2014 October | Art as Person – Cen Long and his Paintings

Commenting on Cen Long’s art is easy as his paintings are everything of his daily life. They are his life. You can understand his art if you walk into his life. However, commenting on his paintings is not easy as his life is definitely rich and plump. Walking into someone’s daily life is certainly not easy either, not to mention to walk into his life. I am a lucky man though, because of certain reasons, I could walk nearby his daily life and watch some of his life. When I started to write, I felt that interpreting his paintings seems to be redundant as the paintings themselves can explain everything.

Still, we must first talk about him as the person. As recorded in “Han Fei Tzi, Lao Tze and the Analogy of Lao”, Confucius consulted Lao Tze while he was traveling around Chou, while the latter made some allegoric statements. When Confucius left Lao Tze, he told his disciples the following: “Bird, I know it can fly; fish, I know it can swim; beast, I know it can run. The beasts that run can be captured by a net; the fish that swim can be catch by a thread; the birds that fly can be shot down by an threaded arrow. As to the dragon, I cannot know for its rising up to sky via winds and clouds. Today I saw Lao Ze and he is a dragon to me!” I have no intention to compare Lao Tze and Cen Long as they are not comparable. Lao Ze is someone who despises art, while Cen Long is addicted to smoking. He would never leave a cigarette. Most importantly, he is addicted to art as he has a natural sensitivity and adoration towards art. However, there are some characteristics promulgated by the Taoists that can be found on Cen Long: that is, the nature of simplicity. Take smoking as the example. He smokes, but he never asks for any brand or price. He just smokes and that is enough. Therefore, he is not addicted, but a natural demand and expression of life. He is the only one that I have ever met who is not pretentious. Cen Long has over-abundant experiences that cannot be summarized. Those rich experiences did not made him more complex but on the contrary, particularly simple. His simplicity is almost pedantic, while his compassion has no principle at all. Thus, he is not scheming and is willing to help others. Whatever you ask, he will answer to the extreme that he would delay his things. For the animals, he would prepare food for the birds that visit his window or be in grief for the branch that the gardener cut off which reduces the place for the bird to stay. He lived in France, Japan and Ukraine. In China, he was in the countryside, serving for the military service, teaching at junior high schools and working as a fireman in the steamer. Later, he began studying at college as to become a professional artist. He taught at universities and finally, before the opening of the market economy, he left the system and work for his life. It was not until now that we could give him a title: a free artist.

He has experienced the 85 Fine Arts Trend. In 1987, he attended the first China Oil Painting Exhibition and his works were nominated at the 7th and 8th National Art Exhibition. With his experience and qualifications, he would definitely be at the comfort zone. With his proficiency at the language of painting, he could keep painting and establish a style that shall be imitated by the others. He has tried certain genres of Modernism and received others’ approvals. He is capable to be at the contemporary edge. However, he chose neither of both but to stick to himself. It is not holding his own ground, but to ponder, to explore, to seek within his ground. The works exhibited this time are all his believes, the fruits from his explorations.

From the formats, his works have some trace of classic paintings, even some features of the ancient genre paintings originated from the nurture of the Western classical paintings. You can even scrutinize some traces of Western masters’ influences. However, they are all superficial. He kept his exquisite observation of life and a painting style with his passion over his works, real and spirited. He has an impressive understating and proficient management of the oil painting language, but he pursues a Chinese style. He actually achieved it. We can see the texture of the brushworks, like the expression of the Chinese landscape paintings. From the theme, he is illuminated by the shimmering humanistic lighting as he pays attention to the ground floor, the daily, and the remote ethnic minorities.

From the classical works, we do not only obtain a visual pleasure but also a story where we can learn lessons. From the modern works, we are impressed by the simplicity of the formats. Till today, the simplicity and pleasure format and appearance disappear, but we come back to the question from the diversified visual amazements: how can we position Cen Long’s works?

For an artist who is highly sensitive to the era, Cen Long has a heartfelt understanding of contemporary art as he has a unique interpretation. With his accomplishments and artistic abilities, it is not a problem for him to master different media and artistic languages. However, he told me once very touching words. He said that he used to have many friends in the past who were not familiar with art, yet they followed my works and liked arts. He had to draw something that they could understand. This understanding has defined his simple, natural and lively style. Understanding is to understand the content conveyed by the image and this content is what contemporary arts particularly emphasized on. Cen Long is authentic as he does not pursue the contemporary on purpose. He cares not about others’ opinions about him being contemporary or not. However, his mind proposes many questions through his paintings which have already reduced many of the storylines. These questions are concerned about different issues such as suffering, survival, land, eternal, center, edge, ethnicity, nationalism, sublimation, and beyond. All these are what contemporary China lacks of. His works possess the meaning of contemporary.

The outlook and the inner side of his works might not be consistent, yet the inner spirit has always been the same: compassionate with sorrow but not sadness. It is a long hesitation of the ancient ethnic group with thousands of years of civilization in the contemporary society. Therefore, I did not have any comment over his work, but I hope the viewers to walk into his works. When you walk into the artist’s life, you can certainly read your own life through the works as well as the destiny of the ethnic group.

Author / Liu Maoping
Liu Maoping / Art theorist, professor of Hubei Institute of Fine Arts