Chinese born Australian artist Fan Dongwang is an established Shanghai artist who exhibited works in Shanghai Art Gallery regularly before moving to Australia in 1990. He is now based in Sydney. He completed his doctoral thesis, Shifting Perspectives and the Body, in Wollongong University and has exhibited at National Gallery of Australia and numerous university and regional art galleries throughout Australia. His artworks have won many art prizes and feature in various public and private collections in China and Australia. In recent years Fan Dongwang has combined his traditional Chinese carving technique with his new acrylic canvas paintings to create his unique visual language, Sculptural Painting. Known for his contemporary depiction of traditional Chinese cultural symbols such as dragons along with western cultural icons such as the gum tree, Fan Dongwang has explored cultural differences, often from diverse visual perspectives in his large and colourful artworks. Here is a selection of paintings by Chinese Australian artist Fan Dongwang.
Shifting Perspective and the Body
Fan Dongwang. 240 x 900 cm.
This large 5-panel painting forms the climax of Fan Dongwang's work, mixing all the different images from various visual sources via shifting perspectives. It is a replication of the bodies full of social and cultural inscriptions and ambivalence.
"The large-scale canvases of artist Fan Dongwang crackle and flash like colour field paintings switched to fast forward. There are stark shadows and vibrant contrasts buzzing in every corner. With electric urgency they pop out into the world of the viewer breaking apart the flatness of two-dimensional space. Dragons, floating bodies, technological transformation, monsters and Gods all hover for recognition in this dramatic field of cross cultural ideas. These works appear like some post-modern bill-board that is spilling out the debris of culture into the world of the viewer with all the seductive hype and gloss that they can conjure." - Rod Pattenden
These paintings are the descendants of artistic imagination and technology. The objects in Descendants have been given marks of “heads, eyes, mouths, arms, legs and tails” which project an animate quality to fabricate the unidentifiable biomorphic bodies. The constructed beings thus may be akin to the insect/bird/fish/human/machine hybrids that can be extended indefinitely by inventing new versions under the theme of Descendants. The entire composition of Descendants becomes a much-manipulated reassembling of some limited simple mechanical forms to trigger the viewer’s interest. The strictly geometrical shapes thus have an ambiguous effect of an autonomous being.
Descendant Body is based on the Renaissance body, but unlike the traditional image, they bear little resemblance to the “normal” human body. They are depersonalised objects that are just like black and white plaster body parts, cool and inorganic and easy to reshape. The background flowery patterns which come into contact with the body become part of its image, and the boundaries that once separated the physical and psychical are eventually transgressed. This is an imaginative vision of the new bodily world as a huge map of the postmodern psyche. The lines and shapes delineate an immense space with no boundaries and depth, full of aching, longing and distorted bodies forming an assemblage endlessly floating on the blue surface, emerging and submerging, shrinking and extending.
Gum trees are ambiguous living things akin to human beings. Standing close to them in the twilight light and looking up, the artist sees their solemn tree trunks dance in the wind, their well caressed bodies transforming into awe inspiring human bodies. For Fan Dongwang gum trees are painterly subjects too, with the strokes breaking free and the colours subtle yet vivid. The dazzling light portrays branches as narrow winding roads skyward, leading to a heavenly and spiritual perspective.
These paintings depict this very important icon of Chinese culture, often seen in jade and ivory carvings. Fan Dongwang views these traditional images as not only beautiful, but also as powerful symbols of nationhood. It is through these symbols that the past continues to have a bearing on the present as well as the future. The dragon often evokes different and ambiguous meanings among many cultures. In China it represents the emperor’s unchallenged power and authority, while in the West it is often viewed as evil spirits. The dragon represents the emerging Chinese cultural identity, expresses the artist's feelings towards contemporary China and the revival of its traditional culture.
Dragon in Water
Dragons are aquatic creatures living in water with fluid and hybrid identities, using their wisdom to navigate the terrain of ongoing change. Here the water is the environment, the agent for changes. Water dissolves and transforms the old into the new. The traditional Chinese icons have developed in to a new kind of postmodern dragon: one that is disintegrated and reintegrated. It reflects China today; a mixture of the traditional and modern, Eastern and Western cultures. The Dragon has not diminished but re-emerged onto an unprecedented level. The colours are richer and at the same time subtle and the composition has quite complex layers as though the dragon is coming and going into many different realms. This icon of power and protection acquires a new dual meaning of capitalism and globalization.
Fan Dongwang’s religious paintings combine different religions, cultures or ideas, a cross culture multidimensional shifting perspectives and syncretic visual interpretation of religions and other matters; Combining often contradictory beliefs and philosophy; the amalgamation of different religion, cultures and school of thought.
Fan employ a new method of ‘painting as relief sculpture’ to produce his paintings the same way as ivory carving - to use the brush to ‘carve (paint) out’ the painting’s surface, as if carving an ivory relief or low relief sculpture. Thus to bring out a sense of 3 dimensional volume on the 2 dimensional surface, a visual illusionism expressed in the traditional Chinese art.
Chinese Ink Brush Painting
Dr Fan Dongwang is an established Chinese/Australian painter who has a solid training in both east and west, traditional and contemporary art making. He has learned drawing, oils, acrylic and watercolour painting, Chinese portrait, landscape, flower and bird painting, sculpture, wood and ivory carving, photography, calligraphy, illustration, design, animation, and computer image manipulation. These techniques have a great contribution to his versatile visual vocabulary and multiple perspectives.