Wei Jia

Strenuous Journey 2017- 2021

MICHAEL KU GALLERY,2023,P. 280,Chinese/English

Publication Date: Nov. 2023

Paperback: 28x22cm

Page: 280

Language: Chinese/English


Art Director:Chen Erxu

Wei Jia’s Strenuous Journey

Michael Ku

Strenuous Journey is Wei Jia’s twelfth catalog, featuring all his undisclosed works created between the second half of 2017 and the end of 2021. Starting with the 2017 large-scale piece Hero and ending with Strenuous Journey II, the last work created in 2021, the catalog includes a total of 108 paintings. A few never-exhibited pieces are also included, offering a comprehensive view of over four years of artistic creation.

Since unveiling his works on the public stage in 2004, Wei has charted a linear evolution in his painting style, tirelessly pushing the boundaries with each successive phase. Beginning with a distinct lithographic flair, he reached the peak of what might be termed “canvas lithography” by 2006, a juncture filled with exuberant joy and breaking away from the two-dimensionality of printmaking, embracing more freedom in his brushstrokes. Around the end of 2008, both his composition and strokes started to evolve further in a more painterly manner, moving away from clarity to embrace more nuanced and complex challenges, adding possibilities for interpretation. The years between 2010 and 2013 saw significant shifts in his style: his color schemes evolved from vivid hues to understated, dimly lit tones, the sentiments shifted from personal sentiments to an awareness of existence in society, the sense of time swayed from the present moment to the eternity (or diminishing) of life, and the technique manifested prophecies hidden in the world through classical forms.

Wei Jia moves fast; I occasionally struggle to match his pace.

During this period, it seemed as if the countless creative ideas he yearned to articulate transcended the confines of the image. The classical brushstrokes still felt a bit tense, reflecting the heavier explorations that came with approaching the age of forty.

By 2014, this exploration seemed to emerge from the confines of the studio, like sunlight or misty moonlight illuminating a broader landscape.

That year, in the group exhibition “The Immortal Scenery: An Interpretation as the Common Destination of Western and Eastern,” held at Beijing’s Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Wei showcased a work titled Landscape. In this vertically elongated piece, he depicted a wintry barren land on the cusp of sprouting new life, with a painting in a classical style hanging from a branch above and a climbing ladder below. Though the painting within the painting contains few brushstrokes, it’s recognizable as Rembrandt’s 1660 portrait of his nineteen-year-old son, Titus.

Does the painting represent the pursuit of an artistic ideal? Or does it serve as a mirror of the artist’s own life experience? This work is one of Wei’s earliest instances of incorporating pre-existing images into his art.

Wei is not one to elaborate on his works. Standing before his work Landscape, he told me that what he hopes to achieve in the future is to articulate what he wants to say through the simplest brushstrokes.

This seems like a very high standard.

Wei Jia’s works always depict a complex duality. In simplest terms, they convey loneliness tinged with empathy, completeness tinged with bitterness, imperfection enriched by imagination, and fear accompanied by comfort. This uneven coexistence resonates with Wei’s perspective on life.

At its core, his creations are always in pursuit of “life” and “humanity,” and regardless of how his style evolves, this central concern remains evident. Such “humanity,” manifested in the figures within landscapes or the figures becoming landscapes themselves, embodies what he believes: what sustains “humans” in the world is not just sentiments but also perceptions.

However, to “depict the most profound aspects of things with the simplest of brushstrokes,” one must go beyond merely portraying the duality of black and white or good and evil in uneven emotions. Both technically and conceptually, the journey toward simplification likely involves countless layers of addition, and in the process of distancing, there will be numerous prior investments.

As for the quest for artistic creation, it gradually becomes a more dialectical exploration: how to pursue emotional stability, then introduce disruptions after reaching stability, and then seek stability once more amid those disruptions; how to express harmony within a scene, then infuse it with elements of discord, and find new equilibrium amidst these changes; how to depict the mundane aspects of life, and then discover its transience and stimuli, and after that find simplicity within that transience; how to distance oneself, calmly allowing the artwork to speak, yet without losing the initial sentiment, even returning to intense passion, and then find equilibrium between feeling and perception.

It is a perpetual cycle of pursuit in the realm of creation.

Wei Jia’s work from 2017 to 2021 records precisely this incremental, cyclical pursuit.

Works from the second half of 2017 to 2018 exude a forthright and sturdy character, featuring vibrant color palettes. The painting techniques and the content portrayed point in a more unambiguous and consistent direction. The year 2019 became a period of transition. Many of Wei’s pieces in this time draw their inspiration from the rural and riverside scenes created by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), an American painter and photographer from the second half of the 19th century. These works portray individuals as singular entities and members of a collective, striking a balance between introspection and turbulence. From 2020 to 2021, both brushwork and emotional undertones build on the foundation set by previous years. The color schemes in the artworks may appear more monochromatic, yet within these singular palettes lie a richer, more potent stimulation, hinting at the stark conflicts of contrasting colors. This is also the case with emotions conveyed by the artworks: more resolute on the one hand, yet grander on the other. Multiple elements co-exist within a single frame, challenging the artist’s control over the composition and the viewer’s ability to resonate with the core values conveyed behind the imagery.

Looking back at his large-scale 2017 work Hero, Wei conjured a moment that seems both distant from and inevitably destined for the present world. The painting features a figure in a blue robe, squatting amidst white sands and ruins that resemble a fragmented, ruin-like landscape. What is he digging for in this remote corner of an expansive landscape? What is he searching for? A rim of spray-painted neon pink frames the canvas, serving as a visual montage that imbues the scene with a temporal ambiguity.

In Hero, the proportions of the human figure are minimized, lending a sense of modesty within the grandiosity of the expansive setting, reflecting the artist’s rational approach to framing the vast landscape at that moment. Yet, the painting also evokes a profound sense of life’s enigmatic immensity, continuing Wei’s characteristic sensitivity and emotional complexity.

In 2020, Wei produced a medium-sized painting titled 2020.2.10, seemingly capturing something about an unfolding moment. Crafted with acrylic paint, the artwork makes the most of the medium’s quick-drying and stimulating attributes. It dazzles with vibrant colors that are buoyant and lightweight, reflective of the era. The work then outlines a universally recognized, eternal, and classically solemn theme, “the Pieta.” The visages of the Virgin Mary and Jesus emerge independently between the tangible and the abstract, enveloped independently in radiant shades of neon pink while seeming omnipresent in a disruptive light.

Completed at the end of 2021, two pieces titled Strenuous Journey focus on the theme of family. Strenuous Journey I portrays a pair of brothers, while Strenuous Journey II depicts a mother and her children. Originating from an inextricable familial bond, these subjects are also destined for individual growth.

Strenuous Journey I features two men who seem to be brothers wading through the water, one with a sense of determination while the other shows hints of anxiety. Heaven and earth remain consistent in their changes while each person heads toward different endings. Strenuous Journey II illustrates a mother in a swimsuit, leading her two children through the water. Their expressions are unreadable, and their reliance on each other is constructed through the most instinctive bodily movements. These works depict the early stages of life’s journey.

Both paintings are inspired by the modern world but encapsulate moments in which the movements of people seem to reference the past and predict the future. This sense of temporal unfolding is realized through the simultaneous presence of multiple elements in the composition: against a backdrop resembling an abstract landscape painting, figures are gently layered on top with reduced brushstrokes, capturing their corporeality in action.

Initially, the scenes are deeply ingrained with the artist’s experiences, but once transferred onto canvas, they become impartial narratives, opening all possible plotlines for the viewer’s interpretation.

Strenuous Journey II, the final piece completed in 2021, shares this aesthetic with Strenuous Journey I. Within the modern acrylic medium, amid the glaring pinks and sultry, bewitching purples, there seems to emerge a sense of understanding and compassion, born from the intertwining of human apprehensions and epiphanies.

The Chinese title for “Strenuous Journey” refers to a troop of excellent talent. However, Wei Jia’s “Strenuous Journey” is an expedition, a path that is still filled with stamina. When the elements in the painting are either unclear or collide in excess, the artist perseveres. Even after numerous occasions of starting the canvas anew, the quest remains fervently alive.

Perhaps there’s still a fiercer passion yet to be added, and he is undoubtedly still a distance away from the standards he has set for himself. Wei Jia’s “Strenuous Journey” is a process of painting; the paintings reflect his era, and the era continues to march forward.


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