In the volatile world of Chinese contemporary art there is one important category, energetic and vigorous, which continues to give people an intense visual shock; this category is Chinese contemporary sculpture. More importantly, sculpture has begun to be used by different types of artists to create works with deep meaning and a striking visual impact. Sculpture’s meaning and function has therefore become much richer, not only in terms of three dimensional space, but touching upon an understanding of the concepts behind all contemporary art.
Liu Ruowang’s relationship with sculpture is exactly such an example. He was born in Northern Shaanxi and has an honest nature; his character is as straightforward as the landscape of the Loess Plateau. Towards art he is tough and persistent, and these characteristics have become the foundation of his study of art, his demands of art, and the source of his artistic life. He continuously studied and searched, learning to paint, but in the end he wanted a medium that would place less restriction on his expressions, and so chose sculpture. Or, as he sees it, it is not sculpture of the accepted school, but rather it comes from his deepest consciousness, he uses the power of his feelings towards the physical body, and the way its presence affects him. He not only has mastered the language of sculpture, more importantly he seeks to have an influence in sculpture; in its hidden arteries to establish a kind of historical narrative. This narrative is not the already existing theory of reflection in sculpture, imitating a certain image of society, but is established in the context of a historical timeline, and takes inspiration from the artist’s personal experiences. It takes imagination and mixes it with hyper realism. What drives Liu Ruowang to create sculptures is his narrative imagination. He has established such a heavily physical method of expression because his mind has been subdued by certain forces in his life, and so he must use this strong visual power to confront and collapse these forces. At this moment, the language of sculpture is for him not just a conception of space, but has become a visual metaphor of a historical dialogue.
Beginning from his early work ‘The East is Red’, he attempted to fuse his own feelings with historical symbols into one body, and his search for what would constitute the characteristics of his own art first became visible. Because of the richness of his work, without compromising feeling, its boldness without compromising delicateness, it obtained an award in the ‘Bright Lights’ exhibition at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Later, his series ‘People’ and ‘Horse and Carriage Guard’ were also very well received. The seven ‘People Series’ sculptures now standing in the 798 art district are a part of the landscape, and have become one of the recognizable symbols of 798, time and again they can be seen in Chinese and international art magazines. Liu Ruowang is continuously extending his creative thinking and continuously seeking new breakthroughs with his works, making progress through steady deduction. He has not pursued the pop art path of frivolous sculptures; rather in his works he continues to seriously explore the cultural elements within history.
As an individual artist, Liu Ruowang has his own take on history; he has not simply accumulated a few symbols, but rather has allowed history to take root in his living environment, creating a fresh image. Deep in his consciousness, there has always been an indistinct call, stored up for a long time. For many years he aimlessly wandered, looking for a direction and this nagging call followed him like a shadow. How could he control the deep sadness in his heart? This is exactly how he recalls himself being born and growing up. The image of history often reflects his own consciousness today, in the sense that history and the landscape have imprinted this call on his subconscious along with the image of a soldier from heaven vividly portrayed. But the heaven’s soldier is a metaphor of history. Since ancient times the Qin Plain and the Wei River have been scenes of the disasters of war, a land that has emerged from conflict: the Qin Emperor and the Han military, an age of civil and military skill; then the flourishing age of the Tang Dynasty, with its vast and open atmosphere. The so-called people of the land, standing in the valleys of the Qin hills, could see the central plains of the Yellow River. This is one familiar historical circumstance, but for Liu Ruowang in his creation ‘Heaven Soldier’, he is making the land part of history, using the visual as a secret passage to release the heroic spirit and arouse the bugle call of the armoured cavalry.
So when Liu Ruowang again confronts history, he now has a different understanding, he gives to the ‘Heaven Soldier’ the drama inherent in the great literary figures. The heaven soldier comes from the instructive myths of the people, which often give rise to endless imaginative freedom, with which he has fused political concepts. Righting wrongs in accordance with heaven’s decree, with heaven’s birthright: Heaven soldier, brave on the battlefield, all-conquering; heaven soldier, become a symbol of power, and the land has become the territory on which he gallops. Therefore, ‘Heaven Soldier’, through its overall composition, has become a visual landscape, what was once the artist’s dream has therefore become a reality. Liu Ruowang’s individual feelings towards history have been converted into a public visual scene, the tunnel of history is at this point opened up, using the viewer’s illusory ‘personally there’ feeling, the visual leading to the tactile. The dark green shows signs of rust and many earthy colours, giving the impression that the statue is an archaeological discovery and allowing the perception to embrace the historical narrative which ‘Heaven Soldier’ points to. At this moment, a new symbol of power is born.
The work is an image cast from the Qin, Han and Tang Dynasties, manly and with vital energy, slightly heavy and serious, but not entirely without humour. Liu Ruowang’s choices also imply that the form of sculpture has been surmounted, as the digital age has created a new visual dreamland, so sculpture has become a method of deep thought. In reality, sculpture can be surmounted, and it can be diverted, this is why so many contemporary artists are striving with each other in their use of sculpture. What’s more, the sculpture of today is already not the same as traditional sculpture; it has become the stage prop of publicized artists and their standpoints. This tendency is also a trademark of contemporary art, different media can be used to express artistic concepts, and the old limits of media are no longer used as a standard for art. On the contrary, artworks which overstep these limits are more and more common, this is no longer considered amateurish, but is considered the true nature of art. Therefore, being a pure sculptor today is more and more difficult; being a pure mould-making artist is equally difficult. The function and intension of art has undergone a drastic change, and not being content with one form of expression is more and more the choice of today’s artists. In regard to sculpture, one of its hallmarks is that it is more and more an expression of the creator’s consciousness, they use sculpture as a medium, in the space between stasis and motion… this tension defines the state of sculpture, thereby realizing its tremendous expressive force. So, Liu Ruowang views sculpture not simply as a grasp of modeling form, but rather as beginning from deep thought on difficult questions. Form must serve content, in today’s art world this has become simple and clear, but this content must be one’s own, not imposed on the artist from outside, this is an extremely important characteristic. If not, then the content might lose the artist’s individuality and directness.
Today, one artwork cannot express everything, one artist cannot express everything. Each provides the appearance of one type of choice, implying that we have a cultural mentality of choice and that choice is a major factor in our society; but one type of popular choice does not convey that other alternatives have been overlooked. When individual artists act as an expression of society’s choice in a deadlocked state of affairs, then the artist with a strong will can make their own hallmarks and philosophy reach a large public and is free to fully express their understanding of the world. This exactly describes the position of today’s artists. Liu Ruowang, chiefly because of this type of tenacity and deep thought, has made progress step by step, allowing his sculpture to exceed the expressive limits of the medium.
(Wang Chunchen: Central Academy of Fine Arts, Doctor of Art History, Art Critic)