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Seulement Mon Amour: Mao Xuhui2018-09-22—11-25

Mao Xuhui’s Polyphony of Time - Passion to Sing asTimes Goes by

Love is awindfall, is also willing to give. It has the beauty of the world, has also thecreative impetus. 

Mao Xuhui

What would have happened to creation and life if he had moved to Beijing? This is aquestion that MAO is often asked. Artists like Zhang Xiaogang, Ye Yongqing and Pan Dehai, who have also been a "Southwest Group" have moved to orbriefly drifted and stayed in Beijing. "I tried to live in Beijing for awhile last winter and this spring," Mao Xuhui wrote to Gao Minglu in 1995. Later I found that the cold of the north and the majestic atmosphere of theheart of empire, and the heavy political shadow, made me - a native of thesouthwest - feel out of place. In contrast, he chose to stay in the land wherehe was raised: "the Yunnan Plateau is a region of strength, brightness, closure, conservatism and dream. They are my roots. This root is too importantto me."

Being far from the centre and loving the native land is not the same as being conservative and settled. A man who seldom travels far can also be a veritable nomad in his mind. Citing Arnold Toynbee, the French philosopher, Deleuze paraphrases "Nomads" - real nomads are those who refuse to go from one unchanging identity to another, refusing to move because they are soattached to their special territories. Mao Xuhui is such a "nomad", his "nomadism" is not the physical displacement of the body, but more is the spiritual exploration of depth. Faced to Kunming the city of flower whichhe has lived for a life time, and the theme of Guishan, which continues from the 85' period, Mao Xuhui always focuses on the things he loves most andis familiar with.

Image of Power

If the loneliness of power is an accepted fact, Mao has been capturing it. As Balzac put it, "all power is dark, otherwise it does not exist, visible power is under threat." all those whoseek it are isolated, and show a face that excludes themselves from all people. Mao Xuhui once pondered on the "invisibility" of power in the article"Thoughts In Painting". He traced back to the "Parent" theme from 1988 and the "Scissors" theme from 1994, and continues to the "Everyday Epic" series. These works depict daily objects withoutexception -- keys, teacup, pennant, bookshelf, chairs, medicine bottles, sofa, red brick building, Zhongshan suit, etc.

It is not hard to find that in the 1980s and1990s, Mao Xuhui's depiction of power was mostly black, black-red, black-grayand black-yellow. The colour of each stroke he painted conjures up an immeasurable memory, which he describes in his own words: "it terrified me, but I pitied it. It is the kind of shadow, full of power, even violence, that has long oppressed our spirit. It lived in darkness, sits in mystery of time and space, sits in an ancient passage, sits in a reverent chair, cannot extricate itself, it was an idol, was a heavy history, and was  inescapable."

Now the chairs are painted again, but they are no longer monochromatic nor in black-gray or crimson with strong parental symbol (such as Great Trigeminy of Parents 92 and Parents’ Back-Rest Chairs). Instead, the chairs retreated quietly into the pasture. In this exhibition, the chairs appear again in Mao Xuhui's dream garden. They fly across the sky with poetries of Tagore, they are surrounded by sunflowers in the dusk, and they are embedded in the background of Magnolias.  They’re still powerful, but are no longer about the authority and teenage angst of a patriarchal society, nor direct to the pain that been carried by artists of Mao Xuhui’s generation. On the contrary, the power is now settling down, becomes calm and long-stretching. This change is reflected in the transformation of the relationship between subjects and background. In a sense, the existence of the background is to reflect or highlight the tonality of the subjects. Placed the same chair in the dark abstract strokes and a sunflower field in the dusk presents entirely different moods.

Chairs or scissors, as main images appear in the paintings, not as scenes in traditional western paintings that waiting to be watched. In Mao Xuhui's case, he showed a new way of looking at images, which is similar to what the philosopher Husserl has discussed about the understanding of "alien subject” (Fremdes). – Mao’s chairs are interspersed with an awareness of tool/artifact, which is not a reduction instructure, but focus on the "function" of the chair. In this way, the audience can recognize the chairs and the emotions it conveys from the background, they are presented as the invisibility (not absent) of parents and subject of power in Mao Xuhui’s early works -- in life, power cannot be seen but is everywhere. And in his works of recent two years, the chair on the land of Guishan seems to return to a discussion of the chair itself -- that is, the chair is human -- when one returns to nature, how should one inhabit in nature?

Poetic Dwelling


Guishan is a Sani village which is more than 100 kilometers away from Kunming. With hundreds of years of sun-rising and sun-setting lives, The village is idyllic, much like The one portrayed in Miller’s painting of the French "Barbizon school" in 19th century. Mao Xuhui has used Guishan as an aspect of hiscreation since 1979, and it stays with him except for a short pause in the1990s. From The Mother of the Red Field - Guishan Series, Mao Xuhui keenly captured the connection of land and people, mother and child, kinship and social contact, he depicted the shock ofthis red field with lyrical brushwork - Waxy black village under blue sky with white clouds, violet-coloured field as strong as the solidified blood, and the primitive vitality was flowing between trees and grass.


The four generation of A-Wen family in Guishan are friends of Mao Xuhui. Every Springand Autumn, Mao Xuhui will bring students to Guishan for classes, every beginning of Spring, the pork meal will also be set here in Guishan. Faced to Guishan, "life" pattern which has been painted for decades, Mao Xuhui admitted that it is still difficult to paint familiar objects, such as the way to paint a sunflower, and he doesn’t want to be similar to Van Gogh's sunflower. This time, Mao Xuhui painted sunflowers in the cornfield of Guishan, and for the first few days, neither he nor his students had much success. However, compared with the painting, what impressed him was the warm feeling in the dusk, because every time the sun set, Ms. Three (A-Wen's daughter-in-law) would come to urge everyone to have dinner, and after had a hot meal, the hardwork of the day would have a reassuring ending.


Intriguingly, Mao Xuhui always depicted familiar objects in familiar places. Even back in Kunming, he still painted things he well understood, such as the colourful trefoil flowers in Trefoil Flowers in June, South Xinwen Road. Mao Xuhui was never in a hurry when he painted the trefoil flowers. One reason was that the flowers are long-lasting and stable, which gave him enough time to think about how to paint them well. The other is that the water and soil in Kunming gave him a mild nature. He likes to put somethings in his heart and slowly precipitate. The process of precipitation made him feel secured.


Mao Xuhui believes that to truly poetic dwelling, in addition to feeling the nature, also need to deal with the legacy of memory. The reason why it is called"legacy" is precisely because the memory is not only a personal history, but also carries many invisible and undiscovered secrets. Mao Xuhui compared memory to a honeycomb, which has a Deleuzian Cristal-structure filled with his memories, and he mentioned one of the things about his father:" sometimes memory is secret -- this city has had political turmoil and disturbance like any other city, and we are all inevitably get involved.Fortunately, I was still small when the unprecedented "Cultural Revolution" came. And my parents, especially my father, who have turned into a silent man, and he has swallowed a lot of things that should have been known to his children, and when I was in his seventies, when a man's body andmemory went down, I’ve tried to talk more with him, to know something about his past, but to his own, he was accustomed to the silence of the past, to keep them in his heart forever. Among the paper sketches in the exhibition there is a small work in black-and-white titled The Seated Parent, which immediately reminds us of Mao Xuhui's mosticonic "parent" pattern in the late eighties and early nineties -- White Body On a Back-Rest Chair which he created in 1989. Just as people are limited by the power structure or memories are shaped by history, over time, people's body is integrated with the back ofthe chair, became an insignificant feature in the big background of time.

Polyphonic Time

Different from the rational tone of The Enlightenment of “make sense”, and also different from Post-Modernism advocates"resolution of subjectivity”, the path of Mao Xuhui is woven by perception and memory, what he has to do is to "let things can be perceived" (make sensible). The transition from sense to perception can only be done bythe artist. Looking at "The Parents" three decades later, this pattern reveals a special polyphonic time -- the objects painted by the artist are far more than the interaction between perception and memory, while the audiences look at works of 2014 as if they have seen all the "parents" once appeared in Mao Xuhui’s work. These images overlap and overlap, and, like flowing memories, overprint Mao Xuhui’s identity as "little","big" and "old". Mao Xuhui lived in present, but also in the past and the future.

In additionto the image of power, the polyphony of time has become another direction of Mao Xuhui's painting in recent years. The polyphony of time covers the richness of the experience of time and the complexity of the subject experience itself. In the creation period from 1988 to 1989, Mao Xuhui personally identified this kind of richness and complexity, which he called "being driven by passionpresents an explosive nature". Parents with Shape of Ancient Bell and Parents with Oval is a concentrated "outbreak" of image, during which, Mao Xuhui took his eyes back to the traditional pattern of Chinese ancient architecture and artifacts, but the form of image is still the thought of western modernist painting (and literature). This attempt allows Mao Xuhui to find a way to connect memories and experiences -- his pattern -- to travel across the boundaries between ancient and modern times, China and the rest of the world for a real "nomadic" journey.


People always want to be in their past, or think of the past as all the memories that can be recalled. The polyphonic discourse provides us a space to assume that both the past and the future are objects of "non-me", and to suggest: what would my creation and life would be if I had moved to Beijing? If I paint like this now, what will my future works look like? These questions put “me” in a Quasi-Moi state, which is not me, to allow the possibility of the past as adistance from the Quasi-Moi, and memories seeping through the gaps because the past and the present are separated.

However, the polyphony of time also sings songs about boundaries, about life and death wandering.


It is clearly Walked By Xiba Road Before 2014, but actually it is a superimposed image of countless "Xiba Road". They added a stroke to his memory every time Mao Xuhui walked by. Only the familiar things that have been presented can be reproduced by the repetition of memories. For a long time, Mao Xuhui‘s "polyphony" was silent, until his parents passed away in 2011 and his little doughter, Niuniu, died in 2013, the chairs in his paintings suddenly fell over. Some say it is the fall of the Grand Narrative, accompanied by the collective cries and accusations of a generation of "Southwest Artists", but for Mao Xuhuiit is more about his personal experience. Mao Xuhui's paintings are directly related to his heart. When he realized the reflection of nature on the tiny us, he transformed the helplessness and pathos of life into a quiet whisper. He said in a hoarse voice, "I just love... ", this sentence with only subject and predicate seems to be able to contain everything in the world, love home, love art, love life. Love it's just love of love.

Stefanie Chow

August, 2018 by the Weiming Lake of Pekin University