Wei LiGang was born in 1964 Kouquan Town area of Datong City, Shanxi Province, Northern China. He has been in the forefront of contemporary ink painting and its development from beginning. Currently he holds the vice presidency of the Modern Calligraphy art society of China, and is the general curator of the global joint visual exhibition “Oriental abstractism”. His artwork has been collected by Galleries and Museums world wide including British Museum, Museum of Cernuschi, China National Museum, Today Art Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts to name but a few.
COULD YOU PLEASE INTRODUCE US TO YOUR HOMETOWN?
Datong City also know as ‘City of the Coals’ is the hometown of the sea of coals(China’s Coal mining belt area ). In the past it was known by the ancient name of Pingcheng City, and has been the Capital during the Northern Wei dynasty and later the Western capital during the Jurchen Jin dynasty. It is a wealthy and prosperous city in which Buddhism is the main religion, it has managed to keep many of its historical sites, (many that have been damaged are being restored ), such as Yungang Grottoes, Huayan Temple, and the Hanging Temple. All of this along with the vast wilderness and geographical features of he area have had a very deep impact on the Artistic side of my nature.
WHAT OF YOUR CHILDHOOD, WHAT WAS THE MAJOR INFLUENCES AND COULD SHARE SOME INTERESTING EVENTS FROM THAT TIME?
My father was a major influence in my life. He worked in the Railway service, at an important coal transportation junction. His stories filled my mind with images of power, of the mines, of roaring steam trains and huge mining machines. His stories and his skill as a craftsman hand making furniture, performing ancient Beijing opera, crafting large toys for me such as Blunderbuss, Iron-wheel cart left a lasting impression on me. Later as I grew we would together modify boomboxes and gramophones, I practiced electric welding and developed craftsmanship, matched patterns on the floor by using red bricks. Some times he was like a tyrant, because of this I had to be the prefect student and role model to my classmates. My childhood was glorious, I was able to write arty calligraphs by using chalks and paint large- scaled posters for my father by the age of six.I remember I wrote a letter to my granny in primary school, however my father crushed the ink box because the handwriting was messy, my father was a stern teacher and would scold me if I did not meet his standards, I remember he would also scold me when I failed to light the home fire. I have many interests and hobbies, such as playing basketball, creating comics and I joined calligraphy and drawing competitions. While at school I learnt to the play French horn for the orchestra, and became the lead reciter and singer.As a child I always followed where my mischievous mind led, inventing a dish washer for my mother, labeling sea creatures and drawing them on the bottom of the fish tank, building an artificial hill. I remember my middle school teacher used to describe me as an old class student because he thought I was calm, considerate, courteous and skillful. These experiences inspired me and led to my creativity and mindset of visual arts. they also gave me the leadership and skills which now I possess.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE THE CAREER OF ART?
It was in the early 1980s that I decided on a career in art, it came about when I was admitted to Nankai University, in Tianjin. I have always been good at maths, and eventually was admitted as maths major to the famous Nankai University, so I first arrived in Tianjin 1981, This had been the hiding place of Pu Yis(the last Qing emperor) family, it was steeped in history with a very authentic historic atmosphere of art and antiques. Soon I became the chair of varsity calligraphy club, and with a special invitation from student council, I immersed myself in the Nankai library researching calligraphy, I would carry a rucksack of books back to dormitory to study.I found and read many unpublished texts, so I asked the university press to publish a book titled ‘The collection of foreign and domestic ancient-modern calligraphy’. Calligraphy occupied my every waking moment even during mathematics lectures. I visited many famous calligraphers around Tianjin area, I was invited by a master of calligraphy to lecture in Nankai. When I graduated in 1985, I held my first personal calligraphy exhibition it was, entitled You shall be brave if you are determined.I had become addicted to calligraphy, I had found my lifes work and was ready to devote myself to it. My teachers, are all famous calligraphic masters. Mr. Li Henian classic and courteous, he taught me exegetical study of calligraphy. Mr. Wang Xuezhong returned from Japan, I visited him on weekly basis at his house in Four-season Village, normally we discussed calligraphy until midnight. He is a master with his own art system, the main ideas of Hard(heavy), Clumsy, Odd, Vast. Mr. Sun Boxiang was originally a worker, however has an unmatched study on The Monument of Wei.
HOW WOULD YOU SOLVE ANY BOTTLENECK ISSUES?
There are no bottlenecks in exploration of my art. This ability to avoid them comes from years of effort acquiring the skills and ability needed to capture and judge an object. In my opinion, for the past 50 years, I have always been trying and adjusting. Now I consider the past mistakes as Gods guidance in obtaining skills I would need later in life, such as the seemingly unrelated four years in mathematical studies. This gave me the ability to distinguish my abstraction from the abstraction of the Academy of Fine Arts, mathematics is a very precise abstraction.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF CREATING YOUR ARTWORK?
The daily life for a professional artist can be described as a mixture of creation and play. Sometime it is to create with direction, a building design or a custom work for a collector, or participate in an exhibition, each type of work is fixed, and according to clients different needs, I will then set the style and specifications for the work. My work is divided into Steps the number depending upon its complexity. As the literal texts series, I must first pick out a good poem. Only the poems, which are esoteric, hard to pronounce, and weird will stimulate my creative desire. There is usually no draft each piece being unique, and I would usually like to start with light ink on paper. There is also a situation where the work is done instantly, which tests the reaction mechanism, the sensitivity and accuracy of the artist at that moment. A special occasion for example when improvising in front of a group of people, or facing the camera crew for a documentary, my ability of creating fine work is stimulated because at that moment, no mistake is tolerated, thus there is a motivation for me to show off. Therefore it is logical that good works are unique and unrepeatable. Freshness ought to be kept all the time.
COULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CURRENT SITUATION OF THE CIRCLE OF CHINESE CREATIVITY AND ART?
In my mind, the past China did not pay attention to the quality of life. This now has been shown to be an error, a misunderstanding, a mistake. China entered the modern era relatively late, almost four decades behind the West, who had already developed in more areas and gained much more experience. The desire to catch up in a short time however led itself into an embarrassing evaluation system , this has in turn led to a certain amount of abuse, contempt, such as the haze caused by rapid economical developments has arisen. The Chinese people cannot maintain the speed of production without distorting the quality of life itself in the sprit of Catch the UK and Transcend US, More, Fast, Good, Cheap.This is an unavoidable stage of development, China has improved through it.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF CULTURAL EXCHANGE BETWEEN CHINA AND EUROPE?
I have raised the concept of empty space related to the East and the West. Some certain areas are completely blank to the East, and God has left a space for China to develop, which is very encouraging because it is a good. Time to distinguish East from the West, and allow China to establish its own unique economic, political, and artistic model.
The so-called Chinese route is not just the addition of ethnical, national or regional elements based on well- established Western abstract art system, but the thorough rebuild on its structural system. In this process we need to absorb the advantages of other regional systems, such as the exquisite delicacy of Europe, the strength of industrialisation of the United States. The difference is that China is like a blank piece paper, on which newer and more beautiful paintings can be drawn (Chairman Mao Quotations), and there are more possibilities. When the artist is at the edge, it is necessary to confront the worlds puzzles with patience, insist on advancing forward, because the process of human development requires a real advances for soul.
Interview Linda Cooper