Nostalgia for the infinite
Xu Hongming sees art as nostalgia for the infinite, portrayed through a form of painting that is created first by hand and then on the computer. The works are the fruit of a vision which, through the creative act, seeks to reconcile the worlds of the visible and the invisible. The colours of his paintings range from black to gray, from gray-white to chromatically richer tones in forms that the computer accomplishes with absolute perfection.? A creative process with the assistance of this technological prosthesis that enhances the artist’s spirituality and poetics.
The entire span of Xu Hongming’s work displays the practice of art, of the artist who calls not only for stationary strategies, but also for the full realm of imagination to be involved, traversed as it is by a two-fold urge which honours neither high nor low, and simultaneously favours the movements of dispersion and concentration. Hands and head, the artist’s entire anatomy takes part in the moment of creation, a drifting of fantasy that knows no barriers yet, at the same time, agrees to partake in a distinctive style that is fully embedded in the awareness and mastery of language. Art is an exercise in breaking through barriers and testing their confines, steadily overflowing boundaries and passing the danger point beyond which a system of impossibility can be created, a project of inattentiveness that springs from the artist’s specific attitude, prey to a wave of bewilderment set within the exacting lines of a calibrated yet automatic image.
Planning and creative randomness together weave through his work, which aims to counterbalance the inadequacy of a schematic and reductive reality with the complexity of art. Art engenders bemusement and, at the same time, knowledge; loss of meaning and also its expansion, by means of a disorienting practice that, by definition, tends to upset social communication which is usually signalled by unilateral and economic exchange.
In Xu Hongming’s work, the system of the image is governed by a different economy, fuelled by a structural ambiguity that bypasses the logocentric presumptuousness of common language, thus reaching an area of interwoven relationships, in which signs are arranged along a continuum consisting of fleeting chords and fugues. For whereas the impulse that winds its way up the artist’s spine is beyond control, one can nonetheless control the manual craftsmanship needed to render the strength of the image patently clear and explicit.
Language is a reservoir in which one plunges with open arms, with no other provision than that which language itself inwardly shelters and safeguards. One cannot fight against such provisions: on the contrary, the artist plans an ordered retreat born of inner discipline that is capable, as he himself declares, of duplicating the world, for "art does not reproduce visible things, but rather renders visible". The artist surrenders to the flow of imagination by standing sideways on to language, in a position of conscious loss, ready to welcome the nomadic movement of his signs.
Xu Hongmingis fully aware of the nature of language and has never attempted to tame it: if anything, he humours it by using processes that involve the idea of project and choice, but allow the outcome to emerge freely, without either expectation or foresight. It is not indeed the artist who is prescient, but rather the language which inwardly harbours unusual images and outcomes. The artist is aware of the technique entailed in the active abuse of language, based on the befuddlement of creative processes, the automatic dwindling of composition techniques.
If the unconscious and the purely accidental are values that enrich the work, re-establishing that characteristic complexity which is needed to enclose the meaning of reality, then the artist has developed a suitable strategy for understanding the uncontrolled moments expressed in the artistic artefact through those two values, by adopting a lesser degree of discipline, closer to the philosophical capacity for introspection seen in Oriental culture.
Bemusement then wins through, acquiring an elementary and automatic dexterity of hand by means of a paradoxical control of technique that marks the work with an involuntary beauty. This state of involuntariness lies in the ability to surrender, in the tension of emotional indifference which helps artists, enabling them not only to forego prediction of any possible result, but also to yield to the condensing of language. Judicious abandonment is the proper starting place.
A constant aspect in the work of Xu Hongming is the superficialistic use of language. The space neither has nor depicts any depth whatsoever, but offers itself up as a two-dimensional support with no hint of hollows or dips. If anything, these are the fruit of a psychological and fantasy state which precedes the work of art, movements that favour creation of the image which, in order to come to fruition, uses the economy of a clear The signs are arranged following a natural form of dissemination which never loses its desire for expression. But expression does not mean merely tracing? the darkness of the psyche in a naturalistic way, nor even describing one place as a unit of meaning, but rather instinctively arranging signs according to a dense and intense fragmentariness. The system of arranging language is like that of a constellation, an irradiation centre that knows neither hierarchy nor points of gravity, nor peripheries but, if anything, in its sunburst arrangement discovers the possibility of conjoining figurative and abstract images.
Colour also comes into play in Xu Hongming’s compositions, increasing the intensity of a work that also springs from a cultural awareness. The language has its own internal biology, an orientation of sediments that enables manifold arrangements. An intense inner energy radiates from the work, which is built up by using wispy lattices that distribute its potential along pathways amenable to countless crossroads and collisions.
In his pictures, the artist always seeks to recreate a form of linear disorientation, enabling reference to the inner and occult strengths of things: a board which, within its smoothened surface, holds the ghostly thickness of a universe poised between revelation and concealment. The penetrating eye of art peers beneath the dense sheen of things, below the false opulence of matter, to cloak the essence of an energy flow that moves through all bodies and governs the dynamism of the world.
This is why depth cannot be given to the image - to favour the surge that links things together along continuous and flowing lines. And then, the buoyancy of a wandering and emptied sign sometimes appears, which simultaneously brings together the surface skin and the inner soul of things.? Objects and shapes reappear as though suspended and relieved of their inner weight, portrayed by means of a visual naming that is but barely implied.
Xu Hongming is fully aware of the specific nature of visual language, of its constituent elements which cannot feign a different identity: if anything, the nature of visual language allows some existential consonances to be formulated, such as the artist’s spirit of observation and his simultaneous sense of detachment and non-attachment to things. Hence the relentless lack of depth in his visual language: its superficialistic nature is brought to the fore in harmony with the kind of relationship that the artist has with things, his lack of preference for one object over another.
He is not attracted by the sensual outward appearance of things: this would lead him to feel occasional attraction towards some real situations whereas he tends to apply an internalized gaze, capable of recognising the framework which holds them together, and their deep skeletal structure; and then he puts them back into a system of simultaneous relationships which amplifies their scope and, at the same time, affirms their fluctuating nature.
His language also assumes the traits of this fluctuation, a sign of the author’s inner mobility and also his state of alarm: a planned yet precarious order in the way of observing, befuddled before both the internal tension of things and the external paralysis that grips them, regimenting them into rigid and closed ranks. Art becomes the planning of a naturally alarmed sensitivity.
At this point, the urge for disorder takes over the work, disrupting its composition, thrusting it towards a reversal of established order. An inextricable jumble of signs spreads out to establish a field of fleeting relationships, all resting on instability, or on the stability of a moment. Sometimes a signed and coloured expressionism moves through the work, guiding it towards an image that is deliberately incapable of symmetrically yielding before its real-life models, thus confirming that this language stands outside the mere copying of nature. The painter never paints the world, but rather observes it so as then to forget it.
In Xu Hongming’s work,there is an overriding use of the language of expression with all its hints and lapses, its deviant and even declared drive. A language which proclaims the impossibility of technical control, or affirms the possibility of a dazed control, with a form of discipline that excludes all complacency. The figure and the background interpenetrate inextricably in a relationship that enables trails of sensitivity to be identified, consisting of undulating passages and reversions, intersections and vanishing points.
The elementary graphic signs which shore up the description of his inner landscapes are always the outcome of an alteration, comprising both an exaggerated descriptivism of details and a miniaturisation of the varying incidents and circumstances that accompany the image.? An image which is built up through an overstatement of details that enhances the effect of the whole by using references that affirm the complexity of the world, a microcosm of signs that inevitably recall the macrocosm of the universe.
The graphic reduction of visual elements is a further sign of the artist’s sensitive state being stripped to the bone, of his ability to direct his eyes beyond the fascination for matter, beyond the simple eroticism of appearances. A meticulous sense of observation, like that of an entomologist, aids his contemplative relationship with the world: a relationship consisting of painstaking and analytical slowing down, as well as heartfelt and pulsating acceleration. If art makes the visible clear, this means that the image is the place for a mobile curdling, which attracts light winds and whirls of signs that cause it to teem with relations and uncertainty: an uncertainty consisting of sliding trajectories, wispy consonances and subtle dissonances.
Exasperating the graphic stroke naturally requires skilfulness and lightness of hand, awareness of essential definition as well as descriptive ability.
On other occasions, Xu Hongming’s image is a tangle of signs which swing between the anthropomorphic mask and its transformation into something else. A never-ending and elusive graffito, which runs endlessly and obsessively in its own track, as though it were on a marble table, that of his childhood, where the hand is unable to stop itself sliding over the smooth surface, giving in to the temptation oftracing its interwoven latticework of signs. Space serves as? a system of support which is embodied in the image, without any break.
So now the figures are crammed side by side, following anamorphic lines that pursue an inner and introverted path. There is no place for frontal observation, since the figures crowd all points of the painting or drawing, without any kind of arrangement that might favour more orthodox contemplation. An inner, even comical, calm always governs the composition, as though the eye were tranquilly absorbing the alterations of a language that is quite naturally inclined towards anamorphosis, distortion and nightmare.
Xu Hongming does not fear meeting the ghost that dwells within language, in its very depths. The images do not substitute other images, they are the only ones that are possible and portrayable. Sometimes, they pretend to breathe life into characters which hark back to the familiar features of a face or object, but in reality they are assuming the mask of entities that are purely linguistic, and in fact have that same ability to adapt, and the strength of recalling nothing other than their own inner path.
Even the landscapes rush down the slopes of the two-dimensional surface, pivoting beyond their static equilibrium, along diagonals that welcome houses, natural elements and human figures. Everything is pictured at a low level, as though observed while plunging headlong towards things, or hastening far away from them. A feeling of animism lurks in these passages and a straightforwardness that delineates subtle geometric forms: geometry is the innermost state of nature, the dematerialized structure of the world.
An all-embracing eye and the ability to grasp detail ceaselessly intermingle, in an osmosis that seeks no formal balance, but tracks and pursues the simultaneous co-presence of both possibilities. Depth and surface have the same visual presence, as though one single force were able to grasp the visible and the invisible, and take them to the place where epiphanic revelation is experienced, where the image dwells. A place which can, at one and the same time, maintain a constant relationship between spatial elements.
Xu Hongming‘s images are sustained by an energy field that defines spatiality in both mobile and essential terms. This simultaneousness is born of the desire to describe a universe in which space and time are dimensions that are contemporarily conjoined in all their potential, that are the above and below, the high and low, the near and far, the before and after, the present and the imminent. An absolute circularity thus governs the image, which is fully absorbed in the self-sufficient indications of a language capable not only of anticipating, but also creating forms of coexistence that inwardly contain archaeology, the present and the future of the world.
This coexistence is the outcome of a creative strategy that is able to declare the mysteries of technique and, at the same time, entrust to the sudden but ungovernable impulses of the hand. An open dualism sustains the work, always ready to strive after deliberate disorientation through skilfulness, thus linked to memory, and calculated improvisation which, instead, requires a gamble.
The work is under tension from two forces that run parallel to, yet simultaneously diverge from, the outcome of the image, which is never a duplication of the world, tending in its daily life to separately conjugate order and disorder, design and randomness. Art, however, has the ambiguous and slanting force of a simultaneous conjugation that creates the nucleus of its image by means of a contemporaneous and paradoxical fragmentation. Yet abstract and figurative always manage to find coexistence, based precisely on the tension between these two elements, the non-nucleant and the centrifugal.
The centripetal element tends to establish reference points placed around a narrative, and therefore figurative, need. The centrifugal element uses the disarticulation and atomization of signs, which run along entwined trajectories that pass through the narrative fabric and lead the image towards abstract results. So abstract and figurative are? means of expression that aim to restore a complex and? complete image, consisting of internal acceleration (time) and painstaking slowing down (space).
In Xu Hongming’s work, the descent into the substance of things is the result of a drying up of matter, a pathway into the skeleton of the object or figure, to the point where the contours can no longer be seen. The viewpoints are various, disorienting and, at the same time, differentiated. Sometimes the image seems to be taken from above, as though gently skimmed by an essential yet extremely intense eye which can, in other words, overcome distance.
On other occasions, the viewing point seems to emerge from inside the very image, perforating it and then moving towards the outside. But in all cases, transparency and opacity are qualities of the image.
By emphasising natural forms, he aims to trace the complexity of forces that govern the life and death cycle of existence through the phenomena of nature. Because even death inhabits life, and art must be able to contain both polarities within itself, with an arrangement of form capable of rendering the movement and paralysis of elements. Now the form of the image, like the collection of which the artist himself speaks, holds both polarities expressed in the cycle of existence.
The crucial element lies in how capable the image is of offering itself as a system, as a network of relationships between various organisms of signs. The element of paralysis, stagnation, death lies in the descriptive suspension of detail.
The art form diffuses fragments of a whole that is subjected to the laws of gravity, which fights back by making the skeleton of objects and figures lighter, so that they attain essential weightlessness and also definitive connotation, unaffected by the processes of temporal dissolution and spatial proliferation that govern the destiny of humanity.
Xu Hongming believes that art must deal with the complexity of existence by using the specific weapons of visual language, which can be fittingly applied to finding the necessary stylistic plots for implementing a sensitive idea of the world.
To do this, the artist girds himself with a style that illustrates the position of humankind with regard to the problems of static equilibrium and dynamics, which typify the radicalization of time and space. Naturally, the artist also moves outside these extreme polarities, embracing the use of lines that rule out the vertical, so as to arrive at slanting and? splintering. This mode of movement also expresses the pathos of the static element, its straining towards the dynamic possibility.
The deliberate elementariness of the image also stems from the need to remain constantly within the strict confines of the visible, within the realm of possibility that enables continual verification of the stages involved in the creative process, bolstering it with the confidence gained from technique. Technique in this case is also spiritual discipline and not mere notional awareness of manual dexterity. The destructuring dwindling of his composition techniques helps the artist to avoid the wastefulness of rash acts and, at the same time, to indulge in the instinctive freedom of impulsively devised gestures. The imperative is "To create spiritual abundance, with very little,” leading to an attitude of de-fleshing, of naturally mortifying appearances, enabling the emergence of that spiritual abundance which is always the result of free behaviour.
This does not however mean mimicking the freedom of nature, in its wild state, but rather adopting the foresighted capability of chaos to structure itself according to a cosmic potential, a system of relations in which the particular? and the universal, order and disorder, microcosm and macrocosm openly coexist. The artist does not, therefore, fight against nature, nor seek to integrate with it, but rather tries to find an expressive register capable of making the language he uses fruitful.
In this sense,Xu Hongming sets himself demiurgically before language, armed with the ability to prompt new realities in the riverbed of visual language, and cause new images to sprout in the sediment of fantastic energy deposited under its veil. The creative process consists of systematically digging out, in direct contrast to the typical activity of nature,? which always puts in place, a lush and organic growth that affirms the principle of development and proliferating dilation.
The economy of artistic creativity requires discipline, blended with both instinct and skill. The creative impulse must seek to stumble on the wisdom of detail, it must face the resistance of formal will, enabling the motive force to be transformed into a continual breath that spreads its warmth along all the pathways of the image.
Solar and lunar atmosphere insolubly entwine in the fleshless heat of the work, which undergoes every kind of eclecticism, geometry and nebulous sign. The artist must be able to divest himself of all worldly temptation, in the sense that he must? not be so narcissistic as to yield to the pure pleasure of the sign. The true pleasure is that of firmness, of the result that has been achieved.? Creative practice is harsh,? though also casual in its theorisation, consisting of description and references to the circular world of the image and its universe of signs, consisting of points, lines and pure movement. The state of elementariness does not stem from a false primitivism, a rhetorical regression towards the dawn of art, but rather from the systematic stripping of appearances.
In Xu Hongming’s work, the graphic style burgeons with perfection, in the sense of moral rigour, the artist’s ability to? stretch towards a movement of everlasting dissatisfaction, which causes him to work intensely and without pause, to elaborate constantly by means of painstaking onslaughts that inevitably lead to "happiness", to recognition of an acquired skill. This is the eudaimonistic aim of art, all caught up within its own practice, the crafted and simultaneously mental elaboration of the image.
For the sign bears its own history, of an essentiality that only the artist can once more attain, each time - indeed time after time - without ever being able to cede to a definitive result.
Artistic figuration can be achieved only through a clear understanding of the difference between the ability to see visible things and the skill involved in bringing out the invisible.
In this second case, an effort is required, systematic application capable of bringing to the fore details which exist beyond common perception.
Formation of the image is much more important than form itself, since the former denotes a continuous pathway along which the artist moves for the entire span of his work, which is indeed his very life; whereas the latter denotes the single result, the pause in a static narcissism which complacently observes the created work. The urge starts from an ideal originality to which? artists must adhere if they are to suffuse the individual parts and the whole of the composition with this primary energy. The artist must exercise his creative rule over the work.
Experience is thus the value upon which the work of art rests, and also the ultimate value to be attained, a mobile acquisition that drives one towards other creative ventures, towards unceasing practice that always brings the acquired facts into question.
Art becomes a perpetual stripping of what already exists, in favour of a further step into a dimension that ranges between the uncertainty of the beginning and the fine-tuning of an essential outcome.
The result appears slowly before the artist’s very eyes like an Annunciation Image, the appearance of that sign and no other, revelation and epiphany of an image that has the awfulness of essence, of substance that is indivisible, since it is by now already divided, separated, and at last reunified in a mobile relationship with the whole. Until this moment, the working artist continues to govern and manoeuvre the language, by accelerating and decelerating, analytical insights and cursory lunges, which as a whole are capable of aspiring to that dazzling moment.
The lightning bolt strikes as a result of the patient blows of application and miraculously absorbs into its blaze effort and the memory of effort, expectation and hope. Hope pervaded by Calvinistic passion, fully aware of the vital rigour needed to reach the moment of grace. In art, there are no miracles other than the possibility of deserving the desired event.
Annunciation of the image thus occurs silently and gradually, like a slow unfolding governed by the artist’s devotion to his own imagination: he yields to psychic automation, to the creative exercising of the image, with a movement rooted in the patient skill of his hand and mind. The story lines existing in the depths find correspondence in the texture of visual language and come to fruition in a Sign: a flash of lightning streaks across the sky, condensing Space and Time, and proclaims the labyrinth of art, where life and death entwine in the movement of form.
Achille Bonito Olivaand flowing form of language.