œuvre de XIGUAN LEI

Xiguan Lei is one of those artists whose work does and will matter for it is embedded in an inspiring vision, one that speaks of materiality and time. In a few words, what the latter does to the former. Lei’s art recalls that all that is solid melts into air and more precisely, to paraphrase Lavoisier, that “in nature, nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed“.

Xiguan Lei is a Chinese painter, a sculptor and a poet. He studied art at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute back in 2014 but most of his technique, artistic approach and purpose are their own, “born within himself” in his own words. His whole work shows that Lei’s art has indeed evolved and there would be much more to say about it than his work on time. Looking at Lei early work shows however an exciting coherent evolution until his present work.

A focus should for example be made on his paintings pertaining to abstract expressionism (see “The air in the high mountain” series). They show a sophisticated care for texture and structure: blurred lines, melting of surfaces, damage and some kind of decay which conveys a feeling that time has passed by.

Lei’s “assemblages” or sculptural compositions (“the topology of the structure of ghosts” in particular) also ought to be mentioned. Those artworks are representative of Lei’s mastering of mixed media, palette structure and balance, always giving the viewer a mind thinking subject as to the limits of materiality. This goes also for his other sculptural compositions which look rooted in architecture or urbanism (see “Map” in particular). Lei did draw much influence from ancient Chinese architectural principles (as recorded in a book – “Building of style” – dating back to the Song Dynasty) and more generally Chinese conception of space. What is however the most striking is that those architectural sculptures (See “trapper” in particular) look like artefacts of an unknown civilization yet surprisingly familiar.

In Lei’s early sculptural compositions, one can see a pattern anyone can relate to when looking at ancient buildings whose definite dating is still debated such as pre-Columbian or Sumerian buildings, Göbekli Tepe, Cairn of Barnenez or Uruk. At one point, anywhere on earth, people achieved to build structures out of stones using basic yet common sophisticated techniques, occupying space for various purposes.

After those early works, one can witness a crucial turning point in Xiguan Lei’s work which mainly took the form of the creation of adobes, that are building materials made of sun-dried earth and straw. With the adobes which wound up to be his “basic units”, Lei have kept creating one could call landscape art but there is much more to it. The choice of this raw material tells us a great deal about Lei’s conception of abstraction and as to his artistic purposes.

As compared his earliest abstract artworks, one can feel Lei’s radical choice to turn to “mere” adobes was a crucial step: that of an artist willing to give away with “classic” abstraction and move towards an art language beyond the limits of abstraction. To quote him: “abstraction itself has the potential to break abstraction”. My viewpoint is that Lei is meaning to say that abstraction as we know it in art history has turned to be too talkative, too loud and eventually turned to say too much to the eyes and brain of the viewer rather than to his soul.

This is no surprise that one of Lei’s sources of inspiration is Yves Klein’s work. What he has drawn from this visionary artist is its ability to convey strong and various emotions through the “simplest” and more straightforward way. One could think of other artists which can relate to this such as Fautrier, Kline or Soulages. Chinese and Japanese zen paintings are also relevant for those artists used the minimum amount of ink to draw the most powerful characters or shapes is a state of the utmost concentration. Those zen artists are particularly pertinent to refer to as their art was rooted in a philosophy where space could only be filled within the limits of what was is only necessary and sufficient. This is a harmonious, mystical, silent and humble path to which Xiguan Lei’s work definitely relates.

Lei’s work does not need – and probably not always meant – to be contained in a gallery or put against a wall because this would undermine his core artistic if not philosophical purpose: this is only in nature, out in the open air, where Lei’s adobes turn to be his art. This is out there that time can do his essential share, that is slowly absorbing as a sound graft Lei’s adobes as they are designed to be. Lei’s structures, given the infinite potential of adobes, can take all sort of forms: they can be seen as burial site or places of meditation – see “1120 Conversations I had with Moss and a Rock”, ruined structures – see “The Rivers Zhen and Wei Overflow on Their Way”, trails – see “I’m Walking in the Field” or some sort of tower – see “Stars, Present, Traveler”).

Once build or installed in nature, Lei’s structures slowly fade away, change form and aspect over time and may eventually disappear. This is a key point about Lei’s artworks: as they are made from earth, they are designed to evolve when placed on the ground, slowly and silently, and possibly completely disappear. This gives the opportunity for the observer to witness not a still artwork but an evolution, that is the exact opposite of a still life: real life.

We cannot but notice the humility of Lei’s artistic approach. Although the first designer of his art, Lei is willing that nature takes over his artworks such as Fabienne Verdier recently accepted that her paintings made in the open air be altered by heavy rain and wind. From a Chinese viewpoint, the reference to Taoism comes readily to the mind when trying to understand Lei’s artistic approach. Laozi Tao Te Ching, to put it in a few poor words, teaches us that all things come from a unique energy, transforms, fades away and recycle in the “logos”.

From an occidental point of view, the expression “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” from the Book of Genesis could also be a reference. To be faithful to its meaning, we however have to say this expression refers to the human body. This is also meaningful as to Lei’s art. He, himself, his body, is also part of the process his art basically is. Not only his adobes are made with his hands but his feet are also printed in some of its artworks (see the “Come Barefoot from the Frosty Shore series”). Lei’s also created striking digital photos showing a reiteration of his naked body with his adobes structures in the background (see “Downstream I Go” and “Upstream I go”. Tom me, Lei is telling us that he is a full part of his artistic process as he “encrypts” himself in the time of his art process.

Lei considers his art “a grand and silent game of building blocks”. He also told that those adobes could be considered words. That begs the question of their meaning. Just as the stones used in ancient civilization building, Lei’s adobes talk to anyone willing to listen. But the observer has to be tender ear because Lei’s art is elegant and subtle enough only to whisper. As to what it is whispering, I have my idea but the “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao”. This is how much Xiguan Lei’s art can offer: a glance at eternity.

Lei’s website to see more : here

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