Zhang Xuerui painting in her studio
张雪瑞，《225 202003》，2020，布面丙烯，150 × 150 cm
Zhang Xuerui, 225 202003, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 150 × 150 cm
张雪瑞，《100 201912-4》，2019，布面丙烯，60 × 60 cm
Zhang Xuerui, 100 201912-4, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 60 × 60 cm
I’ve always been thinking about how to capture the import of Zhang Xuerui's painting. One day, I came across this poem by famous Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, As People Listening Intently, and suddenly realized Xuerui has been talking about the same thing all this time.
Unlike many artists, who use overflowing sentiments to perceive their muses, Xuerui is somewhat inarticulate, whether in her words or her painting, perhaps even a bit slow. All kinds of little squares, all laid out in rows, like middle school students doing calisthenics. Each square is like a student: each one appears to be doing the same movements, but if you look closely, they each have their own feel. The more you look, the less orderly they seem. They may all be wearing the same track suits, but they all stick out their arms and stamp their feet in different ways. And yet, none quite stand out from the rest. It is as if, in this moment of pause, everyone is using their own independent understanding to present the same movement of music, or to perform the same melody. Approaching from this perspective, one gradually forgets to breathe as they gaze into the picture, until not only vision, but all of the senses become superfluous, and gradually, disappear altogether.
Zhang Xuerui painting in her studio
Ido not know how Xuerui apportions her time, but it must take a great deal of patience and perseverance to paint so many little squares. Most people would have given up rather than spend so many years painting all these small squares. Such a creative approach needs the strong spiritual support of obsession. As I came to better understand Xuerui, I realized that she is able to take joy in her slowness. Every time she paints, she treats it as a process of the exploration of color relationships. Even a tiny discovery can become momentum for mending the dejection in her heart, as if repetition and boredom are not part of her conceptual vocabulary. As a normal person, if I didn’t think inthis way, I would be unable to understand this almost pathological creative approach, not without driving myself crazy.
Zhang Xuerui working in her studio
Maybe we live too fast these days, eating food with too much flavor, and listening to rock music too loud. In any case, we can no longer bear that unhurried pace of the agrarian era. Ever faster and more frenzied has become the tone of our everyday. The spiciness of Sichuan food, the saltiness of Shandong food, and the pungency of Hunan food have constantly bombarded our taste buds, pushing them further out to the edge. In fact, it is the same with painting, where stimulation no longer depends on sentiments, but has become a form of chemistry. Some paintings are like ecstasy, sending out drug-like twitches and convulsions. At this moment, we need a cold glass of spring water to be able to take in that gentle breeze, smell the wild flowers, and return to the true East, to the human world.
Detail of Red and White Checkered Cloth
detail of Bamboo Canes
I look back on Ni Zan, the most magical thing about his art is not the
elegance of his folding brushwork, but the composure that comes from
deep within, and that confidence to gaze up at the cosmos. The
refinement of his ink painting is the result of slowly honing his skills
and breaking down the sadness in his heart. The path taken by Xuerui is
somewhat similar. She enters into the zone, seeking out those subtle
differences, expounding on the process and sharing every last drip of
perception, tracing back until she returns to that original joy of
painting. This is not some great philosophical thinking, or deep probing
of the soul, but the little bits of new perceptions and thoughts gained
in there cording of the prosaic, listening intently to the heart, until
finally dissolving time in those exacting squares.
Exhibition view of Zhang Xuerui's solo exhibition River with Three Buoys, Galerie Urs Meile Beijing, 2020