This painting is from a series of images called “Under Construction” which began in about 2004, mining the urban Chinese landscape for imagery in various mediums, including oil, pencil, digital, tempera, photography, and mixed media. Some of the issues that influence the work are expressed in this excerpt from the annotation of a forthcoming project called Leaves and Bricks:
“We cannot see the wind, but for the trees. It comes and goes, and the leaves are the voice of its movement over the earth.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, all of China began a great movement to industrialize and turn their iron in to ingots useful for a government preparing for possibilities of war and development. The movie “To Live” (1994) by ZhangYimou has a memorable scene where an artist must give his metal shadow puppets to the village leaders in response to this national need. He does so, it is a good natured though poignant interchange, as he relinquishes his art and trade.
If you listen to the stories the elders in a countryside village in southwest China tell, you may hear them say, “When we were young, these mountainsides were covered with trees that you couldn’t wrap your arms around.” Down by the village well, or on the bank of the local river you may still see an ancient witness to this: a tree scarred and ribboned, so thick 3 people could not stretch themselves around its girth, hand to hand. Now, most mountains are bare. Some areas are protected natural resources, but full of much younger growth, and others are sacred mountains, forests hiding temples and well trodden paths.
In the treeless age, China is moving into the cities, and urban growth is explosive; the rapid change in the Chinese urban landscape is astounding. At the intersection of the demolition of already decrepit architecture from the 70s and 80s and the buildings currently being constructed, there is an interesting phenomenon of past being recycled into the future. Visually, the new massive forms in the construction sites that fill the horizon are quite impressive: hulking cement skeletons wrapped in green cloth and irregular grids of bamboo scaffolding. Old buildings in the construction sites are demolished by itinerant workers who are paid per brick to recycle and stack still usable bricks for future use. At night, blooms of torchlight appear from within the fabric, and clothes hung out to dry in the uppermost unfinished floors of a building evidence their presence. Daylight reveals wide swaths of brick and rubble remains, re-organized to appear as if they were memorials to fallen buildings, or rough maquettes of buildings to come.
What happens during the transformation from slum to resort? Ethereal memorials wrought by invisible artists–the craftsmanship of these itinerant construction workers. In these surreal sites, we feel ourselves treading a moving line of balance between chaos and order, as these humble piles of reclaimed rubble seem to ask the question long echoed by leaves of trees: Where do you come from, and where are you going?”