(Chinese, B. 1963)
No. 16
titled 'No. 16'; dated '1996'; and signed in Chinese (on the lower edge of each scroll)
woodblock print on scroll (triptych)
overall: 121.9 x 215.9 cm. (48 x 85 in.)
Executed in 1996 (3)
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
Private Collection, New York, USA
Lo Yinhua (ed.), Taipei Fine Arts Museum & Visual Art (She Jie Yi Shu) Publishing House, Live like a Wild Dog: 1963-2008 Archival Documentation of Fang Lijun,Taipei, Taiwan, 2009 (different edition illustrated, p. 261).
Lu Peng, Liu Chun (ed.), Culture and Art Publishing House, Fang Lijun: Chronology, Beijing, China, 2010 (different edition illustrated, p. 281).

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Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

Fang Lijun, one of the most internationally recognized figure under the wave of Chinese modern art in the early 1990s, released the powerless emotions of the younger generation in China caused by the oppression of life by using rebellious bald characters. He successfully summarized the unique psychological condition of an era and responded to the rapid changes of new Chinese society by applying an individual attitude.
Fang graduated from China Central Academy of Fine Arts majoring Printmaking. The two giant woodblock prints, No. 16 (Lot 439) and 1999.6.1 (Lot 438), show his smooth and exquisite craving skills, and emphasize the image of bald characters. The bright and vigorous blank lines also express magnificent power. He divided a complete picture into a few independent Chinese hanging scrolls to search for new representation possibilities in woodblock prints. Comparing Fang's woodblock prints and oil paintings, it has been found that he intentionally removed their expression, details and strokes from the painting. He thought that the over presentation of details would only reduce the overall balance and would alter his real intention, just like what he said, 'The most important part of a piece is what feeling it leaves to you and what you can get from the picture, but not what you can see in it'. Fang's choice of colors for the woodblock prints inclines to be direct and simple. The two pieces give up the use of sharp colors and play on the transition between the bright and dark colors of a cool grayish blue tone to state characters and backgrounds. This brings a better control on visual elements, which are not used extensively.
There are distinctive differences between the emotional presentation of bald characters in No. 16 and the oil painting in the early 1990s. His face never shows the playful and indifferent attitude, and the silence of the swimmer sank in the blue water of the past. The curve surrounding his shoulders and the splashed spray depict the emerged head of the character and seem to suggest that he is striving for a moment to breathe. The expression of his eyes and his excessively opened mouth imply the difficulties of the movement itself. It changes from the training and self-reflection of the blue swimming oil painting to the extended passion and struggle which are particularly well expressed by the strong willpower of the artist through the tough textures of the woodblock prints. In 1999.6.1, Fang constructs a pyramidal composition of bald men gathered in the lower part of the painting. The larger central figure looms above the rest, like a leader of a crowd, raising his fist and screaming in protest, as the crowd echoes in their fervent outcry. Although the subject of protest is not explicated, the painting focuses on heightened emotional rage and passionate revolt. The contrast of this image with the imagery of propagandistic posters of the revolution era shows Fang's focus in representing the spiritual awakening among the people. Through the bold monochromatic image and strong lines in woodblock print, Fang successfully delivers a timeless, impactful image about the power of human spirit.

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