Like many contemporary Chinese painters, Wang Changming’s works reflect the rapid processes of cultural transformation in modern China. The mixture and clash of tradition and modernity, Eastern and Western civilizations resonate throughout his seemingly tranquil still lives.
Born in 1964 in Wuxi, a city known for its beautiful classical gardens, Wang Changming studied painting in the Shanghai Academy of Art. His most famous works include a series of paintings in which he juxtaposes Taihu scholar’s rocks, symbols of the Chinese literati tradition, with memorabilia of Communist and Post-Communist China, for example Chairman Mao badges and Coca-Cola cans. The smart assemblage of these cultural emblems into a peaceful coexistence contrasts with their factual incompatibility and points at the deeply paradoxical and polarised reality of contemporary Chinese culture.
Tears of the Red Candle shows a wooden jewellery box whose lid opens to reveal a portrait of a Chinese lady dressed in a Republic period costume. Strewn around the portrait is a pearl necklace, a stone brush-rest, a tiger-shaped incense bag and a Delft blue kissing boy and girl. The pulled-out middle drawer is actually the book ‘Selected Writings by Lenin’. On top of it is a lit candle which is nearly burnt to the base.
It reminds one of the famous line by the Tang Dynasty poet Li Shangyin “When the candle wax becomes ashes, tears shall stop”. Are these “candle tears” actually the tears of the lady in the portrait? If so, is she, as a witness from the past, sad over the ephemerality of all those movements and fashions that came after her?
Wang Changming painted the work during its present owner’s visit to China. It will be offered in Lyon & Turnbull’s upcoming Fine Asian Works of Art auction in London.
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
Fine Asian Works of Art
May 09 | 3pm | Hellenic Centre, London