More than once I have asked Xie Nanxing to explain the secret magic behind his painting. When we struggle to find some guiding principle behind the variations of his imagery in his work, are the materials he uses important? By way of response, Xie points out that my curiosity points to a false proposition. This is because he is continuously manufacturing materials, not in order to form a picture, but rather its opposite: he wants to cut off the audience’s experience, making us aware of the fact that what we are looking at is not a painting. If we are interested in his work on a material level, it is process or behavior that constitutes materiality.
For Xie, today’s audiences relate to images primarily through screen-generated content rather than experiences of physical objects, so the notion of traditional painter—a process in which painter and material shape one another in the depiction of a real scene—is outmoded. The act of painting today is unlikely to ever return to what it once meant to make a painting in a more classical sense. This studio visit presents multiple sense of the materials Xie uses throughout his creative visual process in order to understand the structure of production behind his work.
In painting, light is a medium of indisputable importance. Early painting utilized the projection of light onto the body of the subject to produce volume, texture, shading, and other visual effects. Similarly, light helps Xie create visual disturbances in the depiction of objects and scenes. He then uses video, photography, and, ultimately, television in the final transmission of the image. In this process, the artist is in constant pursuit of a composition he finds personally satisfying, looking for ways to upset the process and stimulate his experience of painting.
Other tools Xie uses include popular movie posters, renderings of interior renovations, and other readymade images mobilized in order to forming new pictures. During this process, he dislodges the visual associations with which we are most familiar and brings out new ones in their stead.
In one series, Xie sees the content of the canvas on which he works as his raw material, positioning as the work proper the marks that soak through to the next canvas beneath it. This “Triangle Relations Gradually Changing” series first arose not as a response to art historical references but rather as a very personal response to Lucian Freud’s The Painter Surprised by a Naked Admirer. Xie painted five canvases in response as source materials that, in transferring themselves to adjacent canvases, resulted in five entirely different works. He describes the experience: “The first time I saw the painting, I thought that Freud had come to a revelation in his later years; instead of paying attention to the image of the model in the picture, he came to see the actual model in front of him. Later, I understood the meaning of ‘admirer’ in the title of the work and was disappointed, because it turned out he was actually just arrogant.”
Text by Song Yi
Translated by Katy Pinke