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Xie Nanxing

Untittled, 1999, Oil on canvas, 190/150 cm. (Coll. Navartis, Suisse, Urs Meile gallery, Lucerne)

Xie Nanxing reveals how artistic expression can manifest from such assorted influences. At the very least, Nanxing’s paintings are memorable for their immaculate surfaces - despite their very large, 3m span. But, like the innumerable stories within China itself, there is much more to tell.
Nanxing hails from Chongqing, and lives and works in the provincial capital Chengdu (Sichuan). It was there, in the South West of the Chinese land mass, that Nanxing studied visual arts for seven years.
He graduated to the lofty heights of representation by a Swiss gallery. In 1999, Nanxing garnered critical acclaim at the prestigious Venice Biennale for his exquisite, in-your-face, paintings of an injured naked body.

Naturally the clamour of the critics conjured its de facto accompaniment of furore. That was, of course, the fag-end of the 1990s: the ‘sensational’ decade in contemporary art. The new paintings, from 1999-2002, mark a shift from overt to subtle subject matter.
Via the able assistance of interpreter Min Li, Nanxing acknowledges that “some important exhibitions” and “promotions” have led to “an increasing interest” in his work.
What then, given the insignificant subject matter, is Nanxing describing? “This question is very interesting [long pause]. When people view my paintings, I don’t think it is very necessary to give reasons for them to view it, or to keep viewing it.”
Though Nanxing is not a pure Modernist, the spectre that lies behind that last remark is Modernism: the movement away from the centuries-old, Academic, traditional painting that attempts to faithfully imitate or represent reality often for spurious moral, political and educational ends.

Nanxing nods, distinguishing his work from the history and narrative-inspired paintings in Manchester Art Gallery’s collection - what Nanxing calls “pictures that tell stories”.
The marvel of these paintings doesn’t lie in their technical skill, the immaculate surface, or the precision Photo-Realism. Rather, it’s found in the interplay between their given Photo-Realist style and the expressionistic abstraction of their content.
The latter has been taken from the lens-based media of film and video where improbable points-of-view and close-ups are possible.
It is through his considered short selection that Nanxing chooses to focus on finite shards of reality like the flame tips of an oven hob, or the edge of a puddle of oil. And by painting precision slices of banality, and putting the canvases in a gallery, Nanxing is well on the way to nudging the viewer’s cosy expectations: “to test the observer’s visual psychology.”
In fact, the overall effect of this exhibition could be summed up by one word: pace. Not a word you usually associate with painting.
But the paintings turn their static gallery space into a place of variable movement. Viewers may glide by at a steady rate, but the blasting hiss of the huge flames of the oven hob, the creeping yet unstoppable momentum of the thick oil, and the changeling whoosh of the traffic triptych is palpable.
Pace and rhythm. When cross-questioned on this, a glint appears in Nanxing’s eyes and he smiles, tapping out different rhythms on the gallery floor where he has sat throughout this interview: drr drr drrrrr!

This interview is an extract from the full version featured in City Life magazine, edition 477

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