The dynamism behind two-dimensional paintings has always been closely connected to the way of seeing. The act of seeing is dependent upon light traveling from the surface of the perceived object to the eye, and this makes seeing a painting comparable to seeing a play composed of colours and optics, dictated by the level of expertise demonstrated by the artist. Reflections - Sleepless in Pudong by Lu Xinjian is a cityscape depicted with a collage of light; it is a vivid illusion resulting from the residual effects from shutting one’s eyes after having stared at a colour photograph for a prolong period of time.
Color, Space, Domain, and Reflection
Born in China’s Yixing City in Jiangsu Province, 38-year-old Lu Xinjian is one of China’s new generation of artists. He majored in computer graphic design at the Nanjing Arts Institute, and studied interior design and interactive media and environment in the Netherlands, where he was profoundly influenced by Dutch modern paintings and the De Stijl movements. After completing his degree, he taught design in a university in Korea and also began to paint. His background in graphic design allows him to interpret shapes and colours in a unique way, as seen in his earlier painting series that converted poetic words and phrases into visual symbols. Lu also perceives lines in a distinctive manner, and is often seen sketching on a small notebook shapes and forms that he has crafted in his head. The iconic aerial view of Google Earth, which was launched in 2005, and also the artist’s fascination for urban structures and landscapes inspired his City DNA Series created in 2009, with lines treated as the DNA of these paintings. Sleepless in Pudong, completed last year, is a part of Lu’s latest series City Stream. Notable external urban features are reconstructed by the artist with vertical and horizontal lines and basic geometric shapes, with the audience gradually guided into a dynamic visual vector space.
At present, the City Stream Series is based on Shanghai, where Lu currently lives and works. “Roaming in this massive city makes me feel infinitely energetic with its endless streams of cars and densely packed buildings of varying heights,” says the artist about the appeal of this international metropolis. The enhanced structures and colours of the image resemble flashing electrical currents, forming a surge of invigorating energy that directly penetrates into the eyes and hearts of the viewers. The crisscrossing and overlapping horizontal lines create a sense of uniformity that makes up the sky backdrop of the painting, Sleepless in Pudong, with overlying vertical lines used to illustrate the architectural cores of the buildings. The rooftops of the buildings are constructed with arching lines and straight lines in 45-degree angles, with the spherical shapes echoing Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Tower and projecting a looming source of light. Each element on this vectorgraph-composed image is joined together to form a precise, mathematic aesthetic, emitting a sense of order and also harmony. Since Masaccio pioneered the use of linear perspective in his fresco Santa Trinità painted in the mid-15th century, the medieval art technique trompe-l'oeil used for creating optical illusions has long bestowed artists with the ability to depict three-dimensionality in a two-dimensional space. Lu’s artwork shows a unique spatial depth and a sense of three-dimensionality, which is largely due to the way colours are applied by the artist. He deliberately used unmixed acrylic pigments in primary colours by Marie, a Chinese manufacturer of art paints, because the locally produced colour scheme matches well with the actual visual experiences that one would encounter on a daily basis in China. A contrast between cold and warm colours is created with the seemingly simple six colours of red, yellow, blue, green, orange, and indigo used in Sleepless in Pudong, with the highly opaque black outlines appearing like shadows that give the space a greater sense of depth. Lines of the same colour are rarely juxtaposed next to each other in the midst of the image’s disarray of vivid and countless colour lines. The flow of the space is unhindered by colour blocks, with the line of sight allowed to roam freely within this image that seems to lack a focal point, suggesting that the painting is treated as a domain. The image created is an illusion that manipulates the aesthetical intent of the space. It is also observed that although the painting appears minimalistic and flat from afar, but a landscape of complexity and dimensionality is perceived from a closer proximity.
Shanghai’s notable visual features are efficiently captured by the simple elements used, and the complexity of the image is inspired by the progression and development of Shanghai’s cityscape, which embodies its historical background, economic advancement, and cultural features. A multiple narrative is derived from multiple spaces, multiple visual perspectives, and multiple relationships. Lu continues to use his own distinctive approach to engage in the eternal exploration from an artist’s perspective for the connection between the way of seeing, optics, and image. The infinite implications for the sense of ambiguity embodied in Sleepless in Pudong appear to be without a start or an end, and without a central focus or confining framework, the painting seems to be filled with an overflowing sense of intricacy.
The architectural cluster in Pudong with the Oriental Pearl Tower marking its highest point expands along the Huangpu River, with the reflection on the river appearing to be a mirror image of the city. However, upon a closer look, the artist’s ingenuity is seen in the different colours used for the various speckles of light and the tiles paving the building façades. The story being told is a tale that is to be continued, and the connection between the reflection and the scenery is made ever more apparent. A single mirror will only result in one reflected image, and when more are joined together, the image formed will multiply. The space created will also expand endlessly albeit its obscurity. Nevertheless, only the viewers can instill a sense of substantial significance in this overall space and to decipher illusion from the tangible. As Lu continues to explore the City Stream Series, we are also being reminded that a city’s most beautiful landscape can only be realized through the way one sees and thinks.