A Particular Case : Painting of Inner Terroir
By Hsin-Ke Lee
At a meeting, Jeng Jundian briefly looked back on his career, including some thoughts he had when he was a student. As we talked, he concluded that he may have been a particular case. The words “particular case” reminds people of the collection of essays titled Particular Cases published by German art critic and philosopher Boris Groys in 2016; however, the truth is, after several meetings with Jeng, we had no plan to cite the works or theories by specific curators, art historians or art critics for this exhibition. Nonetheless, Jeng Jundian’s painting’s visual qualities of “light” and “tranquil” are truly rare at the present time; to master this vibe of works usually means he has at his disposal a vast set of fine skills, just like those singers, who have uniquely unworldly and airy voices, are usually ones with the most impressive pipes.
We have adopted the path set forth by Boris Groys in the preface of Particular Cases that, as audience, we can try to pursue the impulses released by specific works to push our own imagination and thinking in new directions, and then look back on how far these impulses have drawn us into those directions. Under normal comprehensive discussion, artists’ agendas can hardly be truthfully disclosed and understood.
In light of the aforementioned, I try to depict a series of five paintings included in the “The Rose of Time” exhibition based on in-depth sharing by the artist, and the impulses revealed by the series will perhaps be a fresh point of entry to interpret Jeng’s non-color lines painting:
“The painting Orchids (2019-2020) is based on a photo of orchids taken by Jeng in a botanical greenhouse in Berlin. To the artist, the austere and cold atmosphere in the post-war Berlin could still be felt on this trip, and he was reminded of hometown Kinmen where he grew up—it was a period of time that made people feel depressed and stressed due to external political unrest and social instability. The psychogenic association has become the force propelling this set of works forward, and the unknown horizontal bars in the original image have transformed into the element that suppresses the subjectivity of the orchids on canvas; with the strongly suggestive sense of space, the form of the orchids is no longer much-associated with beauty here. The artist has begun to break away from the photographical record and explore the possibility of the painting, and this possibility has gradually shifted to the spatial and chromatic aspects…”
Non-color lines painting has lifted formal rules, and brought in thoughts and ideas that have been hidden for a long time. When discussing a particular artist’s paintings, it is inevitable to investigate and identify the “terroir” that belongs to the said artist. The terroir experienced by Jeng Jundian is not manifested in the paintings; instead, it has gone through a series of “unwilling repetitions (other or self).” However, he tirelessly embraces the classical qualities as an artist. Here, there is no such thing as modern or contemporary artist; or perhaps, the terroir that surrounds him is the “freedom in life” he needs, because only in slightly relaxing and free times can he truly beware of microscopic observation.
The title of this exhibition, “The Rose of Time,” is borrowed from the title of a poem by poet Bei Dao, even though Jeng Jundian believes that the poem’s theme does not necessarily have anything to do with the exhibition’s content, nor is it necessary for the title to take on the mission of explaining the exhibition; however, it is undeniable that, in Jeng Jundian’s art career, the nature of poetry is very similar to the nature of his painting. Jeng mentioned in an interview in 2019: “Poetry is the concentration of words, and just a sentence or a few words arranged together can generate powerful forces. I think that when you paint, it should be like arranging and assembling the verses, eliminating redundancies and achieving the maximum power through the simplest combinations. I am especially fond of poetry.” The process of deconstruction, piling, and refining, like writing poetry has influenced the looks of Jeng’s paintings, especially since he pioneered the non-color lines painting in 2014—his works have more or less become more modest from content to technique. Closely examining the one painting in the main gallery that has the richest and most powerful colors, Flowers 230519—Born for the Blue Sky, you can find an unusually tiny form of lion at the bottom, and it is hard to surmise why the artist has adopted such strange “arrangement and combination.” He has also pointed out that surrealism has never been the style he pursues, but allowing more coincidences and fictions to be released and collide at different coordinates is really the mode of action of poetry; the clusters of white dots on the surface of Leaves 190920 also resemble a kind of poetic mist and clouds.
Painting is perhaps unlike any other forms of art creation, and in essence, whenever an artist starts working on a work, it is an attempt; as Jeng Jundian confronts such nature, what are the possible destinations on a single painting? How to absorb nutrients from reality or views while also creating distance? This distance is not necessarily disruptive and can be inching towards himself; or, even when a rupture is created, this rupture is a point of entry that facilitates further discussion.
What coincides with his creation of color lines painting that started in mid 1990s is his habit of taking photos for records over the years. Color lines painting requires a longer period of time to refine and contemplate on, but drawing in natural surroundings often comes with incontrollable environmental factors, such as light and shadow; thus, the aid of photography becomes crucial. This exhibition presents a cross section of the way the artist works and the contents of his works, hoping to offer viewers new dimensions of reading Jeng’s paintings.
It will be ineffective to examine Jeng Jundian’s oeuvre according to the different collections; although story-telling has never been the core he pursues, it does not mean his painting is “anti-narrative.” However, to Jeng Jundian, the construction of imagery does not need to be led by any specific themes.
The emergence of non-color lines painting does not necessarily mean the gradual exit of color lines painting. Color lines painting adopts concrete means to create forms, exploring possibility within highly restrictive technical rules; non-color lines painting makes up for the degree of freedom on another level, allowing more ideas to enter. Alternating between drastically different painting methods, to the artist, is the foundation on which he sustains a certain level of creative intensity.