The artwork on this page— a painting made from stickers, a dress made from shards of porcelain, a portrait made from wine corks, cute sculptures made from imitation candy—remind me of some of the art projects done in primary school in which we created things from everyday objects like tongue depressors, pipe cleaners and pasta.
These mixed media artworks tend to attract a lot of attention from exhibition-goers; however, with this approach to creating art, there is a danger that the viewer focuses solely on the process, asking questions such as ‘Is the candy real?, ‘Where did the artist get so many stickers from?’ and ‘How long did it take to put all that together?’ before moving on without further thought. Do these works have deeper meanings or are they primarily novelty pieces?
Li Xiaofeng (李晓峰): Past Presence No. 2 (ceramic shards)
– Click on each image to see a higher resolution
version (2048 x 1365) on Flickr –
Li Xiaofeng creates dresses, uniforms and suits out of shards of porcelain. Once he has a design in mind, Li selects pieces, cleans them, cuts them and then literally stitches them together through holes drilled in each piece. The dress shown above was fashioned from shards of blue and white porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties and has a silhouette reminiscent of a Chinese wedding dress, with the western-style collar and short flared sleeves adding a modern touch.
The blue and white porcelain of China has a long and famous history in China (Cultural China: The Blue and White Porcelain) as well as in the West, with Chinese porcelain ware and imitations being especially popular in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries (Wikipedia: Chinoiserie). The patterns on the blue and white plates often refer to mythical symbols, like the phoenix, and historical figures. A few years ago, I recorded this poem by Tony Mitton, which tells one version of the story behind the well-known willow pattern plates.
Thus, in Li Xiaofeng’s dresses, shattered elements from China’s past— portrayals of myths and historical scenes, the centuries-old artistry of porcelain ware (with its echoes of the tea trade and Chinoiserie), silhouettes of traditional fashion—are revived and tied together to create something new, whole and beautiful. As such, his works can be considered a kind of allegory of present-day China—a nation gathering together remnants of a gloried past and building something new and vibrant.
More about Li Xiaofeng
Artist’s page at the Red Gate Gallery website: Profile: Li Xiaofeng
Leading Chinese artist recycles ancient porcelain, February 2011 (by euronews): this is an introduction to the artist, his techniques and what makes his works popular. You can see the artist modelling one of his own ceramic suits.
Ye Hongxing (叶红杏): Order No. 8 (stickers on canvas)
Order No. 8, a mixed media artwork by Ye Hongxing, is created using plastic stickers—the kind children use to decorate their books and stationery. In Order No. 8, the stickers are arranged in patterns to create large bills in fictional currencies. The blue bill is modeled after Egyptian currency, specifically the 10 piaster note that includes a depiction of the Saladin Citadel.
When looking at Ye Hongxing’s sticker-paintings, viewers tend to stand within inches of the canvas, searching for stickers and plastic figures from their childhood: Crayon Shan-chan, the Disney princess Jasmine from Aladdin and numerous variations of rabbits, pandas and frogs. Close up, the focus is on the stickers—a shiny kaleidoscope of pop-culture cuteness. From a distance, however, the individual stickers disappear and only the intricate and formal mandala-like patterns of the banknotes can be seen.
Though the cute characters may inspire memories of childhood innocence, most of them were designed with a more practical purpose in mind—to sell toys, stationery and other products. It is fitting that they are assembled to depict what they were designed to bring in: money.
In Ye Hongxing ‘Order’ series, the juxtaposition of cute cartoon characters and highly stylized graphic patterns of banknotes highlights the commercialization of pop culture, with the ‘cuteness industry’ helping to turn children into brand-loyal consumers. The ‘Order’ of the title can be interpreted in different ways—as a commercial order (i.e., as an order to sell or buy products) or in terms of social order (i.e., the manner in which materialism is ingrained during childhood and the way in which society practises a near-religious devotion to money).
More about Ye Hongxing
Artist’s page at the Art+ Shanghai Gallery website (you can download a PDF document with more information about her work): Profile: Ye Hongxing
Art Basel Miami 2010 – Ye Hongxing at Art Asia, December 2010 (by Cynthia K Seymour): this is a very short video that briefly shows a couple of the artist’s painted portraits. She doesn’t just work with stickers.
Isabell Beyel: Callas (mixed media, wine corks)
To create this large portrait of the famed Italian opera diva Maria Callas, German-born, Dutch-based artist Isabell Beyel uses wine corks for the singer’s complexion and coca-cola bottle caps for her deep red lips. Strips of metal and stripes of black acrylic paint on plexiglass are arranged like vertical venetian blinds and serve to outline the singer’s features. Viewed from an angle, the image is unclear; viewed head-on, the face comes into focus. Moving closer, the viewer’s attention is drawn to the individual elements used to create the portrait.
This work is based on an iconic photo of Callas (Wikipedia: Maria Callas) and is part of a series of portraits of women. The following photo shows a close up of the mixed-media portrait. Aluminium pull-rings and the top of a can are used to create a ring on the singer’s hand. On the paper background are printed excepts from the librettos of Italian operas: Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Verdi’s Luisa Miller and Puccini’s La Boheme.
Many of the elements used to create the artwork—wine corks, ring-pulls, aluminium cans and bottle caps—are simply waste materials that are discarded either as soon as the product is opened or as soon it has been consumed. In contrast, the body of work represented in the portrait—the operas of Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti and of course the image and performances of Maria Callas—lives on and thrives. Thus, the portrait juxtaposes product design and disposability with artistic expression and timelessness. These two ‘sides’, however, are not opposites. In the design of consumer products, is there not a certain level of artistry? In the careers of great performers and composers, are there not elements of commercialization? These are questions Isabell Beyel’s work invites the viewer to ponder.
More about Isabell Beyel
Artist’s page at the Mark Hachem Gallery website: Profile: Isabell Beyel
Maria Callas sings Habanera from Carmen in Covent Garden, Uploaded May 2008 (by 张昼昼)
Osamu Watanabe (渡辺おさむ): Sweet sculptures (imitation candy)
The deer sculpture shown below is entitled Heavenly Messenger, a reference to the the belief that deer are messengers to the Shinto gods (Wikipedia: Kasuga Grand Shrine). I particularly like the effect of the dark purple eyes set against the pastel-coloured imitation candy.
Unlike the other works featured on this page, Japanese artist Osamu Watanabe’s works are not created from actual everyday objects. Rather his candy sculptures are created from fibre-resistant plastic that is molded and painted to look like candy. In other words, he makes likenesses of cute things using plastic imitations of artificially-coloured sweet things. This process involves Inceptionesque levels of artifice.
Viewing these sweet pieces, I was reminded of the monologue by Momoko at the beginning of the film Kamikaze Girls (Shimotsuma Monogatari), in which she explains why she embraces the frilly doll-like lolita aesthetic:
‘I wish I had been born in the Rococo era….
Rococo, 18th century France at it’s most lavish.
It made Baroque look positively sober.
An obscure, neglected period.
Rarely mentioned in class,
Critics called its art “cloying”…
Shallow, vulgar and indecent.
Life then was like candy.
Their world, so sweet and dreamy.
That was Rococo.’
In the film Momoko goes on to describe the dreariness of her daily life, her tawdry family background and how she found solace in her devotion to the fragile sweetness of lolita culture.
‘Sour things taste foul.
I want to fill myself only
with sweet things.’
Toward the end of the monologue, however, Momoko states:
‘So what if I was deceitful?
My happiness was at stake.
It’s not wrong to feel good.
That’s what Rococo taught me.
But actually my soul is rotten.’
Are Osamu Watanabe’s plastic sculptures similarly deceitful, offering nothing more than sweetness and kawaii? Perhaps they are, but isn’t it possible to just appreciate the happiness brought by a few moments of escape into sweet sweet cuteness?
More about Osamu Watanabe
Artist’s website: Profile: Osamu Watanabe
Osamu Watanabe Exhibition: Sweets Kingdom Sweet Fantasy Quest, uploaded June 2014 by 渡辺おさむ
Lee Kwan Woo (이관우): Condensation (seals and stamps)
In this mixed-media artwork entitled Condensation, Korean artist Lee Kwan Woo uses traditional Korean seals and stamps to create a portrait of Buddha. Through centuries of Korean history, seals have functioned as personal signatures and as a kind of official certification of status and authority. They were used to sign personal and official correspondence, artwork, edicts and contracts.
Each seal used in the portrait, therefore, represents a specific person or office and each holds thousands of stories—not only the stories of the people whose names or titles are engraved on the seal, but also the stories of those who were were somehow related to the things the seals were affixed to: those who received the correspondence, those who inspired or who were inspired by the artwork, those where were affected by the edicts, reports and contacts. For the most part, these thousands of individual stories have long been lost to time, but the seals remain, the stories they represent condensed to fit within a single portrait.
In this way the painting is related to the Buddhist concept of impermanence (annica). The rough idea of impermanence is that as everything is continuously changing, coming into being and ceasing to exist, we shouldn’t become too attached to things. Though the seals still exist for the time being, the people they represent and the stories behind them are long forgotten. Whatever power each seal once carried is long gone. From a distance, the individual names and titles on the seals cannot be distinguished. They are unimportant. Assembled together, however, the seals make up a pattern and it is in this overall pattern that meaning can be found. The same can be said of people. As individuals on this speck of a planet we are exceptionally unimportant. However, we are part of the large pattern of life itself.
More on Lee Kwan Woo
These two pages have insightful articles about the artist’s worK and philosophy:
Art as Meditation, Infinity as Art & Finite Infinities in the Work of Lee Kwan Woo
The Meditative Mosaics of Lee Kwan Woo
[MBC문화사색-전각, 현대예술이되다] 이관우 (in Korean), uploaded January 2014 by Do Lee
Yes, these made-from-every-objects do carry meaning and are not just gimmicks or novelties. In most of the works, the deeper meanings come through in the relationship between the subject of the artwork and the materials the artist used to create it.
Which artwork on this page do you like best?
~by Stephen Richards (longzijun)
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