By Zhu Weidong
A story by definition has a sequence of unfolding events, which strike an accord with listeners and readers. But Mr. Shi Dawei refuses to be held slave to this rule; in his Houyi’s Story, he condenses a familiar, sad, tragic ancient myth, reconstructs it layer upon layer, and presents it with decomposed ink, soft and hard lines, bright and dim colors, and weak and strong symbols. The painter stays true to his signature sweeping style, while narrating a story passionately in a measured pace.
Heroes are the protagonists of history, but they are never mainstream history themselves, that’s why heroes always aspire high and work toward it, are always lonely and tend to die in a tragic way. Dawei thinks that the history of any nation in the world started with heroes, and has been driven by heroes. Heroism means taking on the burden of suffering, guiding people to victory and heroes are the soul of a nation. But in today’s world of abundance, “The God has died”; those who make it are kings and losers are condemned. Ordinary people care about the end to heroes, but are unwilling to face up to heroes’ struggling and sufferings. Houyi’s Story tries to reproduce heroes and the heroic era in its entirety, so as to look for heroic idealism and belief buried deeply in mankind’s consciousness. In his story, there is the ray of peace as well as the blood of killing; and Houyi is portrayed as both a god of boundless ambition and an affectionate, caring man. Houyi is strongly-built, towering and intimidating, raising his muscular arms high, facing resolutely to the sun that has been conquered by him, like a flag flying high. Chang’er, who has captured the heart of Houyi, is fragile, delicate and graceful. A line from an ancient poem reads that “Chang’er should regret stealing the magic herb; the blue sky and sea are torturing her heart day in and day out.” In the myth, the beautiful and smart Chang’er was unhappy with Houyi’s bad habits. She managed to live eternally in a shameful way and killed the hero indirectly. The later generations tend to view Chang’er negatively. But in Dawei’s painting, Chang’er seems to have got rid of her heavy guiltiness; she looks serene and graceful. Perhaps it is Chang’er’s living forever undeservedly that upholds the integrity of Houyi’s heroism. The nine suns shot down by Houyi scatter dimly at the corner of the painting; people who suffered under ten scorching suns only have broken arms and impaired palms left, making us see that to live is hard, and to die is hard too… In summary, Houyi’s Story brings together broken pieces of memory about Houyi and the sun and the moon, Houyi and Chang’er, Houyi and people, to return to the original starting point of human nature. Dawei rearranges the story to discuss various relationships between man and nature, man and man, and man and himself, in an attempt to explore the spiritual world of modern people. The painter reveals his own striking values sincerely and ardently in his exploration.
Painting is further assertion of spiritual reality via visual images. Genuineness, care and conscience should be the basis of a painter’s thinking and their paintings as well. Picasso once told Simon Terry, “An artist is a politician too, because he watches closely tragic, intense and joyful events and react to them in various ways. How can he possibly not care for others, and separate himself with standoffish arrogance from people, who present rich lives to him?” Great works of art don’t replace sincere conscience with consummate skills, although too many painters immerge themselves in an unreal world comprised solely of perfect skills. Houyi’s Story created by Dawei achieves a transition from visual truthfulness to spiritual sincerity, which doesn’t rely on precise portraying of natural forms, or careful fine-tuning of detailed components. Dawei’s focus and the only source of his understanding of his subject comes from his deep feelings for his subject. As far as forms are concerned, the painter has decomposed the ancient myth of Houyi shooting down ten suns and Chang’er flying to the moon through his own imaginations. But his decomposition is not degeneration, but rather a rebirth - we admire the strong expressiveness of the painting, while observing the painter’s tenacity and commitment to his ideal. His dedication sometimes speaks to viewers’ sentiment, but it appeals to our sense even more - the painting conveys vigor, grandness and nobleness, and emits sensible brilliance as well as philosophical wisdom - all coming from an intellectual height. On technique, the painter exposes himself fully in front of the viewers, displaying boldly the shudder, joy, pain and bewilderment of the heart. For example, some elements of the painting are actually what should be avoided from a purely technical point of view -- large stretch of black and white - but it reflects the truthfulness of the painter at work in its entirety: his naïve innocence, purposelessness and unconstraint - the painter applies his brush repeatedly, answering to the ups and downs of his mood, to his heart’s content. But this is exactly where the painter’s genuineness is revealed - driven by passion, he forgets temporarily rational constraint; it is a slight reckless but uncontrived innocence.
In the modern painting field, many brilliant works portray various objective images different from the real world. Lack of proportions is deliberately allowed to construct a harmonious mixture, going beyond all perfect habits and characteristics and various meaningless details. Dawei has created Houyi’s Story by departing from traditional Chinese painting and borrowing the ideas of modern western painting. It is another successful story of the east meets the west. Through exaggeration, simplification, synthesis, and transformation, and by employing the shades of ink and elastic lines peculiar to Chinese painting, the painter uses plane geometrical composition and sculpture-like three-dimension images to create abstract totem symbols which transcends time and space, based on a thrilling myth that can be so rich and encompassing when told in words. Although viewers would temporarily lose a sense of familiarity and affinity they intuitively feel for the real world, yet after being visually dazzled momentary, viewers will be immediately excited in an indescribable way by the world of transformed images all over the painting, and be led to explore the implicit ideas in the painting, since the inner logic and spiritual ties between the transformed images become more prominent and strong, thanks to the painter’s theatrical treatment exceeding any imaginations. For example, the dispersed broken trunks out of the painter’s fantasy, filling up the entire painting were not haphazard, unnatural combination of vivid images; instead, they are sum of the damaged and a lethal weapon of ideals carefully and meticulously constructed, which pierce deeply into the hidden corners of viewers’ hearts, catching their imaginations and encouraging them to think and see different meanings, based on their own personal experiences and emotions. Once spiritual content is frozen and recorded as totem symbols, it comes to life and becomes a living entity, breathing oxygen and living a rich life, and possibly becoming a source to create new historical totem.
For a serious painter, painting is not for entertainment; it is more about ideal self-fulfillment. The painter highlights the deepest emotions at the bottom of his heart, and there is a sense of sacredness and sublimity. Houyi’s Story is close to 20 square meters, enshrouded in deep humanitarianism, a unique character of Dawei’s historical paintings. From the heavy, dark and rough underpainting, from the cold, broken pieces, arise rays of warmth, and sparkles of brightness, as if thin streams will always form on the ground swept and washed by violent storm, running determinedly to the distance. In Dawei’s eyes, love is a major quality distinguishing man from gods. It is due to expression of love that our history can evolve from myth; and it is because of the existence of love that we can summarize our history calmly. Dawei always controls the sentiment of his works well: solemn images are settled, dark or plain, but never obscure. There are always lights projected to the future, on vivid images, or colors, radiating poetic passion. Even the prominent skeleton head bones right at the center of the pictures don’t accuse hideously; they are more about sorrowful reflection and desire for true love.
A few years ago Dawei mulled over and announced his plan to create a group of works “re-narrating ancient Chinese myths”. Houyi’s Story is the first one in the series, and has come to its present brilliance after being revised four times. I believe this grand works of art will be an important piece not only to the painter himself, but also to Chinese painting in the new era and even the whole history of Chinese painting. We expect Mr. Shi Dawei to further explore Chinese civilization and arts. We hope he acquires deeper understanding and takes more resolute actions to create even more splendid and magic paintings of ancient Chinese myths.