Artist depicts faceless souls of war

By Zhou Tao (Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2007-03-19 10:28

In bleak, war-driven paintings and steles of faceless souls, 26-year-old artist Hu Xingyi grapples with identity and the value of human life. Next stop: realistic paintings about a hilarious animal nation.

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Hu Xingyi titles his exhibition "Unidentified" and his unrecognizable, almost abstract faces and figures on canvas and on steles deal with the loss of identity and meaning, especially through the Iraq War.

The exhibit, through March 31 at the Stir gallery, is likely to be a minor milestone in the work of the gifted 26-year-old artist. His works are often mistaken for those of older artists because of their content of pain, suffering and sense of the void.

The show can be considered a milestone because the painter has devoted so much time and energy to it. But it is likely to mark the end of a period of work, and Hu says he will move on to lighter works about an "animal nation."

So this show bids farewell to his current period. It may be of minor importance only because the current period is only a moment for every young man who is aspiring to be a real artist.

Hu started painting on canvas and stele-like blocks during the Iraq War and its suicide bombings. With subtlety and sometimes the blurring of Chinese ink-like painting, Hu deals with the issues of identity on both the personal and social levels, says Feng Jianwei, the artist's agent.

Though Hu cannot personally experience war, he can deal with its uncertainty and the loss of humanity that it inflicts. Human faces and figures are painted in loose brush strokes and have become almost abstract and unrecognizable.

"Visual effect is more important than anything else," says Hu. This may be the most frequent statement in Hu's debates with his friends - some of them strong "realists" who typically argue that artists' opinions on specific issues are more important than just images.

But his "visual effects" are likely to spoil the expectations of viewers. The unidentifiable faces, as bleak and tortured as the landscapes of Anselm Kiefer, could have been those of the human beings dismembered in war or of the faceless souls walking down the streets in the fast-moving city where we live.