Let's start with the change since you moved back to Beijing. Do you think your working context has changed, and how do you find the subject matter/dialogue you work with?
I think the impact on work after moving back to Beijing is quite big. The physical space and cultural environment of Beijing are very different to that of London. Beijing is huge and loosely, but effectively, organised; London is small and compact, and functions with exquisite structure. As changes in the external environment affect myself, then naturally they affect my work. The dialogue in my work always takes place between me and the physicality of oil painting. Therefore, a certain degree of pressure has been added to the work itself, but the continuity of works has not broken down.


Artists may not be obliged to respond accordingly to changes in their surroundings, but environmental changes can indeed affect many aspects of our existence as individuals. Can you say a few words about your feelings regarding your move back to Beijing two two years ago (2015)? Especially in the final two or three months of last year, the burden of reality suddenly became so great that it seemed as if everyone was involved, and you were also forced to move out of your studio.
Living in Beijing, one has to face immeasurable uncertainty. For example, a wasteland can be turned into skyscrapers; People are forced to leave the place in which they have lived for years with only a very short notice. Everywhere, what you see is new, spacious and abstract. I like to see the places in whiuch people have lived for a long time, to see the signs of confrontation, dialogue and even reconciliation between people and their living environment. That shows people's attitudes towards space. Nowadays, in each city, everything is too new to make people feel real.The burden of reality has always been there, and it is hard to realise the weight of this burden until it comes into our lives. Sometimes it is overwhelming. But it is not necessarily a good or a bad thing. This is the environment we live in: we may make good art, but we can also make bad art.For me, the burden is more that of the baby being born. I do not have any special concerns about the studio. The large, high-ceiling, low-cost studios on the outskirts of the city will disappear as the city grows (we may need to adapt to a new normal: moving to large studios far from the city or return to apartments in the city itself.) Many London-based artists have made a great artwork with 10 to 20sqm studios. Art is like weeds, it grows everywhere.

谢谢,我相信小生命会给我的工作、生活都会带来很多变化的。我的创作和我的性格是休戚相关,之前在附中的时候花了很多时间练习书法,又对自己性格的形成起到了重要作用,我练习虞世南的书法,虞书中中正,冲和,含蓄中含刚硬的气质对我的表达方式有很大影响,我也一直觉得,创作者应该退后一步,给作品留一些暧昧,模糊不清的地带,要好过去呐喊,去宣示。我在画面中不追求视觉的刺激与冲击,而是试图在创造一个似乎平静的世界,让人沉浸其中,同时会留一些线索提供解读的可能。我思考的起点并不是文字,而是自己和画面的关系,画面自身的结构,画面的空间关系,在画面之中建立秩序。《白画林》是我一开始进行创作时候的作品, 我请同学做模特,有两个并不露脸的形象,有意无意的我也用了同一个模特,在完成的时候为了加强幽深的感觉,又加重了树林的阴影。回头看来和和现在作品是有联系的。中间有一段时间我进行了绘画形式上的实验,将现实生活代入3d的游戏场景中,再写生屏幕,就是我的模拟人生系列。在这个系列进行时,我逐渐感觉到我对画面中人物微妙的心理变化感兴趣,而彼时用绘画模仿3D语言表达细腻的感受方面有受限,便停下来做版画,在速写本上不断的实验之后,发现这种表达方式比较契合自己的想法,在创作中逐渐地形成了现在的面貌。

Congratulations on becoming a dad, and may the coming of a new life will inspire many worthwhile experiences. However, your creations seem to be more introverted, the dialogue being held at the iceberg and bass level, with very few parts of the surface. Let's talk about your thinking. How, three or four years ago, did you started to paint such a double image? Although this topic is somewhat philosophical, your execution of specific details is more based on the details of the image itself, the body’s gesture, the arrangement of figures, etc. Can you talk about how you established these ideas? And how did you develop them?
Thank you. I believe that my new-born will bring many changes both in my life and my work. My work and my character are deeply related. When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time practicing calligraphy, which played an important role in the formation of my character. The calligraphy of Yu Shinan was my role model. The characteristic of his calligraphy is that it is moderate, upright, humble, but firm and strong inside. It had a great impact on my form of expression. Also, I think that artists should take a step back, and leave some ambiguous areas in their work. It is better to suggest than to declare. Instead of pursuing visual stimuli and shocks in paintings, I try to create a seemingly calm world that immerses people, while also leaving some clues to provide the possibility of interpretation. The starting point of my thinking is not words, but the relationship between myself and the painting, the structure in the painting, and the space of the painting. I build order in my works. White Painted Forest is the first time I started to paint something other than academic studies. I asked my fellow student to be my model, and used the same model unintentionally for the two faceless figures. When the painting was completed, in order to strengthen the deep and serene feeling, I darkened the shadow of the woods. This is connected with my present work. Between White Painted Forest and the current series I am painting, I have experimented with the form of painting, constructing real life in a 3D game scene, and then painting directly from the screen. As this series progressed, I gradually felt that I was more interested in the subtle psychological changes of the characters in the paintings. However, when I found myself limited to expressing delicate feelings through an imitation of the 3D language in painting, I stopped painting and started to make prints. I also kept experiments in sketchbooks. I later found that my current mode of painting is more in line with my own ideas. Then, I was able to gradually form my practice.


I have always remembered the painting of the girls in uniform. The ambiguousness of the picture, the disturbing echo between the surroundings and the figures, and the atmosphere impressed me as a whole. Are you still obsessed with describing human psychology? The contradiction here is that you create a state of mind that is both real and unreal. How do you see this contradiction?
I care more about creating a mystical and unspeakable atmosphere than describing human psychology. A slow and warm medium-like painting becomes a container that carries an atmosphere. To me, there is no medium more suitable than painting.

Hiring models and documenting their gestures is a way in which I approach what I want. As the reality itself is uncontrollable, I find the way I portray the models as swinging between the controllable and the uncontrollable to be interesting. Reality is an illusion, the manipulated world is the truth. By posing the models I keep a necessary distance from reality. The truth in art is that of the artist, which doesn’t equal the real world. The real world cannot be copied. From the very beginning, painting is subjunctive in its tone. The old masters sought to portray this tone as real. Even so, this pursuit does not mean copying the truth, but rather forming a relational and overall feeling of accuracy. Now we have acknowledged this tone, copying reality is no longer the task of painting. To me, the truth exists in my choices, in the gaps of painting.


Your picture implies a time of experience for the viewer, or even that you are seeking to deliberately create this experience, allowing the viewer to become a co-creator of the depth of the painting. This way you achieve this is contemporary, being distinct from the traditional way of communicating with viewers. This is because you crack or recreate the traditional mode of communication in your works. Just like virtual life scenes, the psychological status of the characters is delivered through the controllable mechanism. Or, perhaps, you prefer to depict subjects in terms of their psychological state rather than their sensibilities? For the former, the mechanism is a necessary prerequisite, while the latter is more relevant to the artist‘s instinct. Can it be interpreted in such way?
Allowing the viewer time to experience a painting is necessary. On the one hand, this is determined by the materiality of painting medium. On the one hand, I create a mechanism for viewing. This process is hierarchical, as the understanding of the work deepens as the viewer spends time with the painting. It is a gradual progress. The form of the painting and how it presents itself provide the possibility of interpretation. However, these mechanisms do not completely deliver the artist's intention to the audience. Painting itself is not an accurate medium. Finishing a painting requires the conversion from composition, to brushwork, to paint. There are countless intuitive choices made during this process. These choices are the best choices for the painter, but a one-to-one accuracy doesn’t exist in understanding, so there is great depth of possibility, which is where its beauty lies. The term psychological state is more appropriate for my painting than sensibilities. The psychological state is about the overall feeling of the painting. It is more closely integrated with the painting language itself. The term sensibility is too specified. I'm wary of this concreteness, this over-prominent. Such things will ruin the subtle atmosphere of the picture.


How long have you been working on doubles? In what direction is this interest heading? My intuition is that the dramatic sense of the paintings is enhanced though space and perspective changes. What is the purpose of doing this? Will you come to a boundary at which this method will become a threat to the legitimacy of your thinking system?
Starting with the Two Visitors, the series has lasted more than three years. The space, especially the relationship between figures and the background, was the object of my concern from the very beginning. Apart from the dimensions of the painting itself, I paid more attention to the relationship between space and perspective in paintings, as well as the relationship between the painted space and the actual space. This is part of an exploration that reflects my current interests. I am now trying to reduce the dramatic gestures as much as I can, exploring the linguistic possibilities of the painting itself. The exploration of space and perspective is one of many possibilities in this direction, and I am not worried about pushing this group of paintings to a critical point. On the contrary, it is necessary to know where the borderline is and to play with it. It is similar to car racing. A good driver who knows the limits of his car is always able to stabilise the car before the tyres slip and the car loses control. I need to be mindful of where my limits lie. With the works for this exhibition (the Metaphors of Existence), I know where the boundaries are. Through this knowledge, I can avoid diluting a painting’s density when playing with its form.


Speaking of this exhibition, you connect the inner logic of the paintings with the exhibition space. Can this exhibition language be unified successfully with the conceptual basis of your work?
They are unified. My exploration the interior space has gone further than before. On one hand, the internal space is more diversified; on the other hand, the relationship between the paintings and the viewers has changed. The viewer’s role has become more active: both the viewer’s distance and the angle will affect the viewing experience. There are also more levels of perception. This is related to the change in studio space after I arrived in Beijing. There sufficient wall space to get a feel of how the paintings will look like exhibited. This is very different from cramped studio space I had in London. I can hang several groups of paintings on the wall at the same time, so that the relationship between paintings is clearer. The exhibition was delicately curated. I was familiar with the gallery space. I tried to build a large framework when curating it, to make the intertextual structure of the exhibition clearer, and provides clues for the interpretation.


我会有一个大概的感觉, 但就目前来讲,我倾向于在实践中感受到这些边界,当一张画从头脑中落在纸上,变得具体后,才会形成判断。我会做大量的草图,要具体到挂画的高度,和观众的关系是什么,然后放在一边,半个月到一个月之后再翻看,这样会以一个较新的眼光去看它。

Let’s talk about the critical point. Can you see or predict the critical point for your current working method? Or, in which direction do you think your current work can be further pushed? The reason for this question is, I can see that you have thought deeply about your current working method, it has been looked deeply enough. However, this kind of method of creating logic through calmness and conceptualisation, is not absolutely isolated from the historical process of contemporary art and the art industry in general. There are parallel ways of creating from predecessors and the on-going history in China’s art industry. As an artist, you do not have to bear the psychological burden of this connection; however, as a thinker, you still have to deal with its existence. Does this inspire you to see the place of your work in the art industry, or does it arouse your interest in the history of art?
I have a rough feeling of where the boundary-point is; but, for the time being, I tend to feel such boundaries in practice. When a painting falls from the mind onto the paper, becoming physical, then I can form a judgment. I do a lot of sketches accurate to how high the painting will hang and think about the relationship between the painting and its viewers. Then I put it aside, and look at it again after half a month to one month, so I can see it from a newer perspective. After months of intensive work, I usually stop to do research or reading, etc. I also use other media for research. Excessive intimacy with your own work can result in a loss of judgment. It is necessary to keep some distance, so as to examine it properly.
Recently, I was systematically analysing twentieth-century figurative painting, which was a minor line of art for most of the twentieth century. Especially when the painters did not regard stylisation as their main goal, the creative space in this medium seems to be even smaller than normal. It's both easy to paint "bad painting” and hard to paint well. I need to see more clearly how they developed their work in order to avoid making the mistakes they made. I am well aware of where my context lies. My thinking includes a technical source or a starting point. No one’s works come from nothing. Even if there is an overlap of ideas, what is more important is not how to avoid such an overlap, but whether your thoughts will still flow down their own path after this brief encounter.

Somewhere Elsewhere Nowhere – Xue Ruozhe
Anny Wu, Sofija Savic

Let us of WoMA introduce you to our next Chinese Contemporary Artist: Xue Ruozhe. Xue’s research revolves around the deconstruction of reality, that is the process of decontextualization, or better the subversion of the ordinary. His paintings are rich in suggestions and ambiguity, and explore the infinite possibilities of representing an elsewhere, somewhere in space, but nowhere in time. Through the use of faint colors, which are nevertheless saturated with emotions, Xue constructs nostalgic worlds that put at the centre the individual, bringing out the poetic dimension and transcendental nature, as well as the implied narratives of silence and alienation.

WoMA: Your paintings, especially the Plurals series, suggest a style that is tinged with realism, or perhaps photo-realism. Yet, it also redirects in a certain sense to fiction and imagination. What are you most keen to represent? What inspires you?

What I want to represent is my state of mind, it locates somewhere between reality and the virtual world. I think it is the absurdity hidden in our daily life that inspires me. Whenever I lack ideas, I would go in search of a crowd, in the busiest streets in Beijing or London, to observe the gestures of people, and how they relate to each other.

WoMA: The composition and cut-outs within your works offer a peculiar perspective of the portrayed subjects: at times busts, other times backs, still other times hands or feet. How do you decide what to include and what to neglect?

When I was a student at CAFA, I painted portraits or nude figures every day, I was not interested in vivid colors neither in bold brushstrokes. Moreover, the pictorial subjects were set by the professors, so what I could play around were compositions and angles. I gradually found what I am really interested in, I’d like to distance myself from models, to form instead of a more or less ‘objective’ point of view, like seeing things from a calm and undisturbed eye. Indeed, I prefer suggesting rather than simply revealing everything. For instance, in Nearly There, I have solely focused on hands, this is because I consider hands as much more expressive than faces, yet they are also more implicit.

WoMA: Opaque and impassive tonalities, ranging from blue to grey, confer to your works a melancholic aura, arousing a deep sense of nostalgia in the viewer. Do you associate any color to a particular feeling? What motivates your chromatic choice?

The tonalities are not the result of my decisions, but rather the dimension my mind traveled to in that particular moment. What I try to do is to intensify the feelings that emerge in that particular instant. Paintings are like plants for me, they have their own growth path, and I simply let them grow.

WoMA: Many of your works, as in the case of Cancelled Landscape, convey a sense of alienation and anonymity. The background represents a remote “elsewhere”, and in a similar way, the portrayed figures can be imagined anywhere, but also nowhere. Which is the spatial and temporal dimension you intend to recreate and allude to?

I like to experiment on backgrounds, In Cancelled Landscape, the setting is anonymous and seems to be boundless, but if you look more carefully, you will notice a faint shadow behind the figures, suggesting that space is actually enclosed.

I think it somehow relates to storytelling; I tend to give the viewer a very limited range of details and references to think on.

Some people say my works have a timeless quality, and I believe it’s very true. Not only time is ambiguous, but also space and places I paint. What you can see is only a short time span that is sealed in the works, the figures are set somewhere you can’t really tell. For me this is crucial, a specific nature can easily distract the viewer’s attention, and thus the subtle and implicit atmosphere I build up would inevitably disappear.

WoMA: Despite the anonymity present in your paintings, your art also deals with the theme of individuality. The protagonists in your works are plunged into a reality made of silence and solitude, contemplation and transcendence. What are they looking for? What do you look for?

The doubles I portrayed do not refer to any specific person, they are only dual images of certain individuals, they are looking at nothing other than their own shadows, but they themselves are being looked at. The subjects within the frame can be very specific, like the girls, the plant, the road, I try to put my gaze on each thing equally. But when your eyes bind them together, they no longer make any sense, and you start feeling a slight sense of detachment from the image. Maybe that’s where the transcendence comes from.

WoMA: Which direction will your artistic research take? Which are the new narratives you intend to explore in the oncoming future?

I think I will dig a bit more into psychology. It’s hard to say which new narratives I will bring on, I feel my paintings are changing little by little. We shall see.


{肆/Sì} issue 18

2014年11月刊 第18期
Nov. 2014 issue 18

1. 在《虚拟人生》系列中,你形容是用有温度的媒介描绘数码图像,然而你的画法在我们看来是很冷静理性地去画,你觉得这里面存在矛盾吗?
是不矛盾的,当然画面的最终效果骗过了多数人的眼睛, 尤其是拍成了数码照片后, 一切都变得平面了。 当实地的去观察这张画, 其实上面充满了坑坑洼洼, 有大笔刷开颜料的痕迹,也可追朔软笔轻轻拂过某个细节的动作, 随着这个系列的发展,我逐渐变得更加注意画面的绘画性,画面在保持3D观感(计算机生成的平滑,生硬的3d图像效果)的同时一方面变得“粗糙”,另一方面画面的机理变得更加丰富。

In “Virtual Life” series, you have described that you use a warm medium to depict digital images. However, we think you are actually painting in a rational manner. Do you think they are contradictory?
I don’t think it is contradictory. But of cause the final effect of the images have cheated most people’s eyes, especially when they(the paintings) are presented as digital photos, everything becomes flat. When you are actually looking at the painting on site, you will find out it is quite bumpy, and traces are shown the paint followed by big brush flows and the action that soft brush passing is gently revealed. Following the development of this series, I gradually became more painterly. At the same time as being 3D visual impression (which is flat, smooth and stiff effect that produced by computer), it becomes rough and the texture of the image appears rich.

2. 在《虚拟人生》里所选的几个场景对你来说有什么特殊含义?

我在虚拟人生里面建立的场景,主要是室内景,因为是内景会有一种日常感, 这种日常感结合所描绘的画面效果, 会产生更强的荒诞感。

In “Virtual Life” series, do the selected scenes have some special meaning?
The scenes I have created in the “Virtual Life” are mainly indoor views. This is because that indoor view brings about a sense of “everyday life”. When the sense of “everyday life” combined with the scenery that I depicted, a strong sense of absurdity would be evoked.

3. 你的肖像摄影和你的绘画之间的关系?数码和绘画的关系?

肖像一直是我的关注方向,我会对肖像进行某种荒诞化的改造来改变画面的心理状态。我对人,不同东西的个性有很深的兴趣。我画的衣褶,背影均可以看做是对某一种性格的描绘,无论是我的人像摄影, 还是绘画, 都投注了我的凝视。数码技术对我来说是生成图像过程中的一个手段,并不对我的思维有影响。

What is the relationship between your portrait photography and painting? How do you see the relationship between digital images and paintings?
I am always interested in portrait, I change the mental condition of images through a kind of absurd transforming of the portrait. I have a deep interest in people and the characteristics of different things. For example, the folds of clothes, the view of the back can both be regarded as a depiction of one kind of characteristics. My gaze is projected on both my portrait photography and paintings.
To me, the digital technique is a way of producing images, it doesn't affect my thinking.



Generally, the portrait draws faces, why your portrait draws about the back? It reminds us Michael Borremans’works, does he influence you a lot?
To me, a portrait is the depiction of some specific characteristics and mental circumstance. It doesn't have much to do with faces, perhaps a single hand or a subtle action will be enough (for a portrait). I think Borremans’ works and my works both have a reference to surrealism, especially influenced by Rene Magritte. He (Borremans) influences me mainly on firming up my belief about painting. I doubted and even rejected painting before, and I thought painting was only a method to achieve my goal. Almost in the recent half year, I have been thinking about this question, but now I can say firmly that, painting is a method which I use to see through the world and myself. I choose to believe in painting. In other words, How can one be good at a thing that he/she doesn’t believe in?

5. 在你的个人网站上,作品 《Glance》系列的分类为装置,但表现形式与照片无异,请问具体这件作品是如何呈现的?

Glance是陈列在封闭空间的一件摄影装置。我着重的是前后照片的逻辑关系, 所有照片左右相连成环状围在一个空间中, 我在网站上试图模仿这样的逻辑, 向右轻轻滑动即可看到这一串照片。

On your website, you classify the “Glance” series into the installation, but it shows no difference with photographs, how did you present this work?
Glance is a photographic installation that is presented in a closed space. My concern was the logical relationship between the front and rear photos. All the photos are linked as a loop in the space, I try to imitate this logical order on the website, by a gentle slide towards the right, ones can then see a series of photographs.

6. 你拍了几组不同的肖像,譬如隐藏的肖像、眼睛朝向一边的肖像、俯拍的肖像等,为什么有如此设定?

我对正面免冠照这样正式的的呆板的形式感兴趣, 不同的是我试图在肖像照片中加入某种心理空间。 隐去的面部, 斜瞄的眼神, 侧拍却正放的肖像, 加剧了心理上的紧张度,这也是和我在绘画上的逐渐转变是一致的。

The portraits in your works are different, some are hidden, some with eyes squinting, and some are looked down. Why do you make these disparate sets?
I am interested in the form of the hatless full-face photo, which is rigid. The difference is, I tried to put some kind of psychological space into the portrait. The hidden face, squinting eyes and the body taken from a sideways viewing but showed forward,they all raise tensions inside, constructing the process of transformation of my painting.

7. 媒介或形式对你来说重要吗?

Is media or form important for you?
Yes, they are both very important. The psychological expectation of viewers are different when people stand in front of a painting or a photo, the points they focus on are different, too. Painting is my main media, It has great influence on the way I see this world.

8. 你的作品里存在一个脉络吗?

我认为我的作品的脉络在于我对心理的关注, 我是一个较内向的人, 所以很多的情绪是内化的,含蓄的, 我的作品在视觉上有一以贯之的平静,我拒绝夸张的形态。但是在平静的下面我一直在试图加剧作品中的心理张力。另外还有我对荒诞事物本能的好奇和对陈词滥调的兴趣, 使我的作品有时会有一定的反讽元素。

Is there a context in your work?
I think the context of my work is my concern about mentality. I am basically a shy person and many emotions are introvert and implicit. All my works have a certain level of calmness, I refuse to exaggerate form. However, beneath the calmness, I am trying to aggravate the phycological tension. Moreover, I inherently have an endless curiosity to absurd things. And I am also interested in the clichés of everyday life, all of those made my work ironic sometimes.

9. 你每个系列的作品之间的关系是?

很难说每系列作品之间有很强的关系, 有些作品是下一件作品的诱因, 有些作品是并行做的, 虽然当时看不出关系, 但做了数个之后还是可以理出来思路的。比如我的模拟人生系列,有一个非常统一的标志,就是3d的观感,就画面内容来说,我关注人的心里状态,和不同的目光交错产生的微妙心理变化。不同系列作品之间其实一直贯下来的是我对人的心理状态的关注(泰特美术馆策展人Clarrie Wallis语)不管是用什么方式,这些人或多或少都承载了我的心理状态,换一种说法,他们是演员(Avatar)。

What is the relationship of series of your works?
It is hard to say there is a strong relationship. Some are the incentive of the next; some are simultaneous, between which there is no obvious relationship, but a clue can be seen when I look back
For example, there is a very unified symbol in my series of ‘The Sims’, which is a feeling of the computer-generated 3D model. In terms of the content, I concern about the psychological states of people( said Clarrie Wallis, curator of Tate Modern).These portraits are more or less vehicles of my mood. In another word, they are avatars.

10. 你迄今为止的几个系列作品中,最满意的是哪一组?为什么?
我最满意的是我现在做的,比如《两位来访者》等,可能还无法并成一个系列, 我也暂时无意去做一个系列, 我在这里重拾了对绘画的信心。 我认为画我所相信的东西是非常重要的。

Which series is your most satisfied and why?
I have to say I am pretty satisfied with what I am making now, like ‘two visitors’ and so on. But they have not be able to be a series. I have no idea to make a series now. I regain my confidence in painting from here. I think paint what I believe is very important.‍