As a significant figure of the New Wave Movement in China, Gu Wenda’s works are marked by his unremitting engagement with the idea of “anti-writing.” Through his iconoclastic reinterpretation of Chinese language and traditional way of writing, Gu is dedicated to situating the Chinese idioms in a more contemporary context. One of Gu’s first interrogations of the Chinese language is evidenced in his Pseudo-Characters series from mid-1980s in which he used traditional ink and rice paper, and wrote incorrect, misplaced, or combined characters on scroll painting. His solo show at the Xi’an Artist Gallery was shut down due to his highly controversial works—not because their “texts” said anything provocative, but because they failed to say anything at all.
The present lot (Lot 142) shows another important initiative of Gu, which he calls “splash ink in simplified characters.” Traditionally, poetic inscriptions are considered an integral part of the painting and they are usually placed strategically to balance the composition both from an aesthetic and textual perspective. In this work, Gu inverts the dominant-subordinate role of painting and poem by inserting four large characters (Qing Yue Yun Yan: bright moon and misty clouds) as the main focus in the center. Additionally, he forgoes the traditional mode of calligraphic writing and adopts the “simplified” style which became prevalent after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and therefore associated less with poetry and tradition and more with political proscriptions and propaganda. What is more, the homogeneity of the strokes echoes the regularity of the pine branches, therefore fusing texts and visual symbols. The flatness of the inky characters defies any depth and vitality associated with the pictorial space. Gu examines the conventional relationship between word and image. And he intends to show the artificiality and arbitrariness of not only language, but meaning-making, politics and traditions.