Visionary Utopia: Weird and Wonderful!

 

 

 

 

     He Le (II) 

 

 

By Wen Chihua  |  CHINA FEATURES

 

 

 

Unlike many contemporary Chinese artists who have relegated their

subject matters to political icons or symbolism that appeals to Western

galleries, Liang Changsheng has long remained fascinated by Buddhist

iconography, Chinese paintings and such folk art traditions as paper-

cuttings. Liang’s fantastical imagery comes from his larger-than-life

childhood dreams, in which the impossible became possible and real.

His humanoid bronze sculptures, paper-cuttings and drawings create

“visionary utopia” he calls “He Le” “Harmonious and Happy”. It’s

meant to represent a world of perfect joy.

 

 

 

 

The scene is bizarre: goblin-like bronze sculptures with human faces but no torsos sport demon wings and shoes — and sometimes two heads, one of which protrudes from the tips of their tails.

Distorted? Indeed.

Demonic? Perhaps.

Whimsical, festive and fun?

Definitely.

“That’s the point I want to make in my works — no torso, no desire,” the figures’ creator Liang Changsheng says at the group exhibition The Adventures of the Three Loafers in Beijing.

“And if there’s no desire, there’s no conflict. And if there’s no conflict, there’s no violence.”

Liang believes the torso is the seat of men’s lust for sex and food.

“Those two things are the root of all evils,” he says.

 

 

                       Liang Changsheng

 

 

So, his humanoid bronze sculptures, paper-cuttings and drawings create a “visionary utopia” he calls “He Le” (和乐) — “Harmonious and Happy”. It’s meant to represent a world of perfect joy.

This intimate realm has many unique features.

Hierarchy disappears. The demonic-looking humanoids are free of corporeal form. They live in peace and harmony, frolicking, flirting and flying as they please.

Unlike many contemporary Chinese artists who have relegated their subject matters to political icons or symbolism that appeals to Western galleries, Liang has long remained fascinated by Buddhist iconography, Chinese paintings and such folk art traditions as paper-cuttings.

The energy of Liang’s vision was incubated during his early engagement with paper-cutting practices. He often combines such traditional motifs as Buddhist figures and phallic iconography, and magic subjects — like flying animals and dancing parrot heads with women’s legs crossing over a man with spread legs.

So, his modus operandi is more deeply seated in contemporary Surrealism’s grotesque forms.

The most provocative piece among Liang’s paper-cuts is An Auspicious Rooster and a Woman.

It depicts a riotous rooster with a long neck and strong, man-like legs, with fresh lotus in its mouth. The fowl is perched atop a voluptuous naked woman who lies on the grass, smiling invitingly and seductively.

Liang’s early idiosyncratic paper-cuts were so impressive that he was accepted by the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1994.

In 2002, he started a series of panoramic paper-cut vistas portraying his He Le world.

One piece creates a utopia crowded with half-human, half-beast figures. They dance on rocks, meditate on floating clouds and perform acrobatics on raging rivers.

Canine-like creatures with human faces are arranged on the bottom right and left. They ride human heads to watch the more humanoid characters frolic.

The composition of this massive paper-cut is so well integrated that it looks like a painting.

Deformed characters also inhabit in Liang’s ink drawings.

In his tapestry-like long scrolls, entitled The Blissful Life in Paradise, Liang continues to allow his inclination toward Buddhist figures to co-exist with bizarre humanlike beasts.

He sets up a scenario in which sacred Buddhas and secular bodies are juxtaposed, while sexuality and spirituality abruptly jut into the fore. The Buddhas sit against traditional landscapes to watch over unholy fiends, whose spirituality is wretched.

The scene is equal parts disturbing and jubilant — it’s as joyful as a carnival, in fact.

People’s Fine Arts Publishing House critic Han Yazhou says the work shows “a naughty charm that’s satirical of humankind and mercy. But there’s no evil or depravity.”

What makes Liang’s art extraordinary is that his imagined He Le world is Surrealist and Realistic, obscure and clear, and honest and self-deceptive.

“That can be read as an evocative interpretation of the dark side of ourselves and today’s insane society,” Han says.

“People get lost in their pursuit of the material, and their corporeal and spiritual lives seriously collide, like animal and human forms in Liang’s works.”

But Liang says his He Le world is more about his personal salvation than social commentary.

Liang’s fantastical imagery comes from his larger-than-life childhood dreams, in which the impossible became possible and real.

“I started to have these dreams when I was about 4 or 5,” he says.

“In them, men can freely transform into any form — birds or beasts, angels or devils — as they like. These visions are such an eternal joy that are impossible in the chaos of grim reality.”

He found himself increasingly depressed every time he awoke, because he didn’t have any way to realize these blissful dreams.

Liang was born to a working class couple in Beijing as the youngest of three children in 1967 — a year after the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1976) broke out. He was exposed to the period’s violence and chaos at an early age.

“I grew up surrounded by violent revolutionary theories that called for merciless war at the blade of a knife,” he recalls.

“I remember I had a lot of inexplicable anger, uncertainty and, most of all, sexual anxiety as a boy during the rebellion. Neither my mother — who never received any education, — nor my father — who only had a high school education — was able to provide solutions or suggest a way out.”

Liang was haunted by that world until he began to study paper-cutting at the age of 17.

“Through making paper-cuts, I gradually found inner peace,” he recalls.

“As a folk art, paper-cutting was an aesthetic yardstick that influenced my later creations.”

The techniques of expression in folk paper-cut often allow conflicts to lurk under a serene and harmonious surface.

Take sexuality. Normally, a paper-cut artist makes ji wo mudan — a rooster lying on delicate peonies. But Liang’s scenes are reflections on male sexual anxieties.

Liang says he “deliberately hides his critical stance on society in a carnival-like scenario that mirrors a part of our own disguised lives. Anxiety and conflicts are tactfully veiled behind a surface of brightness and light-heartedness.”

 

 

 

 

Cozy World in Heaven

 

An Auspicious Rooster and a Woman

 

 

 

A Bronze Sculpture

 

 

 

* All photos on this webpage provided by Liang Changsheng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLOG EDITOR:  MIAO HONG

 

Contributing: Gao Shan

 

 

 

 

 

 

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