"Reinforced Concrete Jungle" - The Taoism of Urbanization and the Artistry of Jiannan Huang
"Reinforced Concrete Jungle" by LABA Blue-chip artist Jiannan Huang (2018)
In Jiannan Huang’s ink painting, "Reinforced Concrete Jungle,” there is the artistic depiction of urbanization, which is impacting cities and countries around the world as populations increasingly move from rural to urban areas. Huang's concept for the painting is based on the Chinese philosophy of “Taoism”, the harmony between mankind and nature, and showing the harsh realities of today's densely populated cities that continue to grow and destroy the the environment. Skyscrapers are getting taller and green spaces and trees are disappearing as modernization and reinforced concrete buildings take over the cities. Urbanization has been highly influenced by the notion that cities can achieve higher economic and social advantages compared to rural areas, and provide better education, healthcare, housing, and job opportunities. Yet, the idea of an traditional home as the desired human environment with the beautiful surroundings of nature, or “Yishanbangshui”, one that relies on water and mountains nearby, is still considered the ideal spiritual home that has been passed down for thousands of years in China. In traditional Chinese "fengshui" theory, the principles of environmental harmony, “yin” and “yang” balance, water, and symmetry are among the elements to achieve harmony and balance. It has roots in early Taoism and is still popular today, having spread to other cultures. However, today we see how these reinforced concrete buildings have displaced nature and are piled up and compressed into urban and concrete jungles that continue to grow without bounds, often consuming and degrading the environment. According to the UN-Habitat, published by the United Nations, cities currently consume 78 percent of the world's energy and produce more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which has lead to air pollution, deforestation, climate change, and an unhealthy life.
The "Reinforced Concrete Jungle” is a statement of what is happening in urban areas and Huang is showing the discourse with Taoism and the principles of ancient Chinese philosophy that is endangering mankind and the environment. His painting shows a contemporary vision of urbanization in a bold and abstract manner that combines his artistry and unique expressionistic style. The geometric lines and vivid colors in shades of bright orange and yellow, define the concrete buildings that are reaching beyond the sunlight and upward to the sky. The contrasting shades of blue, are the mountains and smaller buildings that dwarfed below them and are overly crowded together, and circling the skyscrapers. The large geometric color blocks are juxtaposed and smaller blocks fade off the edges of the painting showing the boundless growth beyond. At first glance, the skyscrapers capture your interest as they form a bold and powerful presence that is warmed by the glowing sunlight. However, in his painting, Huang wants to communicate to the viewer that mother nature has been ruthlessly torn apart, replaced with reinforced concrete and steel. The beautiful landscapes, vegetation, and open spaces have been swept up by skyscrapers. There are no plants, flowers, birds, fish, insects, birds, or beasts in his painting and no vitality or spirit in this landscape. He wants people to remember that nature is the place where mankind was born and has been the cradle of mankind's survival. In fact, the ancestors spent a long time living in nature and embraced the forests, lush vegetation, streams, lakes, and mountains. In his painting, the once harmonious existence and spirit is gone and can no longer breed a healthy life. When the concrete and steel-reinforced forest expands infinitely, the harmony between heaven and earth will be gone forever. What to do?
In this sense, the philosophical thinking behind Huang’s “Reinforced Concrete Jungle” is like that of Zong Bing (375-443 A.D.), the famous painter and scholar from the Song Dynasty who was one of the earliest landscape painters and spent much of his traveling across China. At that time, the traditional elements of Chinese art were defined as depicting the beauty of nature, praising vitality, observing the laws of the universe, and showing the spirit of heaven and earth. However, Bing thought that landscape painting should not have these limitations, but should also express the artist’s feelings in order to have vitality. According to Huang, "All life is shown without life, and life is springing up without life. Urbanization should not be at the expense of the environment and nature. In fact, both should be symbiotic and mutually enhancing. We need to think about our future and the future of mankind."