Nostalgia and Walking in the Field——Preface of He Libin’s exhibition “A Traveler’s log”
by Guan Yuda
It was from 2006, I think, He Libin has made some obvious changes in his art works. A lot of works have been painted in the theme of “field” and “wasteland”. They are mainly in the tone of black, white and gray, and have a wild style of drawing, presenting the feeling of sorrow and emotion, which could be found similar to the film of Tarkovsky, a master of cinema from former Soviet Union, and literature of Russian, such as the “light nostalgia” in the fiction of Иван Алексеевич Вунин. But in the same time, they also shows that he is a walker in the dark, angrily and impetuously, wandering around without reason and knowing nothing about the way back home. That is what “A traveler’s log” is.
They are a series of works, emotional and deep, which could be thought as the record of what the artist had experienced those years. Like how cardiogram works, they show the pulse, temperature and heartbeat of the artist when he was painting. Although the image, such as wasted field, felled forest, wild grasses, harvested farm, land, sky and mountain and so on, could be found in them, I still don’t think they are a series of landscapes. He refers to the definition of “landscape” in the modernism and paints many images of it in fact, moreover, the basic elements of the works are related to the “landscape”, however, what they have indicated are far beyond what is called landscape. If I have to use the concept of “landscape”, I would prefer to call it “big landscape” or “post landscape”, which expresses a will to be back to the harmony with the power of the original nature and the freedom of life. In the history of modern art, from Cezanne and impressionism, it was the weapon to help the artists to defend the “civilization” and “mechanization”.
The most typical representative of it is Gauguin, of course. He hated himself for belonging to the culture of Bourgeoisie and regarded himself as a self-consciously original people and the survival of romanticism. In order to break from the café and salon in Paris, which was the symbol of “civilization”, he escaped to the torrid Tahiti Island in the South Pacific.
The experience of traveling to the west part of China, west north Sichuan, Gansu, Xinjiang, Shanxi and inner Mongolia, in 1994-1995 maybe the reason why He Libin got the idea of the works. During a talk after it, he told me his motivation and said: “Many artists will in pursuit of the life itself in all kinds of ways. And I think I have to go back to the origin. The origin nature ranks higher than the humanized one, I should go inside and feel it.” He mentioned “back”, “origin” and “origin nature” here, which are similar to the intention of origin in forepart of modernism art and philosophical system developed by Chuang-tzu from China.
But, the question is if there is a way to be “back”? It is broken in the thought of western modernism. As a classic theme in modernism, “wasteland” was used by Thomas Stearns Eliot and Hermann Hesse, which was seemed as a prison and having no life existed. Their animadversion caused from the deep pain, disappoint and sorrow to the western civilization. Spring should be the time that everything grows up, but from Eliot’s point London, the symbol of modern, was a wasteland. In that dying world, people were dead although they were still alive, having only the feeling of desperation and flesh in their heart. The philistinism and contemptibility filled the world, and people were going to death ignorantly under the obituary dark cloudy sky. The reality was like the hell, and modern people were a group of soulless ghosts.
He Libin is living in Yunnan, which is a beautiful and peaceful place full of romantic atmosphere. The tradition of Naxi people in his blood also attaches him to the pure nature. So what he describes in his works should be different to the above. I think, given the personality, experience and the pursuit of culture of him, the opinion, that the essence is consistent with the nature from Daoism, might has made more impression to him. From Chuang-tzu’s point of view, the beauty of sky and land, the order of seasons and the vicissitude of everything are all made by the power of nature, which is the principal of the universe and affected by nothing. In front of it, people can’t do anything but to show their reverence. That is the reason why He Libin often arranges a people walking in the vast scenery, which is like the pattern of Chinese traditional landscape, such as the《Traveling amid Mountains and Streams》by Fan Kuan.
But this time, the traveler is not so easy and free compared with the ancient Chinese intellectual. On the contrary, he is a little bit anxious, worrying, sad and lonely. The conflict fills the works and makes it to present the feeling of sorrow and nostalgia which is not so severe. The feeling is not under control when walking in that kind of field. A poem said “life has no homeland, heart is the direction.” Being different to the fictitious Tahiti and tarnished Eden described by Gauguin, who insisted on getting on the way “back” last century in France, He Libin’s works are sad, emotional, romantic and sorrow, which is deep to the heart and like the wolves’ crying in the field. It recalls me that last autumn He Libin and I had some drink in a Naxi people’s village near La Shi Lake in Lijiang. It was a night with many stars on the sky, we were drunk, walked around and couldn’t find the way home, which is like the traveler, helpless but still being forward, in his paintings.
I suddenly feel it coincidental when my words come here. It seemed to be a real metaphor that, in fact, everyone including me is a “traveler”, we are all on the way “back home” through the field. We all want to go back “home”, but have not the direction, nor the answer.
Mar. 22, 2008 night