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"The First Round With a Whip No. 3"
If I were to describe Xie Nanxing (b. 1970, Chongqing), I would call him a rabid perfectionist, probably the perfectionist par excellence in the
art of setting enthralling visual traps aimed to deliberately bewitch and faze the viewer. With the commitment and manic precision of a spider,
Xie Nanxing spends over two months spinning each of his pictorial webs, eventually creating an incredibly variegated and almost hallucinatory
texture of colour and light with the power to ensnare passing observers' eyes and trigger their unconscious desires and fears.
In reference to the series of three 220x385 cm oil paintings created in 2008, Xie Nanxing makes one of his distinctive, seemingly innocuous
assertions: "When, under casual circumstances, somebody misstates a word and happens to utter unpredictable and bizarre formulations - for
example, I want to say 'glass', I have a glass clear in my mind, but I end up saying 'bread' instead - such 'mistakes' always involve a primary
desire, the insatiable desire for expression". Far beyond a mere allusion to the theory of the Freudian slip (lapsus linguae, or 'slip of the
tongue'), Xie Nanxing's pronouncement conceals his real interest: to orchestrate, by means of transposing the concept of the 'slip of the
tongue' on canvas, an alluring yet unfair game that the artist plays not only with the observer, but also with himself. One of Xie Nanxing's
targets - or so it seems - is to destabilize and surprise the viewer (himself included) by the calculated insertion of what could be regarded as
'slips of the eye', booby-traps that the artist sets in advance with strategic accuracy. With these 'mistakes', Xie Nanxing stalks new possibilities
for his artistic experimentation and, at the same time, serves up unfocussed visual mysteries that relentlessly tease spectators' acknowledged
logical perception of the image.
Xie Nanxing consistently and purposely constructs technical barriers in order to create a distance between his original expressive intent and
the final result - the painted canvas. If the source material for the photo-realistic works of the late 1990s rested strictly on photography and its
distorting effects (fish-eye lenses, over- or under-exposed light, unconventional angle shots), since 2001, the number of media employed by
the artist in the multi-layered preparatory process has increased in number, series after series. In each work from 2008, for example, the
reference photographs that Xie Nanxing shot directly from a TV screen are preceded respectively by still frames from the video of a source
painting visually altered by being flipped and back-lit. Each of the three small-sized source paintings is in turn inspired by one of three
sketches - and these represent the first such occurrence among Xie Nanxing's productions the artist made based on images from
advertisement billboards he chanced to see in Beijing that captured his imagination. Previously, Xie Nanxing's works were more closely
related to elements derived from reality - albeit knowingly misrepresented. The 2008 series infiltrates a completely visionary, flustered, cartoon-
like parallel world in which dark figurative forms slowly emerge in their full intensity after a long contemplation of what, at first sight, looks like a
fuzzy, semi-abstract composition. "Painting is like a show window", Xie Nanxing proclaims, "you can place everything in there - any specific
object or something you just painted by yourself - and yet somehow always convey the impression of a visible and 'objective' reality. Painting
has such a vast capacity, it is such a humongous space...I just let this distance exist...many spaces do not need to be filled completely".
The works belonging to the 2008 series come wreathed in a semi-transparent, vividly blue atmosphere in which formally simplified figures
appear suspended, as if floating in a liquid element. On this point, the artist confides: "This is the bluest and most mischievous series of works
I have ever painted. This mischievousness resides, among other things, in the fact that the surface of these paintings visually invokes distinct
layers of swaying waves whose unceasing movements render the figures in the depths not readily identifiable".
When viewing Xie Nanxing's paintings from the 2008 series, spectators' eyes, like a camera lens focusing, start an attentive process of image-
detection. As if the canvasses were film negatives placed against a luminous source, nebulous human shapes gradually come into relief, thrust
to the fore by the artist's painted light intruding from behind.
If a harsh, alienating glare seems to physically transfix the subjects from the back, generating an impression of aggressive intrusion in Xie
Nanxing's works from the so-called "billiard tables" series (2005), the pictorial rendering of the light in the 2008 series imparts an even more
uncanny and disquieting feeling. In the recent blue series, this perception is further exacerbated by the monochromatic synthesis of the
subjects with the background, as well as by Xie Nanxing's pictorial use of inverted light and darkness, in a manner reminiscent of the
engraving process characterized by xylography - a technique all too familiar to Xie Nanxing from his specialised studies at the Sichuan Fine
Arts Institute. With their evanescent, elongated, comic-strip bodies and their almost completely obliterated features, the characters crowding
Xie Nanxing's 2008 works swarm like eerie phantoms that, behind a childlike appearance, hide ambiguous and unspeakable secrets. As soon
as the viewer registers such elements as the exact same uniform worn by the subjects in all three works, or the much taller, differently-clothed
human figure with raised hands and an inexplicable smirk on its face that towers in the middle of the group in the first canvas, the search for a
conceptual connection among the canvasses takes flight. The observer's voyeuristic lusting to disrobe the truth and unearth the plot of a story
might, however, be requited with an unexpected lash of the whip, as suggested by the title of the series The First Round with a Whip (No. 1, 2,
3), also known as The Wave (No. 1, 2, 3). "Education is often somehow related to punishment", art professor Xie Nanxing sardonically affirms.
"Education might be an occasion to attain mutual satisfaction...if I staged all this in my current works, it is in order to let the bellwether and the
younger sheep following it mutually fulfill their wishes. Perhaps this is the finest result of education".
Just what is this desire, this wish that Xie Nanxing brands 'romantic'? As director of his "big show of yearnings", Xie Nanxing plays along with
the observer, slips himself right into the game and then, eventually, his ultimate hope perhaps is simply to be unmasked.
Galerie Urs Meile Beijing
D10, 798 East Street, 798 Art District
No. 2 Jiuxianqiao Road Chaoyang District
100015 Beijing, China
Galerie Urs Meile Lucerne
6004 Lucerne, Switzerland