By Sun Zhenhua
My souls are lost and hard to call them back; the day gets bright with cock’s singing.
The youth should have strong resolutions to reach clouds; yet who cares about my sadness for the failed ambitions.
Wine Lines by Li He
Liu Ruowang, born in 1977, is so much younger than I expected as a generation after the Cultural Revolution.
I remembered his name after seeing his works in an exhibition, but knowing little of his profile. He seemed to come out of nowhere. I invited him to participate at The Rising Cacophony, the public sculpture exhibition during Songzhuang Art Festival in 2008, because his grand and large-scale works suited it.
I still had limited access to Liu’s materials and never talked with him when I started to write this passage, which is seemingly against the rule of “commenting the man and the world”. On the other hand, however, that may provide me with another angle under the circumstances of not “knowing him” with only straightforward visual senses. I was also not familiar with Liu when I invited him to exhibitions. I made my judgement upon my impression of his works alone.
Before this exhibition, I only saw Liu’s works like The East is Red，People and Heaven Soldiers series, given this opportunity, I finally have viewed more of his works, and what reminded me first were those lines from the poem of Li He (a famous poet in the Tang Dynasty) written as preface of this passage.
They share a bold and enterprising spirits. Liu’s works impress people with a strong sense of “youth’s resolutions”, an enterprising, pure and direct expression of life which seems to be long forgotten. They are not deceiving, decadent, scoffing nor following blindly…
Liu’s works are natural without alertness or opportunistic plots. They are integrated with the artist’s breeding areas, life experiences, emotions, characters and interests. Facing them, it’s like hearing resounding and heroic Xintianyou (a kind of Shaanxi local melody) or solemn and stirring Shaanxi opera amid the usually heard popular tunes or joking “Er’renzhuan” (a song and dance duet popular in the Northeast of China).
That’s why we’re impressed by Liu’s works. What’s more, he is so young.
I thought he was a middle-aged man or a man with the “Complex of the Red” when I first saw his The East is Red series. Farmers in those works demonstrate white “Yangdudu” towel, black cotton-padded jacket, red cheeks, shovels to drive sheep held in arms, which was a classic image of an era. In Liu’s People series, Red Army’s octagonal hats, militia’s white scarves and waistbands, white leggings matched with graphite clothes, along with those figures’ red cheeks, black mustache, knives in hand, red-tasselled spears and rifles constituted the visual signs of “people’s war” in the past…
For Liu, however, “Red” was just an indirect experience in his growing up and education period. So Liu’s works put forward an interesting topic: how is a young man without “red experiences” influenced by those “red memories” and how he imagined the “red era” through his works?
That is to say, things like revolutions, legends, war flames, combats, weapons and farmers in the turbulent 20th century are just stories told by the senior, a few words from neighbors, images from movies or TV screen and phrases from literature and history for Liu. How is it affected a youth born in the “post-socialism” ear?
This inevitably involves human nature. The value of Liu’s works in contemporary Chinese sculptures lies in their outstanding personalities.
I feel the starting point of Liu Ruowang’s The East is Red and People series differs from those who are “reminiscent of the Red” and taking advantage of the “Red Resources” with various purposes. This is a personalized feeling, a new coding and restructuring of the historical information in his mind full of imaginations and illusions for a youth who was born and bred in northern Shaanxi. It’s not necessarily ideological, nor does come out of conversion propose. These works are natural reflections of his growing experience, and it’s his living environment and the life he had to face that gave him inspiration for creation. These red symbols in his works represent a kind of legend and force, which can be extracted from specific historical situations in the past and become something distant, amazing and shocking.
It’s not enough to interpret Liu with “Red”. For example, in his Guard of Honor with Cars and Horses, the grafting of liberation army in uniforms of the Cultural Revolution and graphs of terracotta soldiers and horses of the Western Han Dynasty unearthed in Yangjiawan, Xianyang, Shaanxi wasn’t stayed on the “Red” subjects. This is the yearning for martial arts and strength for a youth who loves sculpture as well as his attempt to surpass himself and acquire strength for life through portraying powerful subjects.
Generally speaking, we see a youth’s imaginary world from Liu’s works. Besides works mentioned above, he also created Heaven Soldiers, Heritage and God of War series. Heaven Soldiers are “Divine Troops Descending from Heaven” in legends that have supernatural powers, full of magical colors. What Liu cultivated is characteristic of a big boy: worshiping of heroes, yearning for magic, shining spears and armored horses, capable of destroying any stronghold invincible…
The coloring of Liu’s sculptures is also quite personalized. We can see that he’s well trained in that aspect while in traditional academic sculpture education system, it was relatively ignored. In recent years, metal coloring and glass fiber reinforced plastics coloring have suddenly come into vogue and almost become a fashion. However, those overwhelmingly bright and garish colors applied to sculptures only to get attention, while Liu employed composed and imposing colors to create a more harmonious atmosphere. Liu is indeed a master in matching color with figures.
Liu’s innocent, pure, honest and true personality makes his works particularly valuable and left his peers behind.
Besides his unique personality, Liu’s works also embody highlighted regional features, which is another reason why we need to take him seriously.
People often say each place has its own way of supporting its own inhabitants. Features of places and their inhabitants are disappearing nowadays in a globalized era, so it’s quite praiseworthy for Liu to still keep spiritual connections with loess plateau and places where he was brought up. Spirits drawn from the loess plateau like being grand, rough, bold, imposing and plain exhibited well in Liu’s works.
“His works have the vigor of Shaanxi people.” Once Ma Qingyuan, the famous architect said when talking about Dai Geng, a youth sculptor using black bricks to built a car. The “vigor” here means regional characteristics. So do Liu’s sculptures.
The “vigor” of Liu Ruowang’s works come from the breeding of the loess plateau and rich local cultural traditions. More efforts need to be paid and more tenacious will power is required in facing struggling living environment and during the fight between individuals and fate. Local features showcased from the traditional and civic arts in Shaanxi are correspondent to this living reality.
We can see apparent absorption of the terracotta warriors and horses unearthed in northern Shaanxi in Liu’s sculptures. The designing is quite complete with figures composed of several large blocks and so they seem vigorous and powerful; similarly with those terracotta warriors and horses, Liu’s works stress clusters with many figures in a parade; in color, they share the dying.
It needs to be pointed out that Liu didn’t get lost in tradition, because he also paid attention to absorb contemporary visual cultural characteristics. Many of his figures have “a sense of the cameras”, such as super big hands. Meanwhile, Liu often exaggerate legs’ seize and weight to highlight figures’ loftiness by forcing people to look up. These are related to camera perspective formed through viewing through cameras and visual transformations through mechanical viewing.
To sum up, Liu’s works are representative ones in recent years’ youth sculpture creations. Nevertheless, he is still so young that many of his works were created in accordance with his nature. There is still a long way to go for him to become more stable and mature in selecting contents and simplifying individual modeling language and more capable in designing his future directions.
At Shangmeilin, Shenzhen