Chambers Fine Art is pleased to announce the opening on March 3, 2020 of Guo Hongwei: Pareidolia. Guo Hongwei (born 1982) graduated from the Oil painting Department of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2004, and currently lives and works in Beijing. Since his first exhibition at Chambers Fine Art, Things, in 2009, Guo has worked in a wide range of media including oil painting, collage, and video, but unusually for an artist of his generation, he has always had a particular affinity with water-color. He first gained wide recognition for his large-scale watercolors depicting objects from the natural world depicted with scrupulous fidelity in the exhibitions Painting is Collecting I, II, III at Chambers Fine Art in 2012.
Painting is Collecting is an ongoing exploration of humankind’s curiosity concerning the world in which they live and the classification and understanding of the relationships between the infinite variety of animals, insects, plants and minerals. Not only has Guo Hongwei visited natural history museums and botanical gardens with their ancient herbaria, he has also read widely in historical literature and developed a keen appreciation of the artistry of botanical illustrators of previous centuries. From this vast amount of material, Guo selects certain images that appeal to him as a result of their cultural patina, often creating arrangements of his own that show his interest in tracking relationships between closely related forms. Whether representing insects, minerals, leaves or other botanical specimens, he showed a preference for linear arrangements although as he commented himself at the time, his intention had little or nothing to do with the scientific accuracy of traditional botanical illustration.
For the re-emergence of his investigation of watercolor after several years in which he concentrated on oil painting, Guo has gathered the individual works under the general heading of Pareidolia, a technical term that refers to the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern, for example seeing shapes in clouds, and seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns. A widely known example of this phenomenon is the Rorschach inkblot test. This tendency is often manifested in the composition of Guo Hongwei’s watercolors, as he intuitively arranges his subjects into rows and patterns.
His fascination with natural objects including plants, animals and minerals has led him to examine his subjects from an ever expanding number of approaches, differentiating subtle differences between species of insects, documenting changes in the appearance of color in minerals, to researching the healing properties of plants, all of which he captures in his richly rendered watercolors on paper. In one group of works Remedies for Sorrow No. I, 3, and 4 (Remedy for Depression, Cough Remedy, Spirit Healing respectively), he arranges the ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine in fanciful arrangements that solicit multiple interpretations.
Guo’s research also leads him into unexpected areas. For example, in Fig.1 of Affine Transformation, he employs a mathematical approach in his depiction of small seeds seen from various perspectives. In mathematics the word “affine” may be defined as allowing for or preserving parallel relationships.” In Guo’s watercolor, the painted sunflower seeds are all geometrically related to one another, although their appearance changes throughout the artwork. The seeds are slowly transformed as they move across the painting’s composition through a combination of reflection, rotation, scaling, and translation, a visual representation of the artist turning the object over and over in his hands.
Although there are numerous exceptions, traditionally watercolor has been reserved for informal studies and small-scale works. Guo Hongwei appreciates the fluidity and transparency of the medium but is prepared to place a greater burden on it, exaggerating its qualities in order to transform the physical characteristics of the objects he chooses to paint. In Plant No.9, the artist’s extraordinarily inventive handling of the watercolor medium is on full display; rows of leaves are freely arranged, the minute differences between them beautifully replicated by the subtle adjustments of color and density of pigment.
In 2013, Guo Hongwei was included in the landmark group exhibition ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice at UCCA, Beijing. His works have also been shown at Shanghai Zendai MoMA (2007 and 2006), Today Art Museum, Beijing (2007), the Shanghai Biennale (2012), CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, (2012), Orange County Museum of Art (2015), Tokyo Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions (2016), and the Shenzhen Bi-city Biennial (2019).