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Fallen leaves inspire ‘road sweeper’ artist
From:Shanghai Daily  |  2020-04-25 04:29

ARTIST Ji Xiaowei has drawn inspiration from fallen tree leaves for a solo exhibition he will hold on the very same street he used to sweep 40 years ago.

“Students were required to participate in various labor works during the ‘cultural revolution’ (1966-76), and I was assigned to sweep a street in Xuhui District,” said Ji, who was designated to clean the road that started from Xuhui Art Museum on Huaihai Road all the way to Gao’an Road as a young man.

What the Shanghai native remembers most is the fallen leaves from the roadside plane trees stuck on the wet ground after it had rained. They were so sticky that he had to bend down to pull them off, one by one.

“My back ached,” Ji said. “I never dreamed that one day I would bring the tree leaves I’ve painted from my memory to the museum after so many years.”

The 62-year-old first earned his reputation in the art world around 2000 thanks to his oil painting series “Girl Who Reads Newspaper,” which depicted a young girl, dressed in a skirt of newspaper patterns, leaning against a newspaper billboard, with a newspaper in hand.

Newspaper element

The newspaper element in different roles appeared in one picture that creates an illusory visual effect based on reality. Ji continued to develop his “newspaper theme” by painting portraits and a “paper bird” series.

But soon the artist was not satisfied with just painting with brushes. He started to create pictures using a variety of styles, including cutting, coloring, burning, pasting, rubbing, folding, tearing and reorganizing newspapers for his self-expression and reflection.

He even tried to cut newspapers into strips and knit them together in a traditional basket-weaving technique and into a new artwork “Crisscrossed,” in an attempt to talk about the relationship between art and mechanical, repetitive labor.

The wet tree leaves, already rooted in his mind, inspired the artist 40 years later. With different combinations, or overlaps of wrinkled newspaper fragments, he painted and made pictures of leaves in rich colors and free shapes.

“A newspaper is not a newspaper and trees are not real trees here; they’re a symbol or element for me to create a visual effect,” Ji said.

Contemporary painting art, he thinks, is inseparable from the exploration of new techniques, new materials and new methods. Daily items, such as a newspaper, is a special medium the artist borrows for his self-expression. He has found a way to break traditional painting rules and present a new visual experience.

The “Red Lips” series features big lips pasted up and shaped with old newspapers in a variety of colors, fonts, pictures and texts, together with printed patterns Ji added. He chose to tear the paper by hand to make rough edges, which gave the lips a sense of wildness and boldness.

“Come to think of it, newspapers and lips are both an information dissemination tool, one modern and the other primitive,” Ji said. “It has developed from word-of-mouth, spreading to written records, then printed into newspaper and typed on the screen. When they are fused together, it’s a metaphor of today’s communication and information transmission.”

Date: Through May 10 (closed on Mondays), 1:30-4:30pm

Venue: Xuhui Art Museum

Address: 1413 Huaihai Road M.