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Benjamin Sigg Collection - The Art of Collecting

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Ji Dachun

Not East Nor West

The work shown here is the Five Elements made in 2004. I used oil paint back then, but it looked like an ink painting, which is a very interesting misconception. I was thinking, how fun it would be if a landscape painting from the Song or Yuan Dynasties suddenly caught fire! It was naive, but there is something that can only be painted. It may sound like I am painting for the sake of it, without any external purpose, but perhaps this is a better way.
Five Elements2004,60x 50.5cm,Oil on canvas

Ji Dachun’s Five Elements is included in the exhibition of Benjamin Sigg’s collection. This landscape painting of a burning scene resembles a traditional Chinese ink painting, painted with oil paint and it brilliantly demonstrates the artist’s mastering of the medium. Ji, who was born in Jiangsu province in 1968, is known for his own version of surrealism and having an experimenting spirit. He works in the fields of figurative art, landscapes and still life paintings, using the language of the abstract. He also enjoys mixing and experimenting with many different kinds of mediums. He is interested in all sorts of mediums, including historical figures, cartoon figures, toys and everyday objects, which are all his favourites. He also plays with the complex relationship between the West and the East, endlessly changing his style, but maintaining a certain naiveté.

TEXT: CoBo Editorial Force

You have been exploring different media, such as oil, acrylic, graphite, etc., and your style is constantly changing as well. Is this because you want to resist categorisation?

Once I have worked on something for a period of time, I start envying others and want to give other things a try. I am aware that others enrich their practices with different methods, such as installations, videos, but I cannot. I am not that smart. I can explore different materials and techniques, but that is all, I keep coming back to painting. If I see something lacking in another artist’s paintings, I try to overcome it in my own practice. I have painted for a long time, but it is still not long enough. I want to go deeper and try to realise the picture that is in my mind, instead of trying other art forms.

Being creative means producing waste along the way, so I have to be clear about another way of painting before setting off again. It sounds like I am in a relationship. From 2007 onwards, I have been pretty fixed in terms of painting materials. I mostly use acrylics, but sometimes use others secretly, because I get jealous seeing others create oil paintings. Acrylics cannot imitate oil paintings, which is a shame to me. But maybe this is exactly why I stand out. The work shown here is the Five Elements made in 2004. I used oil paint back then, but it looked like an ink painting, which is a very interesting misconception. I was thinking, how fun it would be if a landscape painting from the Song or Yuan Dynasties suddenly caught fire! It was naive, but there is something that can only be painted. It may sound like I am painting for the sake of it, without any external purpose, but perhaps this is a better way.

猎人忘记,2013,152x 126.5cm,Acrylic on canvas

What are the difficulties you face when you reinterpret traditional Chinese paintings in oil and acrylic?

You cannot compare your works with Western paintings. If you did, you’d die with anger. They have a profound history. Though Western painting is considered to be the standard in art, this is not fair as it already rules the game. It might be a good thing to present the distance that exists between Western and Chinese art, but this sounds like a purpose in itself. It is not easy to do without either one of them. But Five Elements was not aiming at imitating ink paintings. I was merely thinking, it was not easy to produce this effect with oil paint. Although the acrylic comes from the oil painting, you realise the difference between the two once you are familiar with both. Acrylic is water-based, so it suits Chinese art, as it is more transparent than oil paint. But oil paint is more direct and is subject to variations, I think. Transparency, opaqueness and the space between the two… all of these are interesting aspects.

Which of the Western masters do you admire the most?

There are too many of them! Initially, I was interested in Piero della Francesca, Fra Angelico, Masaccio and Da Vinci of the Renaissance. I was not a fan of Raphael, though. Then I realised my impressions might be wrong. I used to dislike Rubens, preferring Durer; then, after seeing his originals, I realised that Rubens is great and Durer is miserable and very stubborn. Romanticism was not easy for me. Among the impressionists, I really enjoyed Cezanne and Van Gogh’s special style. Some of it. I cannot quite name the others that came later.

麒麟,2014,30x 20cm,Acrylic on canvas

Will your move to Berlin have an impact on your practice?

It is for my child, mostly. He will be going to school there, so we have decided the family should go there too. The other reason is that I crave to see the exhibitions there. It is easy to travel the whole of Europe by train. It was not easy to travel before and I would have to rush to several shows in a single day. I wouldn’t have any time. I would just examine each of the paintings carefully and tirelessly. I have a focus now and choose to go deep into it. For instance, I like Vermeer a lot and can spot one from a distance. You can find many things when looking at paintings. For example, did Vermeer paint vertically or horizontally? You can tell simply by the light that in the painting. When looking at Van Gogh’s paintings, you think how expensive the materials he used must have been, and he got a whole canvas out of it! Sometimes you wonder if he was truly poor or not. I do not dare to use oil paints in that way. I think about things like this, besides the techniques. So it can be exhausting.

Ji Dachun

Born in 1968 in Jiangsu province, he now lives and works in Beijing and Berlin.
Graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Oil Painting Department, Beijing, 1993.

Previous exhibitions include: Surreal Realities, Ludwig Museum Koblenz, Germany, 2015; Without A Home, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China, 2014; Forgotten Desires and Accompanying Clouds, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, Italy, 2013. Ji also participated in the The 56th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, 2015; New Sights in Chinese Contemporary Art, Prague, the Czech Republic; Belgrade, Serbia; Sofia, Bulgar-ia; Bucharest, Romania; 2013; Ctrl+N Non-Linear Practice – 2012 Kwangju Biennale Special Exhibition”, Kwangju Museum of Art, Korea, 2012.

Collector & Artists