Wang Jiajia: Elegant, Circular, Timeless
Chinese / English
28 x 29 cm
38 color illustrations
In the beginning, there are the eyes, big and eloquent eyes, yellow and squinty eyes, vertical slits of a cat’s or a fox’s pupils. They are looking out at us through thickets of painting, abstract brushstrokes in daring colors, in whose deep layers we find a convergence of painting time and viewing time. Chinese artist Wang Jiajia brings his own mix of influences to the canvas, between traces of traditional landscape painting and an academic training in London, inspired by the wealth of the Internet and the combined actions of abstract expressionism and video gaming. “I want to create works that draw you to them, battle for your attention, that are like a counter to all the rest of the shiny stuff online,” the artist says. “So I use the same strategy to mirror this constant information flow: the paintings themselves are more layered, contain more brushstrokes, more techniques, thicker paint, and more varied colors, while the backgrounds contain hidden references, and the titles carry hidden meanings. I want each painting to be bursting with content.”
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WXY: You oscillate between the printed matter and the artist’s brush, between meaning of text and images in different languages. These are some of very fascinating observations; in particular the humor imbedded in the translation of lyrics is not something that would immediately jump out for people who do not have bi-cultural/bi-lingual experiences. You struggle with the identity of paintings, just as you might have struggled with your own identity in the Chinese Diaspora once upon a time. So tell me more about your childhood in London and the aesthetic formation of this bi-cultural identity.
WJJ: Well, I think my old games consoles were one of the important aesthetics for my childhood. I could imagine Sonic and Mario running up and down Chinese landscapes every night before I went to bed. I think the graphics of the early Sega and Nintendo games left a lot of happy memories for me. Growing up in London in the 1990s, there really wasn’t a lot of Chinese entertainment for a kid. But in Chinatown you could play Dragon Ball, which was Asian at least, so it filled a hole for me, because I guess I was always itching to see heroes that looked like me. I think the reason that I am still drawn to this cartoon-like aesthetic can be a response to the childhood trauma of not being able to always get what I wanted. Things were very expensive to buy so it was a luxury to get a video tape or a comic book.
The eventual transition from the 2D side-scrolling games to the choppy 3D polygon Playstation all influenced my painting vocabulary growing up. I still like to use pieces of background scenery for the collages that start my paintings, now from games such as Donkey Kong and Puzzle Bubble. I even used the head of Sonic the Hedgehog for one of my new works in this series, although from a poster of the new Sonic film. I try to use games from my own earlier timeline to give a sense of what generation I grew up in. I like these subtle hints to the viewer of a sense of history even if it is just a few pixels on a background.
On the other hand, during college I was interested in landscape painting, especially the Chinese mountains. I had seen so much of it, as both of my parents are artists following the tradition and techniques of the Tang Dynasty Gongbi. The memory of them teaching me to paint mountains and trees is a happy one. The vivid and bold color they use in their work is one of the things that my work has in common with them (though from a technical and stylistic standpoint my work is very different from theirs). I think the references to Chinese traditional painting are more about the relationship between my parents and me than about the medium itself.
So I gravitated toward creating my own versions of “Chinese landscapes.” They were not traditional at all, but the principles of landscape painting with rocks, waterfalls, and clouds were all there. I think I had reached a point in my life when I was ready to embrace my own cultural identity. I thought I could talk about tradition and the exploration of my own cultural identity through a painted medium and the relationship between my own upbringing and how painting evolves when two cultures merge. Identity to me seemed to be a more important issue than it is now. I was always searching for a definitive answer to where I am from, and was I more Chinese or English? There was always a wanting to belong, and so there was a fragile nature to the work because I wanted to reflect my own uncertainty.
WXY: I like the entanglement of your personal experience with the seemingly external phenomena. Abstract concepts, such as tradition, identity, language, and cultural differences, become intimate and approachable …
WJJ: Paintings are not simple. Every mark, every brushstroke, is an intention that alludes to a feeling or a moment based in reality. Everything is referenced with something. You may not be able to figure out what it is. It could be a subconscious regurgitating of ideas but it is definitely there. Maybe the creation of the painting isn’t abstract but the notion of trying to understand it is the new abstraction?
In collaboration with Cornerstone Art