Exhibitions Foreword

Xu Xiaoguo’s “lines”


Bao Dong


In recent years, the “lines” in Xu Xiaowen’s painting practices are distributed to three dimensions. On the most literal dimension, the “lines” are the stripes in his painting. Since 2012, Xu Xiaoguo’s work has gradually penetrated into the study of pure visual issues from the semantics and aesthetics of the images. The various visual issues have gradually become the focus of his work. Moreover, the relationship between spatial dimension and the flatness of a painting became its center. He began to use lines and stripes to interrupt the visual space in the painting. For instance, in the Hanger series, his initial geometrical simplification of particular objects highlighted the formulaic composition of certain paintings, and in this painting context, he added lines to these painting-model objects, that allow our viewing habit of the stereoscopic and the extension of the surface suggested by these lines and stripes to connect and collide. Eventually, the background of the painting was fully covered by the layering lines that shape the logic of spatial illusion and sense of the flat surface in one’s overlapping viewing experience.


The lines have thus become one of the most critical “roles” in Xu Xiaoguo’s painting. Unlike the diverse figures in his painting in the past, lines do not embody particular cultural, social and political meaning, but are purely visual tools. In other words, the lines in these paintings only have literal meanings, but not implications. Like the minimalist artist Frank Stella’s lines, “What you see is what you see.” 


On the second-dimension, “lines” thereon entered into an awareness of more specific painting structure, from the selection of his subject, the unfolding of the painting and its completion, even to the entitling of the artworks. Since his Large cage series, Xu Xiaoguo has purposefully chosen the cage with complex and rich, yet structurally distinct spatial subject. In these works, the border of the cage overlaps with the frame of the painting, and the interior space of the cage becomes the entirety of the painting. In fact, the subject of these paintings is not the cage per se, but the space that is contoured, defined and furthermore, fully ordered of the cage. On canvas, the cage becomes an excellent spatial sample that awaiting to be dissected. The most interesting component of Xu Xiaoguo’s work is to analysis its thereafter reconfiguration. He adopts various possible approaches to displace the structure of the cage, compliment the background of the painting, and creating visual chaos in the displaced representation of space, by which to urge the flatness of the painting to surface.


This series of work can be interpreted as a translation of spatial sense to flatness, which was not a search of one on one correspondence between these two languages, but to depart from the aimed language and fully reorganize the conceptual basis of the original language. Thus, these paintings are processes of “re-weaving” the relationship between flat surfaces. Although the lines engaged in or even enhanced this process of “weaving”, and making this process more sensible, yet “weaving” space is only one of Xu Xiaoguo’s basic concept and approach, the specific lines no long play the main role. In fact, “lines” have transformed from a noun to a verb, or even to become a sentence and grammar.


Finally, “lines” embody a proactive state of Xu Xiaoguo’s constant pushing forward and derivations of his painting practice. His work method often departs from specific found image or drawings and use them as its initial painting sample, then strip and screen its structure to isolate the various visual models. For example, lines, cage, spheres, tree branches, zebra, are adopted, derived and reorganized repetitively into new image relationships. Such reiterating work method demonstrates a conscious act of cross-referencing. In Roland Barthes’ view, the essence writing is to cross-reference, because it does not have a direct relationship with reality, writing is only rewriting of what’s been written, and it only refers to writing, a context of a text is still a text.


Whether Xu Xiaoguo has adopted post-structuralism as his creative theory or not, it is apparent that his painting practice has already demonstrated certain proactive cross-referencing. So much so that Roland Barthes’ phrase “text is texture” can be figuratively embodied in Xu Xiaoguo’s paintings, even though what he weaves is not language and characters, but the gaze of the viewers.


What Roland Barthes refers as texture is translated as “the woven object” in Chinese, yet, in line with the characteristics of the Chinese language, most scholars suggest to translate it into the “basis of lines”. In Shuo Wen Jie Zi (Word and Expression), Xu Shen stated, a word, consists of making overlapping strokes; and Duan Yucai annotated, the one who writes, produces overlapping strokes. In other words, in Chinese, the “word” is the “line”, “text” is the “essence of lines”, however for Xu Xiaoguo, in terms of “weaving” in, and between his painting, he is not confronted with the “basis” of its “essence”, but the “body” of an “experience”. In fact, painting does not have its essence, because the so-called essence is a historicized experience of understanding. Thus, Xu Xiaoguo’s paintings are not passively proclaiming the flatness of painting, but to invoke the energy of our viewing experience through his process of “weaving” the spatial and flat sense of the paintings.