Terrazzo 201207 was completed a full ten years after Wang Guangle first began work on the series. Early Terrazzo pieces utilise large areas of monochromatic colour to meticulously depict a tranquil space from the artist’s memory. Between 2012 and 2014, Wang Guangle only painted around four to five Terrazzo works that uniquely employ geometric compositions. This treatment draws a veil over the main themes of memory and time by using surrealistic colours that blur the line between the real and the fantastic. This is a significant work that concludes a decade-long chapter in the artist’s creative career.
The Terrazzo series originated from the artist’s personal memories surrounding the material and its associated beauty. Terrazzo tile is a construction material that is made by blending marble chips with cement and finishing it off with a high polish. Because of its relative low cost, terrazzo was commonly installed in schools, hospitals, and other public buildings in China over the past several decades. Despite its humble origins and associations, Wang Guangle is drawn to this distinct material. When he was young, Wang would watch his uncle, who worked in construction, finish off a piece of terrazzo by polishing it repeatedly. The meditative pattern and process required to make terrazzo left a lasting impression on Wang, leaving him with an appreciation for simple formalistic aesthetics.
For this very reason, the artist’s meditation on his personal memories and the passage of time is deeply imbued into his creative process. As Wang devotes his undivided attention to painting the chips of stone set into the cement, the repeated gesture of painting also embeds his own life and time into each painted pebble. Remembering the first time he painted terrazzo, Wang Guangle said, “I thought I could finish it in an afternoon, but I discovered that painting terrazzo is very difficult. I could not get it done in almost a month. This gave me the time to think about a lot of things. I discovered two different directions. I could emphasise the process of painting or highlight the way in which light illuminated the room and the subject. I decided to introduce a new expression. I eliminated the expression of time. Only the terrazzo itself remains.”
Traditionally, the relationship between abstraction and representation is mutually exclusive. However, Wang Guangle achieves a delicate balance between the two approaches in his work. On one hand, Terrazzo 201207 possesses a formalistic beauty that is akin to Agnes Martin’s minimalist works. On the other hand, Terrazzo 201207 also depicts a hyper realistic surface, capturing a little piece of the social history that lives in the artist’s memory. The painting even depicts the unevenness in the grout with great fidelity. Creating this work took a process that required great patience and determination — the artist an ascetic who is trying to experience the nature of time. With its hyper realistic details, this work succinctly expounds on abstract concepts that influence everyone’s lives — time, history, and the beauty of memory.
Early Terrazzo works are similar to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Net series in that the audience is seduced by its hallucinatory experience — the repetitive brush strokes create the spatial effect of an all engulfing net that opens a window to a bygone era. Terrazzo 201207, in comparison, is a colourful mosaic of memory fragments that is both grounded in reality and fantasy. Terrazzo 201207 is not a slavish depiction of a piece of actual masonry. Each tile has a dominant hue of either pastel, green or black. Upon close inspection, one will discover that tiles of the same hue have slightly different tints, and the textures reveal themselves differently according to the intensity of the light. This work is a perfect distillation of Wang Guangle’s decade-long study of colour and light that he accumulated from the Terrazzo series.
As China’s economy has developed, numerous construction materials have become readily available and terrazzo has been relegated to a position associated with the memories of a specific era. In 2005, Wang Guangle spent three months in a house scheduled to be torn down to paint terrazzo patterns onto an entire wall. As the bulldozer demolished the house, the artwork was destroyed, along with the time it took to create the work, the experience of which now only existed in the mind of the artist. Perhaps Terrazzo 201207 is a fond recollection of that piece of history, its vibrant colours constructing a virtual space for meditation and contemplation.