Paintings by Song Wenzhi, 1972-1975

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The following scenes were painted by the Chinese artist Song Wenzhi during the 1970s. I find these much more interesting than the rather derivative Socialist Realist style that predominated from the 1950s-1970s. Superficially, at least (I’m no expert in East Asian art), these would seem to use non-realist “traditional” forms to depict quintessentially modern content. Technoindustrial alterations to the landscape are part of the landscape.

As I wrote in response to someone who felt the representation of industrial imagery “polluted” the purity of the traditional genre of Chinese landscape paining, there’s an ironic fidelity to Wenzhi’s paintings to this tradition. By this I mean that traditional Chinese landscape paintings often did include scattered human artifacts — bridges, huts, sometimes tiny people — embedded in the scenery. So it’s not as if humanity’s intervention into nature is wholly absent from such paintings. In the paintings of Wenzhi, however, the scale of these manmade structures, especially those involved in or facilitated by industrialization, is obviously much larger. On a whole different scale, one might say. Even then, these are integrated into the landscape.

Traditional Chinese landscape painting featuring small human artifacts

Traditional Chinese landscape painting featuring small human artifacts

However, I wouldn’t say that this is simply a continuation of tradition. Wenzhi was doubtless aware that a qualitative difference had resulted from this quantitative increase. Continue reading