This work in an attempt to reinstate the aesthetic of the quite, poetic imagery found in Southern Song Flower and Bird Painting (花鸟画) through the loud, artificial consumerism that dominates modern China where the work was made.
Finding areas where artistic histories overlap , and reinstating them in a contemporary context has served as a point of creative research for this work. Flora and fauna is an established subject matter across the venerated histories of painting in both the Eastern and Western tradition; however, each approached this subject matter with different intents. In the West, plants and animals started to be crudely represented naturalistically around the 12th century when they appeared as decorative elements to religious scripture in Illuminated Manuscripts – thus beginning the role of art in Western science as medieval Christian monasteries became the first universities as we know them. While in the East, specifically China, plants and animals being represented naturalistically quite possibly came to its zenith around the same time in the late Southern Song Dynasty (南宋) (1127-1279 AD) through the tradition of Flower and Bird Painting, which was often infused with poetic undertones and Daoist philosophy . These artistic intents say a lot about the cultural values of people of the past.
It seems cultural values have changed dramatically, especially in context to modern China. On any given weekend in any given city in mainland China, shopping malls will be packed and art museums relatively empty, especially devoid of young people. Cultural values have obviously shifted towards consumerism and a love of the mass produced. Therefore, I’ve attempted to reach this audience with a mass produced aesthetic through a merging of retail visual fashion merchandising materials with classical Flower and Bird Painting.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in a variety of environments, the East Asian sub-tropics, the Alaskan sub-arctic and the temperate mountain climate of North carolina. I’ve moved between climatic zones by choice, but our climate is moving because of our choices.
During the 19th century, the naturalist, geographer and explorer, A.V. Humbolt, devised a system of linking the earths regions by common average mean temperature as represented by isothermal lines. This led to an early graphic display of the earth’s climatic boundaries; they have since shifted. The reality that temperate zones could one day be sub-tropical, the sub-arctic temperate and the tropics even hotter is alarming and frightening.
This work aims to blur climatic boundaries by referencing natural forms and phenomena found in a variety of climates as subject matter under one space. These forms , plant growth, old-growth tree stumps, melting layers of permafrost, coral colonies, glacial formations and lake bottom sediment, are rich in climatic data to the climatologist. Being an artist , these objects are equally rich in content and aesthetic qualities of pattern, surface texture and form to be creatively manipulated .
Landscape is a traditional subject of painting both East and West; however, within this history there have been slightly studied elements. This work approaches to study the submarine and terrestrial reef landscape formed by coral as an extension of this dialogue.
Coral, the only living animal which directly shapes geography through growth and death, has also emerged as a tell tale barometer of the health of the oceans. Using the Kenting Reef and the fossilized coral peninsula of Hengchun Taiwan as the subject for this project, the reef's life systems has been interpreted conceptually through the basic philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and its stress on the interconnected relationship of life and events . Individual pieces were created to represent coral colonies as organs are to the human body, each with their own function in the life sustaining ecology of the reef.
Like the living human body which is dependent on the circulation of energy and blood along with the maintenance of breath and temperature, coral is dependent on the circulation of water, a narrow temperature range and light distribution for an indirect exchange of solar energy. These pieces are intended to express both the tangible and untangible aspects of coral growth and reef formation, fossilization and erosion.
Energy is a word of complex meaning laden with scientific, philosophic, and spiritual understandings both ancient and modern. Through an exploration of the English word “energy” and the process of painting as an expulsion of creative drive, these paintings developed.
In this work, energy is represented as a multi-faceted force behind the patterns of life that goes beyond the established understanding that it is simply something we need to drive our bodies and machinery; although this has also been an important consideration. Direct experience in conjunction with research of the relationship between ecological, geological systems and resource extractive industries have served as visual case studies, while meaning is implied in both the process of making and resulting imagery.
Existing systems information resulting from bird migration patterns, fishery methods, forestry practices, renewable energies and industrial rust belts have all been sourced as subject matter in addition to magnetic patterns, data symbols, the acupuncture chart, have been combined with maps, landscape photographs and satellite views to compose these works as place and/or phenomenon specific depictions. These ideas are portrayed spatially through layered fields of pattern, repetitive mark making and/or juxtaposed materials.
The demarcation line between what constitutes cultural diversity and biodiversity isn’t always black and white. Culture in part evolves in tandem to natural surroundings, vice versa plants and animals are heavily influenced by human activities. Interpreting cultural concepts metaphorically through nature is one approach an artist can take.
Species of plants and animals are native to geographic locations as ethnicities are indigenous to a particular place. In modern times, both easily transplant and take root. Having grown up in America and then transplanted abroad in adult life for over a decade , returning to America to live has been a new experience both in perception and reality.
This body of work explores the nostalgic concept of Americana , which is loosely defined as “all things typically American”. Culture nor natural history are static, what is typically American today wasn’t necessarily so to the previous generation. With this assumption, I attempted to explore a personal understanding of what might be “typically American” relative to my personal history in a regional setting.
Place has served as a powerful artistic influence in my creative process throughout my life. Place is much more complex than just location, with it comes historical and cultural shadows, the smell of the air and the type of light. In addition, the perception applied to oneself from the outside weighs heavily on feelings and lasting memories in regard to any one place.
The annual and cyclical revisiting of Ohio, Oregon, Alaska, Arkansas, and North-East China marked my life from 1996-2006, as well as a genuine appreciation of early Modernist painting. This extended journey subsequently became the subject matter of my work, while emotional and philosophical states of idealism , pessimism, sarcasm and sometimes a personal mysticism were often implied as content.
The selection of subject matter was strictly self-confined to only subject matter I personally had contact with, had seen and could revisit. The process evolved from one of life drawing being displaced from the source by drawing the drawing to one of practiced visual memory recordings to be reconstructed by both imagination and memory.
All ARTWORK & SITE DESIGN-COPYRIGHT 2017, CRAIG VOLIGNY, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED