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Wei Xiong’s Agile Aesthetic Spans East and West

Bring Into No.3, Paintings 27.5 x 39.5

The defining aesthetic feature of the work of Chinese painter Wei Xiong, who divides her time between Los Angeles, where she worked for twenty years as a fashion designer before turning to painting full-time, and Chengdu, China, where she was born, is how seamlessly she has merged both her adopted and original cultural identities in her paintings.
    Inspired by a potent combination of Zen Buddhism, Chinese Philosophy and Western philosophy, Xiong has evolved a distinctive painterly perspective in works that adapt the ethereal elements and nature-inspired (albeit abstract, in her case) subject matter of traditional Asian ink painting on gossamer rice paper to the material presence of Western oil painting on canvas or linen without sacrificing the most distinctive features of either mode of expression. What she has retained from the former is a certain poetry of expression and coloristic restraint, which she bolsters with the textural substance of the latter in a manner that lends her compositions a unique flavor.
    What Xiong has obviously learned from her study of Zen is how to approach the things of this world from within, to absorb them and be absorbed by them, as opposed to experiencing them externally. It is an approach that lends itself quite naturally to the tranquil style of lyrical abstraction that she practices. And in this way, the act of painting itself takes on the aspect of a spiritual practice. (The inner peace that the artist derives from taking a spiritual, rather than mercenary, approach to both art and life, also manifests in her refusal to accept a salary for her role as the executive director of a museum of contemporary art in China.)
    While her immortal eighth century poet-painter partial namesake Wang Wei also derived inspiration from religious meditation and communion with nature, being a quintessentially postmodern artist Wei Xiong is closer in style, if not in spirit, to the graffiti-like ecriture of the late American painter Cy Twombley. This is especially evident in her series of buoyant near-monochromatic oils on canvas “Bring Into,” numbers 1, 3, and 4, in which she explodes both Eastern and Western ideas of compositional anchoring with airborne shapes that are at once buoyant and graphically insistent, as well as ingeniously dispersed. Scrawled lines in mostly gray tones, variegated with tiny touches of pale yellow, blue, or red hues, comprise vigorously sketchy shapes that float freely over the picture space, which remains mostly white with only pale, tentative marks here and there. The expansive sense of space in these compositions, while suggesting Zen notions of “emptiness,” conveys a sense of spontaneous energy obviously influenced by Chinese calligraphy yet possessed of a funkier energy which locates it firmly in the international postmodern mainstream.
    And while one is inclined to surmise that she arrived at such kinships intuitively, more by osmosis than by design, in another mode of her oeuvre, Xiong shares qualities in common with the early lyrical “Abstract Impressionist” paintings of Philip Guston. These untitled works are among Xiong’s most colorful and tactile, as well as the ones in which she avails herself most fully of Western oil painting techniques, with centrally concentrated strokes and patches of jewel-like hues interacting and overlapping on subtly modulated pale blue or green grounds.
    Although many Asian painters have adopted Western mediums and methods in recent years, Wei Xiong is among those who have achieved the most successful synthesis.
–– Marie R. Pagano

Wei Xiong, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, through April 17, 2014
Reception: Thursday, April 3, 6 -8 pm

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