The Essence of a Stroke
By Li Bangyao
An artist draws a line day after day, year after year. He does this repeatedly and everything starts and ends with a line. What do you think he is doing? Ordinary people might say ”he is absolutely crazy”. Although I may have not completely understood the artist's mind, I will not say he is a freak. The rationale is simple, the artist should have no problem feeding himself, but it doesn't mean he has nothing to do. He has to work, raise the family, and of course, paint.
The artist is Ke Jipeng.
Ever since 2005 Ke started his abstract painting works and now ten years have passed. Generally there are two stages in his practice. The second one started in 2010. He started to draw lines, parasitic and black and white lines that covered each other. He wouldn't stop until he was satisfied. Sometimes I was thinking: how can someone be drawing the same line repeatedly for five years? Isn't that a bit too boring? In terms of painting, one can get much more satisfaction and happiness by painting a real object and usually that is easier to explain. In addition, artists need inspiration. They could spend the whole day in a studio and do nothing and sometimes they can keep on working and let the time flow. Is that a universal fact? What propels an artist to draw the same line day after day for years? It is emotions? Are emotions reliable enough? Sometimes I doubt such claims.
Every time, when I left Ke's studio, I would ask myself, what was the difference between this line and the line we saw last time? Ke always smiled and remained slient. Then it dawned on me that the lines implied an attitude and understanding of life. Later Ke Jipeng sent me an essay he wrote: ” For me the simplest lines were marks. When I tried to repeat it I was using the combination of hand and time. The intensive movements of time was a reflection of abstract painting. The hand had no linguistic sense in the abstract form of behavior. It was nothing more than a form of a labor process and rituals.” (1). This is consistent with my knowledge and opened my eyes to understand his works: the movements of hands allowed time to leave traces of the substance and the traces were recorded. This is somewhat similar to the ripples on the ECG, the waves record the state of a living body in the course of time. Yet the movement of hands is a comfortable and prepared action. In this course of action, the artist must set some limits for himself and try to make their actions under certain restrictions to achieve the desired result. So Ke Jipeng used only black and white colours, two brushes and diluted paint. He set the standard that the errors can not be more than 5 mm in horizontal line. Then he started drawing the lines over and over again. As time went by the lines formed different directions and texture effects of varying thickness, similar to ”accumulated ink” in Chinese painting. The start and the end formed ”fortuitous” time points. These time points were recorded in the marks, ”I can not predict the right time when it comes, like I can not predict what will happen tomorrow. Generally I repeat the same simple thing.” (2)
Some people might ask: what is the meaning of doing this? It is so boring. A lot of people might say: I did such and such today and I didn't waste any time. I've got a lot to do. Every day people are looking for the meaning of life. They sign in at work every day, do the same thing, invest in stocks and real estate, watch entertainment programs and soap operas, walk in and out of debauchery. Then one day someone tells you that life is the process of ”working” and life is filled with such process. You may be reluctant to accept the reality: is life that simple? They always believe that there is meaning in art, or at least you should tell them that there is artistic pursuit. However Ke Jipeng did not think so. He believed that ”Artists always hope that the audience can find philosophical thinking in the works and they tend to create something difficult to understand. They are worried that once the works lose the meaning they become inaction and fall into the stereotypes. (3) In such an established framework we make our efforts to construct a value or understood judgment and hope to achieve a high degree of a philosophical or aesthetic sense. We frantically put all things related and unrelated together and force some seemingly far-reaching implications into it.
The pursuit for the significance of the works and the practice-oriented operations made us easily ignore the possibility that abstract painting itself was actually a process of labor. (4) So up until this point we can understand Ke's point: the meaning of a painting is not always necessary. When the painting is just a tool used to carry material movement, the essence behind it begins to show. The form of abstract painting and the process of labor is a different inner understanding and the seemingly repetitive manner is an empty shell. The sense of working, the directions of the lines and the marks left us with the ink and recorded the time consumed in the process. The individual time points were recorded and the sense of presence is there.
In the Western tradition, the right ideas come from the methodology and logical reasoning. The Western abstract painting follows a clear logic and context, the people follow the authority of the same law that can be made public and shared by all: the meaning of life, the value of thought and artistic styles. It is easy to classify and there is nothing wrong about it. However, some abstract painters have different goals and methods, and even ideology and lifestyles. Ke belongs to this type of artists. He is more influenced by the traditional oriental culture. In traditional oriental culture, there is no need for a logical way to interpret the answer of life. The human body and mind are into one to achieve inner freedom. These are the common expressions in Zen, ”enlightenment” and ”self.” Ke mentioned that ”I tried to deconstruct the objective image and the I started collecting the nothingness. The movement of hands is the story of painting and the record of the time and labor consumed. In this way I get an understanding of painting”. (5) The personal sentiment and freedom is the key to understand his life. The true life lies in finding pleasure and significance in the so-called behavior.
Over the past five years Ke Jipeng repeated the same work day in and day out. It will be hasty generalisation to say that the lines are his marks. His labour and time is recorded in the lines, not the painting itself. The lines are mere carriers and attitude. The movements of hands are recorded on the objects. The lines, scars, scratches are forms of behavior. The stacking of lines expands the force and the behavior is inaction.
This seemingly tedious work is a meditation experience. It is different from Sisyphus (6) and the spirit of ”Foolish Old Man” (7)
It is hard to keep calm in repeated work and that needs talent. It is similar to being a farmer: plowing, sowing, weeding, fertilizing, harvesting, and then plowing, sowing, weeding, fertilizing and harvesting. It alienated from the madness in reality and interest. That perception of life is the true state of a control that originated in the heart of the self-nature, poised and knowing.
Guangzhou Hanjing Studio
(1) - (5) Keji Peng: Narration of Nothingness - My Abstract Painting Practice
(6) Sisyphus is a character in Greek mythology.He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.- the gods thought that such invalid hopeless labor was harsh punishment. Sisyphus's life depleted in useless and hopeless labor.
(7) It was recorded in Liezi. According to the myth, a Foolish Old Man of 90 years who lived near a pair of mountains. He was annoyed by the obstruction caused by the mountains and sought to dig through them with hoes and baskets. When questioned as to the seemingly impossible nature of his task, the Foolish Old Man replied that while he may not finish this task in his lifetime, through the hard work of himself, his children, and their children, and so on through the many generations, some day the mountains would be removed if he persevered ?