For the Armory Show, Chambers Fine Art is pleased to present work by four artists–Cui Fei, Guo Hongwei, Song Hongquan, and Fu Xiaotong–all of whom whether directly or indirectly turn to the natural world for inspiration. From the use and scrutiny of minute details to the evocation of biological forms, the area where nature and humanity intersect is what unites these artists.
For her precisely organised independent works and installations New York-based Cui Fei utilises natural materials such as thorns or grape tendrils that suggest parallels with calligraphy or printed matter depending on the nature of the materials she uses. A graduate of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art in Hangzhou, China, she moved to the United States in 1996 and has been resident here ever since. Cui Fei's favoured materials are natural materials such as vines, twigs and tendrils that she gathers herself.
In the current exhibition works from Read by Touch and Manuscript of Nature are notably different in impact. In the former thorns from black locust or honey locust trees and rose bushes are presented in horizontal lines representing units of time, the invitation to read by touch emphasising the possibility of a painful encounter with the wickedly sharp thorns. In the latter, dried grape tendrils are aligned vertically, resembling Chinese calligraphy strokes written in 'grass style'. Cui Fei is deeply responsive to aspects of traditional Chinese culture and philosophy which permeate her work, recognising the essential role that calligraphy played in the development of Chinese civilisation and using it as a constant reference whatever form her work takes.
Born in Hebei Province in 1978, Song Hongquan is the son of a noted stone carver and unusually matured as an artist outside the academic system that is still so powerful in China. Growing up in rural China, Song's earliest body of work reflected this environment rather than the familiarity with current trends in contemporary art that he would have absorbed if he had attended art school.
In After the Stone Age (2011) he carved highly realistic replicas of stone carving tools, a practice he continued in other groupings of carvings of implements, tools etc. and sets of vernacular furniture such as stools and low tables. Turning to marble for his next major body of work Units presented at Chambers Fine Art in 2013, and Clouds in 2017, Song turned away from the minute scrutiny of everyday objects that characterised his stone carvings to svelte enlargements of many different kinds of seeds in Units and a fungus associated with certain kinds of bamboo used in Ayurvedic medicine in Clouds. Inadvertently, these exquisitely carved stone unitary carvings frequently paralleled the biomorphic forms of such modern masters as Jean Arp and Constantin Brancusi.
Guo Hongwei has achieved wide renown for his mastery of the watercolour technique, culminating in large-scale watercolours depicting objects from the natural world depicted with scrupulous fidelity. Even although Guo Hongwei's paintings have become increasingly colourful and painterly, they are painstakingly constructed and subject to numerous drastic revisions during the process of execution. Guo has spoken of the way in which each brushstroke can change the entire composition, however strong the methodology of the artist. Rather than attempting to replicate the three-dimensional qualities of objects through the fusion of multiple brushstrokes, closely related in tonality, he constructs them through an accumulation of painterly inventions, each one highly distinctive.
Guo's recent oil paintings are an exploration of the material essence of the objects he depicts. Mixing his oil paints with a variety of different varnishes and experimenting with megilp, a mixture of mastic resin and linseed oil widely used in the 19th century, Guo Hongwei is able to create 'confined' brushstrokes which can be manipulated separately in order to create different textures and forms. He carefully lays down each brushstroke in response to the appearance of the objects he depicts–a piece of fruit wrapped in plastic and enlarged until it is unrecognisable–and adds a metaphorical layer through the choice of poetic and allusive titles.
Except in her sculpture, colour is absent from the paper works of Fu Xiaotong. For her, paper is not a surface on which to paint but rather a material to be explored by countless thousands of pinpricks that result in ambiguous forms that suggest the forces of nature, or biological structures. Her recent paper works are characterised by an evolution in her technique and a transition in her imagery from the landscape motifs with which she was most closely associated to a more abstract language of forms. No longer using a limited repertoire of directional pinpricks according to predetermined plans, she now starts from the centre and works in a circular rhythm, softening the sturdy paper until it results in a pronounced three-dimensional surface. These undulating surfaces evoke a multitude of associations, organic, cellular, human or animal skin, breaking waves or breast-like forms that recall an important aspect of the work of Louise Bourgeois.
Although the natural world has always been important to Fu Xiaotong as a source of inspiration, she gives equal importance to the procedure she uses in the creation of her works, choosing to title them according to the number of pinpricks required. Although the relationship of her work to traditional Chinese motifs is self-evident, it is also instructive to consider it in relation to artists such as Roman Opalka (1931–2011) who began painting numbers from one to infinity in 1965 or a work such as One Million Years (1999) by On Kawara (1932–2014). Through her obsessive daily practice, she revitalises a theme that has been so important throughout Chinese history.