Life of Multiple Arts: Interview with Fu Wenjun by Magazine VART (No. 4)
Part One Multiple in Art Form
Mr. Fu Wenjun started his career in documentary photography, then in Chinese painting. Years later, he went for schooling in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. Afterwards, conceptual photography is Fu’s focus. Decades of art creation and systematic learning of art enable Mr. Fu to develop his own doctrine of doing art creation.
1. What is your first impression and understanding of art? When did you start your photography and take it as a form of art?
It is at the end of the 1970s that I picked up the camera. It’s my work, actually, which needs documentary photos for promotion. Years later, I went to Sichuan Fine Arts Institute to study in oil painting major, in order to receive systematic and professional training of art and to continue my love and passion for artistic aesthetic. At that time, I used to do scenery sketch, combining the realistic and the abstract. After graduation, I worked from graphic design，designing billboard, to creative advertisement planning. All my work at that time is for collecting material for painting and advertisement planning. Though advertisement planning is a kind of art, it is quite different from painting and photography, which is pregnant with artistic and academic meaning. My love for art always lingers on my mind, so once I have time, I would take my pencil and brush to do artistic creation. My workday is quite busy, and I have no time to complete a grand painting, so I have to find a momentary artistic language. Photography is the very language for me to complete my art creation and to pursue my dream of art. I think painting and photography are inter-connected and show the social status, value orientation and self-experience of the artist. For this reason, I started to do some artistic trials of painting, like these series of oil painting.
2. How did you develop from scenery photography, news photography, and documentary photography to conceptual photography?
When I started photography, it is mainly of documentary photography. As my study of art theories deepened, I shifted gradually to conceptual photography, whose aesthetic advantage can present my idea of art more accurately. As we all know, conceptual photography springs up along with the development of contemporary conceptual art. In nature, conceptual photography is not a concept, nor a trend; it is how and what the artist wants his ideas and understanding to be involved in his works. Compared with news photography and documentary photography, conceptual photography directs more straightly to the problem, and is more closely associated with modern culture, social life, power and ideology. Examined from the history of photography art, the artist often starts at news photography, documentary and scenery photography, which is quite objective. Then he turns to post production for better effect of their works.
3. Your photography is of multiple elements and touches various fields. Why?
Compared with painting, sculpture, conceptual photography is quite new and it springs up along with the development of contemporary conceptual art. Being two-dimension and exquisite, photography is getting near to its development bottleneck, which is worsened by the drawback of scientific tools on which photography lies. Photography cannot be as vivid as films or media. So I am wondering if there is any way to combine photography and scientific technology, and how the effect would be. It is known that visual culture is going through transformation and traditional arts like painting and photography quickly break through with the application of interdisciplinary knowledge and scientific technology. Public media is developing with scientific innovation and new media art is playing increasingly important part in the cultural transmission, in that it achieves macro and micro control. My conceptual photography still belongs to conceptual art, yet it is extremely like new media art, as it is digital-technology-based and denotes internet, transmission, interaction and virtual characteristics. Post-modernism is not only for the elite to read; visual art is close to common life. Therefore, on one hand I want my work to be new, novel and original; on the other hand, my work should be readable and enjoyable to my audience. It is my wish, through art practice and creation of multiple elements, to shorten the distance between the artist and the audience, between the work and the reader
4. After years of doing conceptual photography, have you met any difficulties in your art creation.
In fact, art creation is a process of solving new problems. When I cannot find the best way to express my idea, it is a problem. However, artists should never be anxious for quick success and instant benefits, in that art creation is a slow process for them to solve problems.
5. We know technical image-processing software is a demanding job for people to learn. So how do you handle it in the post production in your conceptual photography? Are you ready and active to learn these new theories and technique?
I always focus on how to do post-production and its related software and techniques. As I have spent nearly twenty years in plane designs, I can easily pick up this software. What is more, I am interested in new technology and in the combination of scientific technology and art, which enable me to enjoy my creation and to achieve unexpected success. I often try different new methods, new scientific material and advanced instruments for the best way to express my creation style and art ideas.
6. Different from other artists, you have received systematic training in art theories and professional painting. Share with us how you benefited from these experiences?
Actually, I benefited much from the training in systematic painting and artistic theories. It enables me to be more accurate in the composition of picture, perspective, and colors. In my works, photography and painting are closely combined. In this way, they both include new elements; embody new meanings, rich artistic traits and aesthetic values. For example, in my Neighbors and No Realms, I tried special techniques to separate the photography images from its carrier, i.e. photography paper first, then to use Xuan paper or canvas as the medium to embody aesthetic elements of painting. The general style of Leaving the Stage is quite close to expressive, abstract oil painting, and that of mirror-faced Goldbach Conjecture is achieved through brushstroke painting. In Neighbors, painting and photography are fully combined and techniques of traditional Chinese painting are well used to depict the original view of streets, lanes, and folk life of Chongqing, well known as City ofMountains. Creation of these works greatly benefit from my previous learning of Chinese painting So I am very proud to say I often adopt some different artistic techniques when making photography.
7. Your early work Leaving the Stage and the following Echo both focus on the deserted scene of industry. So did you shift their theme when you are creating these two series of works?
In Leaving the Stage, I present rusted machines and deserted factories after being inspired by the visual shock effect of old photos. I take these artistic and historic scenes of industry as perfect memory material to record the industry civilization of cities. My work Leaving the Stage serves as a good memo to record our memory of industry history. It’s a combination of history and the present; or rather the present is rightly involved in history for people to re-examine the industry history. Echo is a follow-up series. As science and technology is always developing, the past is replaced by the new in the way that the old is completely destroyed or ruined. Machines of higher productivity take the place. In my works, busy working scene cannot be seen either in old trains, or tracks, either in factories or plants. The only left behind is the resounding dreams and slogans of nationalism and heroism. That is all my original intention. When I am asked if my original intention changes or not, I would say the answer is yes. My understanding of society, self and artistic language is changing; my idea of art creation is naturally changing. Every one of us seizes the day; the present advances from the past, therefore, ideas of art creation is deepening in depth and broadening in width.
8. Your Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs and Story of Expos Park in the The-Summer-Palace-Moving-Southward-1400kmExhibition fully show your skills in combining stationary photos, dynamic photography and installation art. Please share with us your intention of combining all these multiple elements.
In this exhibition, I maintain the theme of theSummerPalaceand then imbed the implication of the destroyedSummerPalaceintoTwelve Chinese Zodiac Signs, making a sharp contrast to the World Expo inShanghai. Besides, the exhibition involves stationary photos, dynamic photography and installation art. For example, The Peach Blossom Fan of Kunqu opera style and The Lady of the Camellias are played in video to exhibit respectively Eastern and Western culture. Desks for playing Mahjong are installed in the exhibition, too. I intended not only to try multiple elements of different fields, but also to fully show my works by involving photography, videotape, installation, behavior art to my audience. Many behavior artists tend to use photography to narrate their works, yet I use behavior and installation art to narrate my photography.
9. Thought Thinking, No Realms and Illusory Metamorphoses all combine religion and modern CT radiography. It is the continuation of your trials in combining photography and painting. So what you’re your initial inspiration and motifs?
In these three groups of works, I have used medical radiography, which is popularly used in medical science to take photos of human body through imitating the acoustic images of magnetic waves. To find first-hand material, I try every effort to collect X-ray photos. I even went to a hospital to get myself X-rayed to get a real experience of such photos. Finally, I collected more than 500 pieces. Then I replace the tissue in the brain, the chest and the pelvis with Buddhist statues. They are my attempts to combine photography with science and technology. In this way, my works can achieve both imaginary and real effects. In the meantime, I make my work painting-like. In the end, painting, photography and scientific technology come together to get intertwined and involved in each other and the effect is quite obvious.
10. Goldbach Conjecture contains various kinds of signs, such as currency symbols, CT, dices, and science formula. Are they the medium for you to express your idea on money and material wealth?
Actually, I name this series of works Goldbach Conjecture in that the relationship between money-oriented lives and human thought and science development is as simple as the great Goldbach Conjecture, yet it is extraordinarily difficult to be illustrated. I have used currency symbols, CT photos of brains, dices and science formula in my work to show how human thought, under the temptation of money and material wealth, control itself and seek healthy development, and how the SELF falls apart in the post-modern society.
11. Your conceptual photography Totems is based on historical totems. The major images shift from Obama, theUSpresident and the aborigines in Series I to animals in nature and famous architects in Series II. Why?
Series I of Obama and the aborigines and Series II of animals in nature and famous architects are collected in Totems, as they both involve the same artistic techniques. The most distinctive characteristic of these two series is their trials in various fields. However, their themes are different. I exaggerate the image of Obama in a sharp contrast to the aborigines ofAfrica, making it like a totem, in order to show the superiority of domineering West in global politics and culture and the inferiority of the passively assimilated non-Western, peripheral regions. It is the ancient totem culture that has inspired me to take the aborigines as the body part, to set it in a primitive environment and in a broad time space, and to find the teaching meaning of old history fables for our future. In Series II, I shift my focus to wild animals and historic relics in order to examine the relation between man and nature under our human culture discourse in the vertical axis of time. When nature is the visual centre, it clashes again with human beings in the boundless space with an imaginary setting.
1. In Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, your major program is oil painting and the minor program is Chinese painting, and your oil painting for graduation was auctioned for 37000 US dollars at Shanghai Grand Theatre. So why do you stop your oil painting?
Though some of my recent works are selected for auction, it is the auction of my graduation work that remains fresh in my memory. Whenever I thought of it, I was excited. As a green hand in art field, the successful auction of that work is the most favorable praise to me. At that time, all paintings are out of affections and enthusiasm of my inner heart, without any bothering from the outside world. I would say I was quite happy at that time. However, the first thing after graduation is how to make a living. Moreover, I am also responsible for taking care of my family. When I had to sell my painting for making a living, I gave it up, partly because I found myself under untold troubles and pressure, and partly because I was not capable of doing it. Therefore, I firmly turned to advertisement creative, a more practical job. In this way, I did not have to sell my painting. On the other hand, I could touch art every day. You know working life is different from school life. There is little time after work for art creation, yet it is easy to find time for little pieces of oil painting.
Can you share with us your dream that you maintain in your oil painting?
Actually, it is hard to tell what I am maintaining in painting. I am only sure what I am maintaining in art. Photography and painting are different artistic languages, yet my idea in art creation shall not change along with the artistic forms. I hope my works are valuable, and the value is contained in my self-reflection, my knowledge of society, my praise of the valuable and in my criticism of the negative. That is what I am maintaining in art creation.
In your work skillful, the concrete and the imaginary are juxtaposed; traditions and advanced technology are involved in each other. Is this what you are maintaining and exclaiming in your works?
In this series, I deconstructed traditional freedom and then took advantage of it. When modern society advances into visual-information-highly-developed society, no matter traditional, contemporary, Western or Eastern images, they can all be used by the artist freely. Art creation becomes the selecting, arranging, regrouping and converting of these signs. When I boldly quote, extract, repeat these traditional, classic episodes, it seems quite easy; yet I am measuring the relation between tradition and the contemporary, between history and the present, and that between the East and the West. When Duchamp, Marcel
 added beard onto the face of beautiful Mona Lisa, he’s not joking, but making attempts in modern living conditions and social values. At first, I intended to name my work Smuggling to mean the Western culture is smuggled by the East, and they two are embodied in different artistic languages. As my work not only focuses on the melting of Western and Eastern culture, but also on the comparison between traditional culture and contemporary culture, it seems that skillful is more appropriate. Classic figures, traditional culture, advanced technology, trendy fashion and present life are combined to express my understanding of history and the present.
You are always examining history, so what is its function in contemporary art and society?
Recent years has witnessed a heating debate on traditional culture: the contemporary is going against, or developing from the tradition; tradition is the basis for modern art; and our traditions cannot be accepted without any criticism. There are numerous exhibitions in the name of praising traditions. I insist modern art is not the replacement of traditional art. They are beneficial to each other. If traditional culture is deconstructed, extracted and applied in modern art, we would find more aesthetic values in modern art.
You do not adopt symbolization, but involve more abstract and subjective thoughts in your paintings, why?
A piece of fine art work is pregnant in meanings, which cannot be expressed only by a few symbols. When I am making painting, I would do the following. Firstly, original concepts in this piece of work would be carefully considered and tried. If there is little originality in a painting, it is meaningless to finish this piece of work. Modern art is multiple in creation techniques and allows more freedom of personal understandings of art. When I am taking advantage of history, I am examining both the tradition and the present life. Therefore, without any elements of classic tradition classic technique should lose its advantages and has no need to exist. I believe when classic techniques are maintained in painting, our audience can read our tradition in a new perspective and our tradition gain new meanings. Of course, I am also trying some modern techniques. Either positive or passive borrowing of techniques shall impair and deconstruct the originality, yet can such impairment and deconstruction shorten the distance between the tradition and the contemporary? I am motivated to find answers to the above questions.
2. Now is doing oil painting the way to cultivate yourmind and improve your character?
Actually, I have no successful oil painting. My works are only the best imitation of the classic by using oil painting techniques. I am to combine the prospect of traditional oil painting with modern reality. When art is legally capitalized and commercialized inChina, traditional art has lost its necessary and possible existence. Naturally, our modern people can never restore the images made by our ancestors. When we are talking about how to do the restoration work, it is a white lie. I borrow images from classic works, such as eagle image of
Zhu Da, a famous painter of the Ming Dynasty, horse image of Xu Beihong, the painter famous for his horse image, and shrimps of Ch’i Pai-shih, a famous modern painter ofChinaand etc. I melt these images in my painting, and juxtapose them with images of football, national emblem and Berlin Wall, in order to find new inspirations and meanings in modern culture.
Part Two Leader in Various Fields
Mr. Fu Wenjun is honored with many titles, such as national first-class photographer and senior craft artist. He is member of the China Photographers Association (CPA) and of the Professional Photographer Association of America(PPA). Moreover, he is the founder of two art studios: Big Photo and Independent Image, the general Manager and the Chief Creative Officer of Chongqing Zhengzong Ad Company, and the judge of various art contests. To Mr. Fu, varied social roles mean various social responsibilities and obligations, and compared with ordinary artists, he has a more profound understanding of art, social problems and on how to be a good leader of a company.
Mr.Fu, you are the forerunner of conceptual photography in the Southwestern region, so how do you think of the role of photography in modern art?
First, I should say thanks to my friends, as they affirm me with such an honored title, yet I am not fully qualified for such honor, even though I was among the first people to pick up conceptual photography and being the representative of the older generation. I believe photography, compared with painting and sculpture, is a new artistic language. It is melted, like other artistic media, into modern art creation by our artists to express ideas and thoughts of art and society.
2. You are the founder of two art studios: Dayin Studio and Independent Image Art Space. So what are their functions and orientation?
It is a long story and they two were established to meet my need for exhibiting my works. After having shot many big photos, I cannot find a place inChongqingto finish it, unless I took them toBeijing. So a studio is badly needed for my creation. After efforts of many years, my first studio, Dayin Studio was established. Then the next problem arose, namely where to exhibit my works. For this purpose, Independent Image Art Space was built up. I need a studio to read my works carefully and try to find new inspirations. As the latter studio is big enough, many of my friends came to me to exhibit their works. As time goes on, my studio becomes an independent exhibition place. As I am frequently engaged in the planning of exhibition, I have new understanding on art and its creation. Every time I visit an exhibition as an art director to read works of other artists, I cannot help rethinking of my works and art creation. New ideas come to my mind and I start to create new works. Finally, I am obliged to provide a studio for artists to exhibit their works, or rather their talents.
What is your focus of art creation and how about your exhibition plans in 2013?
As to art creation, I shall continue to combine painting with photography. When it comes to exhibition plans, I have decided to attend the 35th Art ExpoNew Yorkin March, the Venice Biennial in June and the World Outstanding Chinese Artists Exhibition inHong Kongand Lianzhou International Photos in December. Besides, I shall make a solo exhibition between July and August.
 Duchamp, Marcel (1887-1968), French paintist, the forerunner of Dadaism. He is famous for his work “ Mona Lisa with Beard”.