Moravian Gallery in Brno: Step Back and You´re Closer

Step Back and You’re Closer

He Jinweie and Tomáš Císařovský

The Moravian Gallery in Brno / Museum of Applied Arts, Husova 14, Brno
19. 4. – 28. 7. 2013

Photo: archive of the Moravian Gallery in Brno

Marek Pokorný and Zhao Li

Ondřej Chrobák
This joint exhibition of the Chinese artist He Jinweie (*1967) and the Czech painter Tomáš Císařovský (*1962) testifies to the viability of painting as an eloquent medium reflecting the status of society. The artists may be active in geographically and culturally remote places but their works share the underpinning element of intense deliberation on the political, historical and value-based changes happening in their respective countries. In their approach, individual hopes and fates are always related to historical memory, liberating themselves from the rule of symbols from the past regimes only to succumb to new stylisations and self-deceits. While Tomáš Císařovský is heading towards reconciliation, He Jinwei in his large paintings exaggerates the phantom-like face of the changes.
At the beginning of the Step Back and You’re Closer project was my sojourn in Beijing in 2010 when I had, for the first time, the opportunity to come into contact with the reality of today’s China and meet in person a number of artists of various generations who had different approaches to artistic creation. I did not primarily think about an exhibition. Instead I was more concerned with encountering an unbelievable energy, the obvious (and, for a European, shocking) social and economic differences between the social strata, and the unique lighting caused by Beijing’s smog, and then establishing what it all meant to me. Preconceptions were pushed aside and I tried hard to take in the painful yet fascinating rebirth of a country in all its ambiguity; its misleading beauty and its frustrating injustice. It is difficult to say whether I managed to understand anything, but at any rate, China became even harder to grasp though it lost something of its media-generated sinister aura.

    Photo: archive of the Moravian Gallery in Brno

One of the most intense experiences was seeing the work of He Jinwei and meeting him in person. He is a painter who, more than anyone else, is fascinated by the fate of the immigrants – former peasants arriving to work in the big cities. He understands their feeling of being lost and needing communal solidarity, the hopelessness and the hopes of their lives. He is one of them, though as an important painter he does not share their misery. What struck me the most was that his fascinating figurative paintings express, in a monumental form, the mundane and incredibly hard life in an immense country, the energy which needs to be exerted in order to survive and, at the same time, the unbridled joy from simply surviving, which the people there take as a valuable gift. While each individual’s fate is unique, there are so many of them that they cannot be seen. The art of stepping back and looking from a distance is difficult to put into practice there. And in the perspective it is only the multitude that comes to the forefront. In his paintings, He Jinwei manages to maintain a balance between distance and close focus, between solidarity and understanding, between an individual and his inclusion in a group, between hopelessness and hope. His oeuvre is sensitive, but not sentimental, it is critical, but without the cynicism of pampering to the market, it is monumental, but simultaneously attains some intimacy in relation to the people portrayed and the situations.
While He Jinwei’s paintings can present to the Czech viewer the socially and culturally complicated reality of today’s China, they also tell us how art and artists address the political and social aspects of life in a different country. A parallel in terms of citizen engagement responding to typical social issues at home can be found in the works of Tomáš Císařovský, a representative of the middle generation of artists who utilises his experiences from the late period of Normalization and the transformation after 1989 in his reflections on arguments about values, reflection of illusions, disappointments and updating traditions and the collective memory of the Czech nation through stylised figurative painting. Bringing together these artists into a single project makes sense to me, without the need to erase the different points of departure and various aims. The exhibition is an attempt to provide the viewer with an opportunity to come closer to one artist when we step back through the work of the other artist.                                        
Marek Pokorný

This project is indebted in many ways to the profound interest in art of our ambassador in China, J.E. Libor Sečka, without whose generous support and organizational assistance this exhibition would not be possible.

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