Fang Lijun

Fang Lijun
b. 1963, Handan, Hebei
Painter, woodcut artist
Heralded as leading representative of post-1989 Cynical Realism (wanshi xianshizhuyi) by art critic Li Xianting, the image of bald-shaved men set against a background of skies and oceans is one of the hallmarks of Fang Lijun’s work.
Fang’s work was included in the groundbreaking exhibition ‘China Avant-Garde’ before his graduation in 1989 from the Department of Print-making of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing (see also art academies). International recognition followed after his 1993 participation in the exhibitions ‘China’s New Art Post-1989’ (Hong Kong), ‘China Avant-Garde’ (Berlin, Rotterdam, Oxford and Odense) and the 45th Venice Biennale (see China’s New Art, Post-89 (Hong Kong, 1993) and China Avant-Garde (Berlin, 1993)). His famous painting Series 2 no. 2 (Xilie er zhi er, 1991–2) of a young bald-shaved man with a contorted facial expression somewhere between outspoken anger and utter boredom, captured the imagination of the West due to its perceived post-1989 rebellious mockery towards China’s repressive political system. It featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine in 1993.
His subsequent Water series (1992–) transcends the political agitation of Cynical Realism, taking his figures away from mundane reality into the psychological realm of water. While figures are depicted swimming and floating on cool silky water-surfaces, the apparent deep tranquillity of the water often harbours a certain menace. In other works the strong image of the back of a bald-shaved head, looming up out of nothing, gives the picture a powerful sense of suspense. Much of Fang’s work (including monumental black-and-white woodcuts) bears traces and visual elements from the Cultural Revolution, a period which deeply marked Fang’s world outlook.
Chou, Yuting (1998). ‘The Floating Body in the Art of Fang Lijun: An Artist’s Comment on the Human Condition in Post-Cultural Revolution China’. China Information 13. 2/3 (Autumn/ Winter): 85–114.
De Matté, Monica (1999). ‘Fang Lijun’. In La Biennale di Venezia, 48a Esposizione d’Arte, d’Apertutto, Aperto Over All. Marsilio: La Biennale di Venezia, 198–9.
Fumichi, Yasuko and Nakamoto, Kazumi (eds) (1996). Fang Lijun: Human Images in an Uncertain Age (exhibition catalogue). Tokyo: The Japan Foundation Asia Centre.
Li, Luming (2001). Fang Lijun. Changsha: Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House.
Li, Xianting (1998). The “Shaved Head popi” created by Fang Lijun’. SMA Cahiers 13 (Amsterdam): 6–8.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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