An Interview with Tang Hui on “The Community”

DATE: 2021.1.8

An Interview with Tang Hui.jpg

“The Community”, theme of Tang Hui’s latest solo exhibition in One Art Museum embodies quite a diversified significance. This concept was proposed by Aristotle as it implies the community is crystallized with a common pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty among the members. It was also mentioned in Zygmunt Bauman’s book Community, “Some words convey a feeling, and the word ‘community’ is one of them.” It can convey people’s ardent hope to inhabit. Or it can be interpreted by Raymond Williams as “it has the connotation of direct and common care”, which means various forms of co-organization, thus it is a word “full of emotion and persuasiveness.” [1] Williams also put forward in Culture and Society that “the concept of community is a positive concept of mutual responsibility.” [2] They all point to some common purpose: its foundation stems from a synchronized inner core relationship, it has beautiful wishes for the present and the future, and it may endow a relative sense of identity and security within a certain range. Among the current circumstances, there are collisions and conflicts, threats and anxieties, suspicions and uneasiness, this may be the reason why people are repeatedly concerned about the word. However, this exhibition does not involve any grand political concept, but it revolves around the imagination and extraordinary experience created by the artist with his abilities.

Interviewee: Tang Hui, Professor of Mural Painting Department of Central Academy of Fine Arts

Interviewer: Zhang Yizhi/CAFA ART INFO

Photo by: Hu Sichen/CAFA ART INFO

Interview time: December 17, 2020

Interview location: Office of Mural Painting Department

Edited and translated by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

CAFA ART INFO: How long did you prepare for “The Community” at One Art Museum and what was the overall process? This exhibition was not presented in the general art district, but in Zhongguancun. I heard that you have a very different feeling, would you share your stories with us?

Tang Hui: In December of 2019, Mr. Cheng Dapeng, Visual Director of One Art Museum, mentioned to me about holding a solo exhibition. I knew him well from previous exhibitions and we cooperated before, thus we kept in touch. I am usually used to being low-key, and holding a solo exhibition has exerted a great psychological pressure for me, but actually I had enough works for the exhibition. The sudden outbreak of the pandemic disrupted many of my plans and I was stranded in the United States. When I received their invitation, I hesitated. I planned to say that I would take a look at the venue “online” first, and they sent me a video on the Museum while my friends helped me to visit the Museum personally. After learning about it, maybe it’s the establishment that really impressed me, since One Art Museum in Zhongguancun is not a traditional art museum venue. It is more like a shopping mall. The space is circulated and there is a coffee shop at the door. It is interconnected within the exhibition hall. One-third of the first floor has floor-to-ceiling windows and a mobile exhibition wall is installed inside. The space on the second floor is relatively quiet and a relatively closed space. This was my earliest impression of the space. I did not know whether the exhibition could be presented at that time with the influence of the pandemic, thus I did not care much about it at all.

Monument Series, 300 X 200cm,Acrylic on linen,2018.JPGThe Monument series, 300cm × 200cm, Acrylic on linen, 2018

Fish, 100cmX80cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019.jpgFish, 100cm × 80cm, Acrylic on canvas, 2019

My friends said before that Tang Hui’s exhibitions were not usually presented in normal exhibition spaces, which was indeed the case. But this time in Zhongguancun, the location of the exhibition area is one of the most attractive places I have seen. In other words, “Zhongguancun” is actually one of the impression labels from my colleagues on me (laughs), according to them, Tang Hui is a person who likes “high-tech" and is enthusiastic about electronic products. When I was stranded in the United States, I lived in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and next to Apple Inc. headquarters. So, these related things also contain some of my love for “IT” and technology. I have been interested in computers and IT since studying at college. At that time, the Fourth Ring Road in Beijing had not yet opened. My friends and I often took the bus to Zhongguancun to buy equipment and parts, including 286 (Editor’s Note: 80286, the official name is iAPX 286, is an x86 series CPU of Intel Corporation, originally released in 1982) until the latest Mac Pro.

Deer Robot Series No.3, 60cmX50cm, Acrylic on linen, 2014.jpgDeer Robot Series No.3, 60cm×50cm, Acrylic on linen, 2014

Deer Robot Series No.4, 60cmX50cm, Acrylic on linen, 2014.jpgDeer Robot Series No.4, 60cm×50cm, Acrylic on linen, 2014

There are many game parks around Zhongguancun. For example, girls like to go shopping for clothes, while boys “surf” in some electronic malls in Zhongguancun. Feng Mengbo and I enjoyed visiting Zhongguancun at that time. He was more professional than me in this field, as he was able to convert these into his works, and I was playing it purely as a game. I just played the system, with various bug fixes of the old PC system, re-installation of the system, and I had the earliest homepage in China. If it weren’t for the enthusiasm for electronic products, I might be more productive in art (laughs), they take up almost 50%-60% of my time.

My log landscape 04,66 X 33cm, Ink on paper,2016.jpgMy log landscape 04, 66cm × 33cm, Ink on paper,2016

My log landscape 08,66 X 33cm, Ink on paper,2016.jpgMy log landscape 08, 66cm ×33cm, Ink on paper,2016

My log landscape 11,66 X 33cm, Ink on paper,2016.jpgMy log landscape 11, 66cm ×33cm, Ink on paper,2016

Just as Pi Li wrote about me in an article that I agreed with it very much. He said that my work reflects a kind of excitement and love for industrial civilization, which is mixed with many elements of machinery, metal, weapons, etc. I went to Taiwan to work on a project. When I came back, I used all my payment and bought a Mac laptop, which was about $1,400. Later, when the battery of the Mac laptop broke down, I couldn’t find an important interface in Beijing at all, and there was no Apple shops in China, it was going back and forth. Therefore, I spent a lot of time and energy on electronic related products. At that time, I applied for a mural painting project in Taiwan. I needed to communicate via email, and I had to ride to the Telegraph Building in Beijing to apply. There were only a few email addresses, which ended with The Internet in my memory was completely different from what it is now, so thinking of these experiences related to “Zhongguancun” is full of my emotions and memories, which is one of the reasons that I am very interested in holding an exhibition there.

Skin series, 60cmX120cm, Aluminum plate sketch. 2010.jpgThe Skin series, 60cm × 120cm, Drawing on aluminum panel, 2010

Skin series, 60cmX120cm, Aluminum plate sketch. 2010. 02.jpgThe Skin series, 60cm× 120cm, Drawing on aluminum panel, 2010

Skin series, 60cmX120cm, Aluminum plate sketch. 2010. 03.jpg

The Skin series, 60cm × 120cm, Drawing on aluminum panel, 2010

CAFA ART INFO: “Community” is also an important term that has been mentioned a lot in recent years and the content is relatively grand. How do you understand this topic and why did you choose it?

Tang Hui: I am particularly worried that the audience will misunderstand the theme of “community” in this exhibition. It does not indicate any political meaning. We discussed a lot of names during preparation, the community in the political sense is completely different. “Community” in my view puts my works of different styles together as a whole, like a community. For example, some artists’ creations are very symbolic, and they have a continuing prolific rhythm in them. These works of mine are very complicated as they differ in computer creations, iPad paintings, Chinese paintings, acrylics, bronze sculptures, etc. When they are put together, it is a “community.”

Flow 01, 160 X 110cm, Acrylic on linen, 2013.jpgFlow 01, 160cm × 110cm, Acrylic on linen, 2013

Group portrait, 225cmX300cm, Acrylic on linen, 2013.jpgGroup Portrait, 225cm × 300cm, Acrylic on linen, 2013

Actually this term has indeed been mentioned a lot in recent years, it has given us a lot to think about, some people say that I am not in a community with you, I have my independent thinking and independent personality, so this topic also proposes thinking about: Am “I” a member of the community? With so many works in the exhibition, are they a community? I am particularly worried that some people will understand it as a kind of irony, for its literal translation of English has the meaning of “communism”, which has nothing to do with political meaning. It focuses on my series of work and the presentation of the entire exhibition. I feel that the poster embodies this kind of intuitive feeling and it is very powerful, so that the audience can understand it anyway and everyone can generate a different interpretation.

CAFA ART INFO: In addition to the theme of “Community”, there are many grander memory symbols in your works, including the square, the horizon, the poster characters you mentioned, and terms such as “Grand Narrative”. In what way do you think these grand themes are described? Are they grandiose by default? How to comprehend them?

Tang Hui: Actually, what I have been thinking about is how to make an ordinary thing very sublime, such as couriers, ordinary workers, and blue-collar workers. When they are put on a sculpture table, they can become very lofty and great, this is very beautiful, and it also makes people feel very excited, including a kind of heroism. But what we call “grand narrative” is actually to exaggerate an atmosphere, such as the horizon, which may have a very solemn and melancholy feeling. Such as The Monument series that I have created since 2006. I’m not saying it’s a “monument in socialism”. I want to express a mood, a sad mood for the passing away, something that can never be returned at all.

CAFA ART INFO: It is worth noting that you have added a lot of interesting and symbolic elements to many works in this exhibition, such as the monument you mentioned, as well as machinery, space, bamboo joints, and cartoons. These might be closely related to your childhood dreams and life experience. Would you share some more about the relations between your memories and your expression? How do you dig and refine these elements?

Tang Hui: When I was a child, the entire community had no children of my age, so I was lonely. I played with myself and lived in a world full of fantasy and imagination. I decided to paint all the walls of my house. At that time, my grandparents were very tolerant of me, and they didn’t care how I painted the walls, so the content I painted was all from my imagination, including trucks, airships, machinery, etc.. I made three-dimensional works, which were all the models of swords and guns that boys liked. These were all my childhood hobbies, which was hard to tell.

Tang Xin, 55cmX55cm, Acrylic on linen, 1995.jpgTang Xin, 55cm×55cm, Acrylic on linen, 1995

The pandemic gave me the feeling that we human beings feel insecure on earth. What I want to emphasize is security, or a sense of security, but it is not security in the physical sense, but “abstract security.” For example, it’s like arming a very weak person with weapons. This will give him a sense of security. Just like the warriors in cartoons, the mechanical warriors that children like to watch, since they find a preference for it, a process of gradually becoming stronger, children have the complexity of becoming heroes.

Flight, 55cmX55cm, Acrylic on linen, 1995.jpgFlight, 55cm×55cm, Acrylic on linen, 1995

On the first floor of the exhibition hall, I thought, I wanted to face whatever we are afraid of, and armed them to become a venue full of fighter jets, machinery, equipment and an environment that made people feel safe. The floor-to-ceiling windows on the first floor and the coffee shop in the hall will be integrated with the exhibition. In my opinion, they are part of the work. I want to vent some of the emotions accumulated by people during the pandemic. But from a long-term perspective, it is related to my other series of works, and it is also part of my entire work.

CAFA ART INFO: What are the major changes in your creations spanning more than 20 years, or what has not changed?

Tang Hui: This exhibition exhibited my undergraduate graduation work “In Time”. This painting is a two-meter sketch. Later, I drew “In Time·cont” after I graduated with a master’s degree. I enlarged a part and I wanted to finish the whole, but I could not finish it. In the end, I only painted 1/5. I received full marks from the Mural Painting Department and the work was collected by CAFA. Professor Sun Jingbo commented that Tang Hui’s later works did not surpass “In Time”. I still agreed with him, actually, perhaps when an artist is 25-26 years old, it is indeed the pinnacle of his art.

In time. cont, 550 X 220cm,Acrylic on linen,1995.jpgIn Time·cont, 550cm×220cm, Acrylic on linen, 1995

In Time(details), 200cm×37cm, Drawing, 1991

In fact, everyone thinks this work is a very “firm” work, but it has not been exhibited a lot. This time at One Art Museum, I wanted to communicate with IT engineers and examine myself again. Indeed, as I age, my perception of artists is changing. In the past, I paid more attention to the expression of illusory space and imagination. Now that I am at this age, I value materials more and pursue the beauty of materials. I want to “level out” the illusory spaces I created before. Some people may not be able to accept it, but for me, it is my different preferences at each period, which also includes the changes in my comprehension of art.

Deer in Nara, 66x33cm, Ink on paper, 2016.jpg

Deer in Nara 3, 66cm × 33cm, Ink on paper, 2016

In the artistic pursuit I have experienced, there are two things that have a particularly profound impact on me. The first one was the ARCUS International Young Artists Visit and Residence Program, which was cooperated by the Japan Foundation for International Exchange and the Akagi City Government. I was selected in 1997 and this was an exchange opportunity given by the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Young artists from 6 countries communicated together, and I was the only painter in the community. Because in the late 1990s, installation art has already become mainstream and everyone started to adopt installations in art creations. At that time, there were also domestic artists such as Song Dong and Qiu Zhijie who were already very active in this field. Of course, installation art is now very common now. At that time, I still focused on painting. I had some barriers in language communication during my exchange visits in Japan. I began to turn the virtual fantasy space to the study of materials and drew some paintings on wood panels.

The second one is that I created a large-scale Buddhist mural for the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Charity Foundation. They are a Buddhist group with 4 million followers in Taiwan. They often offer donations and charity activities. This collaboration opened up my understanding and research on religion, and these experiences also directly influenced the creation of The Monument and the Deer in Nara series. When I participated in the Shanghai Biennales twice, I basically followed my interest, but everything seemed to have a main thread. To my surprise, I discovered that these things seem to be related to bamboo. No matter what I paint, there is a sense about the structure of bamboo joints, thus I have a strong interest in bamboo joints. Some people say that it is a reflection of the blood flowing in the body of Chinese literati paintings, but when it comes to this, I want to say that I don’t like to emphasize any Chinese or Western terms in art. I neither value nor emphasize it deliberately.

Pine 1.jpgPine 1, 40cm × 50cm, Acrylic on canvas, 2020

Pine 3.jpgPine 3, 40cm × 50cm, Acrylic on canvas, 2020

Fruits, 91 x 76cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2020.jpgFruits, 91cm× 76cm, Acrylic on canvas, 2020

CAFA ART INFO: Many new expressions of technology have been added to your exhibition. Your new works are also directly displayed on the facade of the building using projection, presenting a unique light show. When did you start to put new technological consciousness into your creations?

Tang Hui: My students usually say that Mr. Tang’s computer operation skills are completely different from those in his 50s. I have also used the iPad to create drawings from early on. Basically, I have the equipment of every generation. Although I am a very traditional painter, I should say that my craftsmanship is not bad, but this time I thought of the venue and environment like Zhongguancun I want to present it digitally.


View of light show, Glorious Snow, 2020. One Art Museum.  Image courtesy of One Art Museum. Photo © One Art Museum

A light show was displayed on the LED wall outside the Zhongguancun No. 1 Building. The content created inside is falling snowflakes, which I call “Glorious Snow”. The first floor basically uses digital creative exhibits, and there are many fighter models, power plants, and airships that I designed on the ground floor. The entire wall of the exhibition was painted on an iPad and then it was spray painted. With these vector files, it can be zoomed in and out indefinitely. When I created these new works, it was actually related to my stay in the United States during the pandemic. There was no studio and no tools in the United States, so after I changed my mind, I could paint with an iPad because the ultimate goal of creation was still to convey some thoughts and ideas including my extreme requirements for some lines and related things, the iPad can basically do it. Current technologies, such as printing and 3D engraving machines, can be used, and ideas can be reflected and realized. For example, recently my murals created for Changde’s Mural Walls have been finished, and the stories of Yao, Shun and Yu painted on the iPad are printed on the ceramic plates. The new visual enhancement of RMB this time was not drawn on paper at all. I used to draw on paper, but now all can be done on an iPad, which is very easy to use.

Artist Tang Hui showed his artwork designed with an iPad.jpg

Artist Tang Hui showed his artwork designed with an iPad

CAFA ART INFO: Yes, I heard that the Mural Painting Department also specializes in digital mural painting and other courses. How do you teach in the Mural Painting Department? And how do the students of the School of Plastic Arts choose between traditional creative techniques and new technologies? How would you guide them?

Tang Hui: With the advancement of social media, information spreads quickly, and everyone’s tolerance and acceptance increased. Therefore, our future is not just about some top artists, but there should also be new paths. Now I think everyone should keep yours eyes open and think freely, we cannot limit ourselves to a small category. Some people will also comment as being “student accent” and “decorative”. Generally, when we say decorative, we feel it might be very commercial and it is often looked down upon, but this is not the case. Decoration needs super strong modeling ability and basic skills as support. For example, when we design patterns, we need strong modeling support to complete the transformation. Without super basic decoration, it might be too superficial.

Pig head fighter 02, Vector Design, 2020.png

Pig head fighter 02, Vector Design, 2020

Mobile transmitter, Vector Design 2020.jpgMobile transmitter, Vector Design, 2020

Bamboo Warrior, Vector Design, 2020.jpg

Bamboo Warrior, Vector Design, 2020

When I teach students, I will also ask them to design emoticons, including letting them pay more attention to society, because in the future students will also face survival problems and need to open their horizons a bit more. I will also design toys myself. This time I designed a lot of patterns for toys, such as an ox pattern for the upcoming Chinese new year, small rockets, various mechanical equipment and printed them on cups, canvas bags and clothes, and I have repeatedly modified these designs. When you have strong modeling capabilities, you will not be afraid of comments of decoration or being commercial.

This is a vector avatar I painted for myself during the pandemic.jpgThis is a vector avatar Tang Hui painted for himself during the pandemic.

Pig head fighter, 222 X 160 X 550cm,Polystyrene plastic printing,2020.jpgPig head fighter, 222cm × 160cm × 550cm, Polystyrene plastic printing, 2020

Ring Airship,277 X 350 X 63cm,Polystyrene plastic printing,2020.jpgRing Airship, 277cm ×350cm × 63cm, Polystyrene plastic printing, 2020

Electric Tower, 336 X 336 X 500cm, Polystyrene plastic printing, 2020.jpgElectric Tower, 336cm ×336cm × 500cm, Polystyrene plastic printing, 2020

CAFA ART INFO: In contrast, artists born in the 60s seem to be completely different from current young people, as they have a strong sense of family and country, sense of mission and collective. Even so, you still have a youthful spirit. Many of your ideas are concerning about topics that young people love to discuss, such as the “foundation” and “fantasy world” on the first floor, which are the same as building blocks, sand castles, model spaceships, or many game scenarios. What do you feel about these changes in mentality?

Tang Hui: Indeed, it is true that artists born in the 60s have experienced and witnessed the relatively complicated developing process of this era, including the great changes in China and among the world, which will more or less leave a trace in their hearts. But these are all natural revelations. It is unnecessary to deliberately avoid anything. Anyway, when I create these, I feel satisfied. Once in the evening when I was communicating with artists from a painting academy in another country, suddenly revolutionary songs were put on the speakers. It seemed that I was returning to the scene when I was growing up in a painting academy in Hubei when I was a child. My parents were painting themed creations at that time. There were also tweeters in it, and I felt very transcendent and warm in an instant, because in that environment that I grew up, there is a complex that cannot be erased.

Art Products Printed with Various Patterns Designed by Tang Hui.jpgArt Products Printed with Various Patterns Designed by Tang Hui

Model Products Designed by Tang Hui 1.jpgModel Products Designed by Tang Hui 2.jpg

Model Products Designed by Tang Hui

The art world has already become so diversified. In the past, we devoted ourselves to mural art, because mural painting constructs a very direct contact with people, and it is a form of public art. Therefore, my solo exhibition does not want to be defined as a very academic and inaccessible exhibition, but I hope it allows everyone to see more possibilities. If you talk about art too academically, you are a bit separated from the common people, a bit superior. For example, some of the “bad paintings” in the market in our eyes are very popular among ordinary people. They look good at home and are of a pleasant mood. However, to hang a tight “nude” work is too far away from our lives.

At this age, I think I should do something in a comparatively free way. It’s not that I don’t want to be restricted. What I’m talking about is that at this age, it’s easy for some people to define themselves. I don’t want too much burden, so that we can create more freely. When we abandon these burdens, people will become relaxed and free. I hope we can be freer in the future.

Except for special annotations, image courtesy of the artist and the organizer.


[1] Raymond Williams, translated by Liu Jianji, Keywords: Cultural and Social Vocabulary(SDX Joint Publishing Company, 2016-10)

[2] Raymond Williams, translated by Gao Xiaoling, Culture and Society: 1780-1950, (Sanhui Books/The Commercial Press, 2018-9), p.463;

[3] Fan Di’an, “Tang Hui: Between Memory and Experience”, Chinese Art ( Issue 03, 2011), page 41;