Jiannan Huang: A Chinese Blue Chip Artist with Accumulation of World Art Language.
Updated: Jun 9
by Richard Wearn, Professor of Art at California State University, Los Angeles
Beverly Hills, California, USA. 26th May, 2021. Jiannan Huang’s latest series of paintings are a culmination of observations and experiences drawn from a life time pursuing a vision that we may describe as existential. The Aristotelian proposition of praxis creating its own theory is entirely relevant to our understanding of his work. The confluence of multiple approaches including the traditions of Chinese Ink painting, and an assimilation of the capacities of western modernism create a unique metaphysics in Jiannan Huang painting practice - the act of painting itself has formed its own unique theoretical understanding.
In advance of providing a vantage point to view Jiannan Huang’s paintings, I would like to offer some thoughts that may augment your personal connection to Huang’s work, and indeed works of art in general.
My current research into aesthetics suggests that the traditions in the west have tracked us to a place where we may have missed the point altogether - the point being the work itself is its own manifestation, and thus philosophical pathways to it have in fact obscured the inherent uniqueness of the Artwork itself. Our approach to the Artwork has become ideated either as a reduction down to its isolated constituent parts, deconstructed to somehow reveal a truer version of itself in atomistic fashion, OR extrapolated outwardly and understood in terms of its phenomenal and sociological effects. Both are engaged in forms of reductionism, even though they reduce the object in opposite directions. Both trajectories tend to confuse the artwork with its significant internal, and visible external environments, respectively. Both of these reductions attempt to convert the artwork into the conditions through which we may know it or verify it.
"Inextricably Linked" by Jiannan Huang
For a moment I would like to give consideration to a space of understanding that is not accessible through reducibility. In so doing, we accept the classic terms of ‘philosophia’, that is a quest for wisdom, as opposed to the wisdom as something in itself. This encompasses the way we come to an artwork, or a manifestation of anything that presents newness to us. These terms are an acknowledging of the proposition of ‘philosophia’ in its classical form: that being “the ‘real’ cannot be known, it may only be loved” This does not mean access to what is real about art is impossible, only that our approach will be indirect. Another way to say this is that reductionist aesthetic traditions have withdrawn the artwork from all human and inhuman access, it is only made accessible by allusion and allure. As in erotic conversation, composed of hint, allusion, ‘come on’ and innuendo - it is rendered ‘unerotic’ if reduced to clearly articulated propositions, declarative statements or instructions. In this way thinking is never really thinking unless it realizes its approach to any form of Art work can only ever be oblique.
Most critical approaches to artwork are premised on phenomenology or correlated to a sensorial investigation. This tends to reproduce an orthodoxy of thought and historic relationship of the artwork to the world. However, with a wider awareness of what an art work may present for us comes the realization that these aesthetic traditions have in fact created a recapitulation of our understanding of art into a rarified and enclosed consideration. I propose that the western critical tendency to reduce artworks to effects or component parts has distracted away from the actual artwork itself, we try to pull it apart, or view it in terms of sociology.
Movement into a new cultural space often produces the extensions necessary to break new ground of understanding. For example – Walter Benjamin, a key figure of twentieth century cultural thought, derailed Hegelian dialectics through the theorizing of his “constellation” by use of the Kabalic mystercism. This proposition sits comfortably with Jiannan Huang’s artwork. Although limited in an understanding of Tao, I detect that its tenets are relevant to an opening up of a space of understanding within his work, and this serves as a deflection of the western tendency to theorize reductively; down and away through effects, as in phenomenology; and also through a reductive breaking down to components or atomization as a form of verification.
"Earth Code" by Jiannan Huang
Jiannan Huang’s work may be filtered through the active history of China’s rich and immense cultural life. In terms of the visual arts, an ongoing questioning of the primacy of the "Ink Art" tradition has dominated the artistic discourse in China throughout the twentieth century as it negotiated European modernism. Chinese Ink Art is the oldest co-herent tradition of image making on the planet, having maintained a self-referencing epistemology initiated around 400AD. The inevitability of western modernist influence lead to a cultural protectionism, on the one hand and a regulated acceptance of the western modernist tradition on the other. Reflected in the curricula of the Chinese Art Academies, where Guohua (Chinese-style painting), and Xihua (Western- style painting) are to this day, segregated and distinctive approaches. Chinese Art Academies have placed Guohua and Xihua into separate departments with distinctive curricula. These separate streams of artistic context also dominate the professional field. Noteworthy, yet not directly applicable to Jiannan Huang’s practice, is the rise of a third “Globalized” Art, that emerged in the 1980s "experimental ink painting” or Shiyan Shuimo. Other forms of Shiyan Shuimo utilize typical Post Modern strategies such as appropriation and institutional critique within their specific forms of practice.
Mr. Huang’s painting practice is the expansion of preoccupations of both Guohua and Xihua simultaneously, giving rise to a new visual language that is both intrinsic to the craft of painting in both instances, and also extrinsic by way of its allusionistic and semiotic conditions. Mr. Huang’s iterations of pictorial space, that is both western modernist in intent and traditional in terms of Guohua, and indeed allusionistic and literal in reference. The work is a successful confluence of these approaches, which are typically separated.
Jiannan Huang is a self-taught artist, his paintings are grounded in a vision that was informed equally by his personal and self- guided scholarship, and his witnessing of the seismic historic, social and political shifts that China has undergone in his life time.
Western artists who did not undergo a formal training are designated as “outsider”. I have often thought this term to be oppressive and designed to re-enforce a cultural and economic hierarchy that has evolved from the exclusionary processes of Modernism. In my view this terminology should be inverted. An “Insider” Artist is one that is motivated by the seeking of a deeper authenticity of experience, a rejection of institutionalized orthodoxies, replaced by the embrace of the sensory pleasure of existence. This existentialism is easily traceable in Mr. Huang’s practice - he walked and journeyed extensively spending a large part of his life trekking across China, his journey through out its vastness was the creation of an art form grounded in the sensory. Jiannan Huang’s paintings arise from the practice of life. Often we think of expression as an end game, a definitive and readable statement of inner feeling. Through paint Mr. Huang, brings the ineffable to expression, as opposed to expressing a particular something.
"The Sky of the Sky" by Jiannan Huang
Mr. Jiannan Huang painterly innovations coexist, vibrating on the same field, the picture plane to Huang is a vast expanse through which we pass. Our senses are reminded of levity, the possibility of zero gravity as his image field floats and undulates. The vibration in Mr. Huang’s work and its dynamic handling registers an authentic and spontaneous energy. His autographic directness coalesces to a form. Paradoxically, this non – objective process also successfully delivers imagery. The accumulations of Jiannan Huang’s memories and his knowledge is substantiated not in a directly referential co-ordination, but are enmeshed in various processes of formal emergence. Cosmological in feel, Mr. Huang’s paintings evoke the universe and its multi-dimensional limitlessness – “the multiverse”. At all times the spatial relationship to the picture plane and its allusion is adjusted to the painting’s surface qualities. Jiannan Huang brings to expression a sublime and shimmering edge of the infinite, that emerges from the physicality of his painted surface.
About Richard Wearn
Richard Wearn is a Professor of Art at California State University, Los Angeles, and a visual artist who specializes in sculpture. From New Zealand, Richard has a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the University of Auckland, and a Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Southern California (USC). Richard Wearn's artwork has been exhibited throughout the world and is held in many private and international collections including the Fidelity Corporation in Boston, The Kantor Collection in Beverly Hills, Leonardo DiCaprio's collection, and Charles Desmarais, Art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.