianjin’s icons are very obscure. In other words, his use is not the direct embezzlement of icons. The images directly reflecting nature can be known as primary image regardless of the function of the image. Pop art is always the direct embezzlement of primary image, namely, the reproduction of image or the reproduction of reproduction. The echelon reproduction of primary image is very unique phenomenon inChinadue to the realistic tradition of Chinese painting. Deng Jianjin is not an exception. Figure-background is the embodiment of this relationship, but  both of them are marked with his own imprint. It is neither the formal embezzlement of image nor the simple repeat of non-realistic tradition. His figures are deformed according to his own tradition, incoordinate with the (color of) background. It not only implies the alienation of people and landscape, but also forms his own unique form.


Farewell and Sleepless Nightis the continuation ofWhy Does Sunset Make Us So Beautiful. This continuation is not referring to the form but to the relation of subject and object. Either surrealism or pictorialization is retreating from this continuation. From the unconscious split of subject and object to the hint of objectification, the pure object finally surfaced. This is a significant change of Deng Jianjin.Farewell and Sleepless Nightastonishes the audiences by the naked expression of pornography. In his previous works, subjectivity is always appeared in screen. Although the subject is not present as a clear identity, the images in dream and illusion imply the presence of the subject. InFarewell and Sleepless Night,the subject is thoroughly separated and becomes the observer of the scene. However, the dual role as audience and author forces the real audience obey the will of the author. For any audience, the theme ofFarewell and Sleepless Nightis self-evident.The Dream Records of WitnessandWhy Does Sunset Make Us So Beautifulare composed by dream and illusion. Their symbolic significances lie in the private eroticism as open trading. The audience as author is also of hidden presence. Compared to his previous works,Farewell and Sleepless Nighthas two specific characteristics; one is strong sense of scene. The author is opposite to the previous fuzzy and abstract images. The figures in the image can be recognized clearly. If we say the previous figures are the symbols separated from the subject, then the current figures are the objects of the author’s direct perception. The relationship between figures constitutes the pornographic scenes; even the male images can be understood as the vulgar upstarts. The second is the change of his style. The previous figures just pay attention to size and shape, which might reflects Deng Jianjin’s pursuit of professional identity in his sub-consciousness. Along with the art trend of pop and pictorialization, this pursuit is not necessary, or his achievement no longer depends on this identity, so the pursuit of self-image turned into the self-expression of form. The change of style is not entirely of the formal significance, because in the formal expression there’s strong personal imprint. This imprint signifies the personal presence. Most of the figures inFarewell and Sleepless Nightare looking steadily at the front of the screen, namely, the present audiences. This audience is the author himself. He is the witness and recorder of the event, but just this presence destroys the logic of eroticism and makes the work return to symbol. It doesn’t mean the event is not true, but means it’s not specific event. Theme has creative significances to form. Especially in Deng Jianjin’s paintings, the themes are neither real nor the reproduction of reality. The figures in the paintings have the characteristics of symbols. Shape, costumes and hair styles imply the integrity of the event-a degeneration as a whole. The social division, the division between the rich and the poor, and the moral collapse in the material society are concentrated in his paintings. The struggling self once in his heart and the split personality are thoroughly objectified. But I believe Deng Jianjin is not implementing the function of social criticism. He remains in his own world. Since the beginning of his creation, he has been self-centered. The self is always wandering, confused and resistant under the pressure of the outside world. The pressure may come from the living environment, the inner of art or the social life, but it is never directly expressed in his works. However, he has to come out of his own world to find the origin of pressure. One of the major reasons is “the outside world is too splendid”. When the language of self-expression is going to be dried up, the life renews itself. The self once as the objective mirror becomes the voyeur of object. He revealed the social malignant tumors hidden in prosperity, eroticism, degeneration, money and sexual trades, made the audiences stand in the position of peep.


Deng Jianjin is still going through a spiritual journey. The reality has shocked his deep soul. He expresses it in his own way, which also shocks us.