Xu Xi: The Confident Trudger in Art

Li Songtao

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The long confident trudge in art has led Xu Xi to a new apogee since he was away from China five years ago. A wide-ranging reference to and comparison with the Eastern and Western arts, together with his own experiences in art practice, have taken him to the satisfying conclusion:

"When I was asked about the future and direction of the Chinese ink-and- Wash painting, I answered that Picasso and Qi Baishi, Van Gogh and Pan Tianshou are all world masters and that it is the greatest wish of me and my Chinese colleagues to help to accelerate the original Chinese ink-and-wash painting to win worldwide recognition and position." (1)

The life of the traditional Chinese ink-and-wash painting will only be extended in development and recreation. Xu Xi shows great respect for those pioneers in art and he goes further to follow them to establish his own ink-and- wash world. While he keeps reinforcing his trained skills in traditional Chinese art and is never far away from the main direction of the oriental culture, he is at the same time an innovator in art concepts, as is witnessed in the modernized languages of his painting, which is easy to be understood and accepted among viewers from different cultural backgrounds around the world. Xu integrates a comprehensive mixture of various elements in the ideas and expressions of his art, and it seems quite easy for him to be freely strolling between the Eastern and Western arts, which have quite a lot of distinctions from each other. That reminds me of the Laoshan Taoist priest in the novel Liaozhai Zhiyi (Eccentric Stories Noted at the Liaozhai Studio), who sees any kind of wall as nothing as he has extraordinary magic power to go through the wall whenever he shouts out 'Enter!' This is, of course, but the impressions of an outsider, and only the artist himself knows the joys and sorrows in his exploration of art. From 1960 to 1965, Xu Xi was a student at the Print-Making Department of Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts where he showed his proficient trained skills and abilities in art. He was assigned to Beijing after graduation, but the next thirteen years of the painter's life were passed in waste because of the Cultural Revolution. It was in 1978 that he started to engage in Chinese painting when he was transferred to the Creation Studio of the People's Fine Arts Publishing House as a professional painter. Since then, Xu Xi has experienced two turning points in his artistic career. One such point is that his participation in international painting competitions since 1981 and that his visits and travel to Europe, America and Asia since 1985 helped to broaden his field of artistic vision and creativity of subject matters and helped transform his style. The "Exhibition of Xu Xi's Works" held at the National Art Gallery in April, 1988 was regarded as a conclusion of his art creation in the past ten years. The other turning point took place after he moved to the U. S. in June, 1989. In one word, the period of the first ten years is the time Xu becomes mature in art and gets to establish his individual style, while the period after the year 1989 is the one in which he makes new development and changes. The characteristics of Xu's paintings are described in such poetic phrases as "Haze is the rain, and obscure looking is the painting" in a overseas newspaper. Part of his talk at his solo exhibition in Hong Kong in March, 1993 was quoted with comment in a local newspaper, "He said that his paintings in former periods are elegant looking and are in realistic style. However, the impact of Western art has changed his style in recent years to that of abstractionism and obscurity. The pursuit of illusion effect engenders a feeling of bitterness. It shows that the art of the painter has been raised to a higher level as is expressed in his recent works."

Xu Xi is enthusiastic and intelligent. He has his sober analysis about friends and himself, and he has clear and definite plans about his future. He remains strong and vigorous in his art creation. Foreign critics hold an optimistic view of his artistic future to be endless.

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