“The painting is like an echo in the wilderness. It cannot be explained. It confesses, self-affirms, and self-repeats, but it cannot describe itself. It is a kind of tone, or a kind of atmosphere. I am the way I touch. This is the only way.”
—Artist Wang Tiehua
A Symbolic Representation of the Mind
“The confusion for the audience is that what they can see is only the completed works by artists as the enigmatic process of creation cannot be shared. Hence, it is extremely tough to sort out the potential elements and thinking pattern in an artist’s creation.” Due to the natural distance between the artist and the audience, the interpretations derived from the artist’s own education, artistic experience, life experience, and other multiple factors are often difficult for the audience to access, especially for abstract art.
Light colors as background, the seemly irregular scribbles and the abstract English characters in black handwriting...in the exhibition hall of the Zero Art Center, Wang Tiehua’s new series of work “Zero-Handwriting” and “The Staff of Moses” created during the pandemic, as well as his previous creations displayed on one side form a contrast and intertextuality. This kind of contrast firstly comes from the “form” that the audience can directly perceive, namely, the scale of landscape paintings, the dots, scratches and traces of ink paintings. The previous work of Wang Tiehua presents highly recognizable ink elements, so some scholars take his work as an example to provide a new sample for the development of contemporary ink painting. For his new works, they jump out of a visual form and use abstract symbolic representations to construct pictures.
Besides, most of Wang’s previous works were entitled with verses, while the name of the new work “Zero” is more like a neutral word to be explained, and “The Staff of Moses” stands for a typical Western culture. Their interpretation is expected to be participated in by the artist or the audience. The intertextuality lies in the fact that the artist consistently adheres to the use of comprehensive materials to create while leaving a strong handwritten and sophisticated spatial expression.
"Zero-Handwriting 2020—20", 41x41cm, Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2020
"The Staff of Moses" No.26, 72x73cm, Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2020
"Sleep in East Hill", Ink and Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 17cmx28cm, 2015
“Wang’s logic of painting and visual identity is based on his knowledge of architecture and calligraphy.”  For artist Wang Tiehua, it is often the first thing that is captured as an architect. Before being an artist that presented his artworks, Wang Tiehua was a teacher at the School of Architecture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and he had designed landmark buildings for many places, such as the Yanjiao Campus of CAFA. Apart from being an architect, Wang Tiehua is also a lover of calligraphy and painting. Wang Tiehua inherited his father’s ideals from an early age and received strict training in painting. However, he chose science when he was in high school. As the painting major of CAFA did not accept science students, he could only choose the architecture major instead. His doctoral dissertation focused on classical gardens. The Chinese literati’s spatial awareness mainly comes from literature, calligraphy and painting. Therefore, he carried out research and practice on calligraphy and space, and discovered that the relationship among texts, space, writing and body in gardens is the core of the eastern aesthetics of gardens. In addition, he used many opportunities when studying abroad to observe the works of the masters at close range, and pondered in his heart and practiced by himself quietly.
On the one hand, Wang Tiehua maintains a natural closeness to painting, while on the other hand, he has studied extensively, transforming what he has learned into the cultivation of art, and finally dissolving into the picture through the formal representation of different media and materials. This is a common genetic potential element that can be observed in all of his works before and after. As Wang Tiehua regarded the painting as a sort of fetish, a kind of obsession, and an “ecstasy”. The form constructed by multiple materials seems to be an iconic zen quote, “in the indecipherability, it radiates the creator’s identity, disturbance, transcendence, neglect, and the futility of rhetoric.” He claims to be a mediator and a god of relief called by painting. Scholar Yin Shuangxi once commented on Wang Tiehua’s previous work that it has transformed the individual’s understanding regarding the life experience of nature to a symbolic representation of the mind.”
Developing Painting into a Language of Thinking
Wang Tiehua’s first solo exhibition held in SZ Art Center in 798 art district in 2017 has aroused the attention and affirmation of scholars because of a set of mature painting language that has current value and meaning, such as the smudge of ink, the treatment of space, the use of comprehensive materials, and the works entitled with verses, etc. Some scholars even used Huang Binhong’s late-blooming as a comparison to illustrate that although Wang Tiehua’s art came out late, the accumulated thickness and quality of the work should not be underestimated. Currently, the exhibition in Zero Art Center not only selected some of the previous works featuring ink painting and comprehensive materials on wood, but also concentrated on the display of the “reformation” on paper-based works last year, as well as comprehensive material works in oils this year. We can't help but be curious about the changes in the art form shown in this exhibition—is it a transformational attempt or a qualitative change?
"Zero-Handwriting 2020—23", 41x41cm, Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2020
"Zero-Handwriting"No.46, 200x200cm, Oil and Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2021
"Zero-Handwriting"No.48 200x200cm Oil and Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2021
In the interview with CAFA ART INFO, Wang Tiehua bluntly stated that these transformations were rooted in the changes in the world during this period, which brought him new reflections. Under the pandemic, everyone was hidden behind a mask, and the number of confirmed infected cases and the social distancing made him deeply aware of the great changes brought about by “zero”. Meanwhile, he was inspired by Zero Art in Europe and wanted to make a creation that was different from his previous work. He would like to shift from the modern transformation of ink art within the oriental culture to a more free and comprehensive painting method. On the one hand, he used “Zero”, a symbol of the universe, to inquire about the right fate of human beings under the global pandemic. On the other hand, he also expected that the thinking of painting would return to the zero point. Based on this understanding, he was no longer satisfied with oriental ink symbols, and began to learn from the 20th century non-figurative painting, quantum physics and post-structuralist semiotics, hoping to create paintings that embody the spirit of the times.
In the continuous attempts of pictures in his work, he constructed some civilized image symbols, some like geological fossils, some like the remains of buildings and some like the ruins of unfinished buildings. At the same time, some texts and symbolic elements, graffiti and formula from physics were also added to indicate that the world is full of entangled matter and fragments of thoughts, and the universe is something that is always traceable and impressionistic to humans. He seems to be trying to develop his painting into a language of thinking at this stage. Therefore, in the new works exhibited this time, we can see that his painting not only regards consciousness as the main body of symbolization, but also creates the material texture of concrete existence. The work is full of sudden changes and the tension of calmness. Picture overlays picture, character overwrites character, phrase covers phrase, signifier overlays signifier—it becomes a sort of ritual, from which the original meaning can be accessed.
"The Staff of Moses"No.03, 96.5x179cm, Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2020
Exhibition View in SZ Art Center
In-between the “Zero” and the World and the Painting
From the conversation with Wang Tiehua, it could be seen that as an artist with an architectural background, he has a clear and rational understanding of his art, which can be proved from the exhibition title “Zero & Gravitational Waves”. Starting from his real feeling in 2020, he created a group of works with novel appearance and form, and at the same time implanted more speculative and rational concepts in the title of the works and exhibition title. By doing so, he expects to trigger a reflection that regards the destiny of human beings and individuals through artistic events.
When the primordial world was first split, everything was not yet solidified, and everything returned to “zero”—it is the reincarnation of the universe. In the preface Wang Tiehua wrote for this exhibition, he mentioned that,
“In the year 2020, the pandemic has spread throughout the world. Humans have been infected from zero to hundreds of millions, which caused the death of millions of people. There is no funeral procession, no ritual, just blackness, and the avoidance of contact. The number of infected data continues to increase...”
“Starting from zero, where everything originated, it indicates the end of zero as well. At the null point, there is destruction, while the destruction comes down to the beginning...”
The “zero” defeats or suspends humanity and the material. In essence, it is the law of the universe. And this means that in-between “zero” and the world and painting, there is an ongoing rethinking, or a war of knowledge, experience and symbols about people and the universe. From Wang Tiehua’s perspective, under the eclipse of the huge waves of time, “gravity” is the only place where the passions and dreams of people in the world can be maintained. Gravity is an expanded space and creates new dimensions to connect with the universe, as if it connects with countless parallel worlds, breaking through the two-dimensional limitations of zero.
"Zero-Handwriting 2020-36", 41x41cm, Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2020
"Zero-Handwriting 2020-26", 41x41cm, Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2020
"The Staff of Moses" No.8, 59.6x76cm, Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2020
A hundred years ago, Einstein first mentioned the term “gravitational waves” in the “General Theory of Relativity”. When a stone is thrown into the water, ripples are generated, and the “ripples in the space-time” produced by astronomical bodies such as black holes in the violent motion are called “gravitational waves”. Gravitational waves are likely to contain a huge amount of information about the birth of the universe. The discovery of gravitational waves finds evidence for various predictive theories such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Inflation Theory”.
In 2016, humans detected and confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, which was a breakthrough in human science. This is also the latest achievement of humans looking into the origin and evolution of the universe. The transition from “zero” to the confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves implies the ultimate thinking about the destiny of the universe and mankind. At the exhibition site, these philosophical works echo the sound of gravitational waves from the universe as they appear in the exhibition hall, which further demonstrates the depth of these works and the artist’s thoughts.
Painting is the Materialization of Thought and is an Attraction
In the interview, regarding the future direction of art, Wang Tiehua believed that as an artist, he cannot make creations without his own life experience and the influence of the world around him. The watercolor and freehand sketching training as an architect in the early years, and the symbolic expression of architectural image thought process all the year-round, made Wang Tiehua deeply reflect on texture, paper surface, water and layered picture characteristics, which also explains the ink genes in his previous works—ink painting is convenient and easy to express his feelings, especially when he needed to spend a lot of time on architectural design. Under the stimulus of the pandemic, Wang Tiehua’s thinking and creations have focused more on cosmic time and space and quasi-character symbols.
At the same time, Wang Tiehua said frankly that he has been pursuing the authenticity of art, a direct expression of the creative soul, and art full of the rational and ideal. The “Zero-Handwriting” series is an endless “signifier chain” of images, and the process of “anxiety” is the most important. While “The Staff of Moses” is the remaining “ash” after the burning of the world. “Zero-Handwriting” aims at the destruction of stability and the center, while “The Staff of Moses” aims at the continuation of the “trace” elements. The painting itself is also the trace left by the original sound, which is similar to the existence of an echo, and they are all in the game of creating an echo.
"Zero-Handwriting 2020—25", 41x41cm, Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2020
"Zero-Handwriting 2020-37", 41x41cm, Comprehensive Materials on Paper, 2020
Wang Tiehua said: “Painting is the materialization of thought, not a straightforward expression, it is also a form of attraction. Painting is the result of gravitational attraction to me. A piece of white paper is ‘zero’, which contains many possibilities.” And Wang Tiehua is someone who puts many artistic thoughts on a piece of white paper among many objects. Spanish artist Anthony Tapies said: “As an artist, the most important thing is how to participate in contemporary art from a personal perspective, not necessarily as a national identity to engage in artistic creation.” Perhaps this is what Wang Tiehua pursues.
Text by Yang Zhonghui
Translated by Emily Weimeng Zhou and edited by Sue.
Images courtesy of the organizer.
 Yin Shuangxi, “Objecthood: On Latest Works of Wang Tiehua”, Scene/Awareness: Wang Tiehua Painting Collection, Anhui Fine Arts Publishing House, 2017, P5.
 Ge Yujun, “The DNA of Ink and Wash in Contemporary Art: A Dimension of Interpreting Wang Tiehua’s Works”, Scene/Awareness: Wang Tiehua Painting Collection, Anhui Fine Arts Publishing House, 2017, P12-15.
 Cao Tiancheng, “Structure, Medium and Residue: Three Dimension of Wang Tiehua’s Work”, Scene/Awareness: Wang Tiehua Painting Collection, Anhui Fine Arts Publishing House, 2017, P20.
 Wang Tiehua, “Ecstasy”, Scene/Awareness: Wang Tiehua Painting Collection, Anhui Fine Arts Publishing House, 2017, P2