|The poet W. H. Auden, musing about newspapers, observed that the “daily page is not the place for intimate bereavements,” and, indeed, an addiction to the news can have an anesthetizing effect on the soul. On the other hand, Chinese artist Xie Xiaoze’s show titled “Quotidian Truths” (a title applied to each of the gallery’s last three exhibitions) offers a complex and invigorating treatment of the media’s constant transmission of events via newspapers, TV, internet, etc., as a stream of information that transpires and expires almost as quickly as people can digest it. This is the source material from which the artist draws on.
Xie's large scale, heavily inked representational works on handmade rice paper, as well as his oil paintings transform the grainy photos of people and places on newsprint (in both Chinese and Western newspapers and magazines) into finely wrought works of the art. The more soulful oils contrast and compose black, white and gray tones into chiaroscuro geometric tensions. The high contrast and spirited washy blotches in the ink pieces suggest subjects caught in a camera's flash, while equally hinting stylistically at the interwoven patterns and lines of Jackson Pollock's black and white paintings. Interestingly, Xie often makes both an oil and ink painting of the very same image, the effect of which is to expand the emotional content of his oeuvre considerably.
One might describe Xie’s work as a hybrid-like post modern blend of traditional lyrical Chinese ink paintings, Socialist Realism and present-day documentary photography, laced with a decisively political undertone.
Among the pieces is an ink on rice paper work positioning the two archetypal leaders of imperial Communism, Mao and Stalin next to one another, as if the two were conducting a news conference together. Both men smile with the goofy, light-hearted satisfaction of the narcissistically self-focused. Yet the image exudes freshness as well, heightened perhaps by the veneer of journalistic detachment, used with the artist’s full awareness that simply by their presence together these figures cannot fail to evoke a strong emotional reaction. After all, doesn’t all Pop Art, or art based in popular imagery, work this way, the presentation of “quotidian” visual signs that nevertheless overflow with meaning and feeling simply by virtue of the associations to which they (often subconsciously) point?
|Xie’s vitae states that he studied architecture in college in Beijing (Xie is now the Chair of the Art and Art History Department at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania), and one both sees and feels the presence of that spacial discipline in much of this work. For example, one oil painting places a row of Chinese officials sitting at a conference table. Xie pits the men’s faces with a kind of Mount Rushmore architectonic roughness, while rendering the interior structures of the surrounding and towering auditorium with a keen attention to architectural details that blend and fade as they recede into a sea of charcoal grey impressionistic paint.
Concurrent with this exhibition, The Charles Cowles Gallery in New York City has on display Xie’s portraits of George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, i.e., the whole posse of the present day or recently exiled American Republican guard. This planting of Western politicians in an East Coast gallery, while the West Coast venue features Xie’s portraits of Eastern leaders transcends (a probably unintentional) conceptual cleverness to suggest both the chaotic deconstruction of world “order.” Suggested here is the interchangeability of power’s capacity to corrupt absolutely, and that this truth recognizes no geopolitical boundary or ethnic identity. Yet in constructing an aesthetic link between East and West, Xie’s work supports the hope that people of divergent ideologies can meet one another half way and use their imaginations to bridge differences.