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f o r a d a c a s a #3

f o r a d a c a s a #3
signed in Chinese and dated ‘2020’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
140 x 250 cm. (59 1⁄2 x 98 3⁄8 in.)
Painted in 2020
Donated by the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

Xie Nanxing occupies a singular place in Chinese contemporary painting. As the renowned German curator Peter Pakesch noted in 2008: Xie Nanxing “belongs to a small group of artists whose approach to painting can only be associated with the current perspectives duly prevalent in new Chinese art with a great amount of difficulty… Xie Nanxing consistently avoids depicting a visual world that is in any way typical or easily identifiable … Instead, Xie Nanxing chose a path that led him to scrutinize the painting medium intently, even systematically.” Despite achieving international recognition early in his career, with his works shown at the Venice Biennale in 1999 and at Documenta in 2007, Xie Nanxing has refused to adopt a signature style, preferring to challenge himself with each new series and indeed with each new work.

The recent series of paintings f o r a d a c a s a is exemplary of Xie Nanxing’s restless painterly experimentation. Its starting point is a children’s notebook that Nanxing came across while travelling. When opened, the pages of the notebook showed the outline of a football pitch. And so each painting incorporates a football pitch, the lines marking the structure and rules of the game providing the rules for the series and the formal structure for each painting.

The central passage of f o r a d a c a s a #3 is made using the revolutionary “canvas print” technique that has been a central part of Nanxing’s practice for around ten years. Reminiscent of Francis Picabia’s transparencies or the layered use of raster dots in Sigmar Polke’s later paintings, Nanxing’s canvas prints represent a dramatic shift from his earlier practice and demonstrate the paradox of, on the one hand, his radical questioning of painting as a medium and, on the other, his ongoing commitment to the figurative tradition. He describes how he came to this technique through Chinese ink painting:

“These painters place wool felt underneath the paper on which they are painting. Ink seeps through onto the felt, leaving spots and circles. I find it absurd that the completed painting is taken away and these traces are left behind or discarded like crumbs that have fallen from the dinner table. The spots that are left behind are fundamentally linked – as evidence – to the completed work. These surplus materials carry some of that work’s meaning. They are like its shadow. I wanted to emphasise that role as evidence, to allow it to become an independent subject.”

In Nanxing’s work, then, a rough woven canvas is placed over the surface of the work, establishing a threshold that acts as a barrier to the painting beneath. As direct, figurative brushstrokes seep through the surface, they become stippled and obscure, leaving traces of the original gesture. Rather than being discarded, this “evidence” is left on the canvas to act both as painterly mark and as a manifestation of Nanxing’s “mistrust of painting”.

In f o r a d a c a s a #3 we see traces of figures, the possibility of a narrative scene that is never fully revealed to us. They are further obscured by richly painted green impasto that immediately recalls Gerhard Richter’s famed abstract “squeegee” paintings but which, given the markings underneath, might also evoke the turf of the football pitch. Amongst the thinly layered washes on the right hand side of the canvas we see carefully rendered flies whose presence begs further questions: are the passages of red paint to be read as blood? Is the diamond pattern merely decorative, or does it represent a physical surface on which the flies have landed? Does all this hint towards the absent narrative implied by the central figures?

In a recent piece for Frieze Magazine Nanxing wrote of wanting to create “more layers and more possibilities” in his work, a tendency that is abundantly apparent in f o r a d a c a s a #3, a work that poses myriad questions of the viewer even as they are seduced by its richly-layered, painterly surface. He also wrote that: “We shouldn’t be afraid when confronted with unfamiliar forms that we don’t understand, because with time the forms will speak for themselves.”

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