CA·TALK｜Wu Beier: Empty your mind
I wish for nothing, I seek nothing. I have no aim, for one gain that which one is eager for — and sees that it is all illusion. My joyous days have passed. I have cooled to them. In the educated world, amidst human beings, I feel the disadvantages of life too strongly, but alone, far from the crowd, I turn to stone. In this trance anything can happen, I see neither others nor myself. I do nothing and do not notice the actions either of others or myself — and I am at peace, I am indifferent.
— — Ivan Goncharov
Artist Wu Beier
Born in 1990 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, Wu Beier grew up in the mountains with her grandparents, describing herself as a “wild child” who spent her days running around the mountains, catching fish from the river and digging out birds’ eggs from the trees. Later, after graduating from high school, because the teacher who taught painting graduated from the China Academy of Art, she applied for it, and out of curiosity, she chose the newly established major of “Color Design”.
It was surprising that no one knew what the career path of this profession would be, or even what is studied. Was it the effect of colour on urbanised industry or the effect of clinical response on the human mind and body? Neither did Wu Beier know, but it seems that this major, in turn, influenced her subsequent works and the way she created them. At that time, because she was at ease during her undergraduate, and was confused about what to do after graduation, she learned French by mistake at the suggestion of friends. Then, she was recognized by the Dean of the Paris Art Foundation in the exchange activities. Logically, she decided to study in France and started her seven-year study tour in France and Germany and settled in Shanghai in 2020.
In Wu Beier’s creation, the keyword is “colour”, followed by the colour perception and embodiment extended from emotion and experience memory. Oscar-Claude Monet once said summed up the methodology of impressionist painting: When you squint, the nature in the sun is a pinch of green, a pinch of red, white and purple … That is to say, everything under the sun is consist of colour in Monet’s eyes. Similarly, all the natural landscapes are the colours that pass before Wu Beier’s eyes when she runs. When she was creating, she can often recall she was running in the mountains and woods as a child, and the scenery around her turns into fuzzy and clear colours.
It is difficult to say whether this awareness is an overlap of experiences triggered by childhood memories or a state that the creator has constructed during the creative process, but there is no doubt that her studies in ‘colour design’ have had an intuitive impact on how she uses colour and mobilises the colouration in her work, as is evident in her abstract paintings of 2018 and her series of blueprints in 2021.
As someone who has lived and studied in both China and the West, Wu Beier’s practice at each stage of her life is a clear reflection of who has influenced her, but interestingly, this influence has not been acquired actively. Lin Fengmian and Wu Guanzhong’s intellectual insights, Georgia O’Keeffe’s life experiences, and Henry Darger’s rustic brushwork and use of colour have inspired her. She lets go of thoughts, and she sorts out her thoughts and creative context naturally. With one’s mind and feelings, one collects individual experiences as a “love box”, storing the experiences and even emotions of different individuals from different fields
Wu Beier’s creation displays that media plays little importance, but the colour is her language. “Emptying” is how she overlaps her memory and experience to act on her creation, and this way is reflected in getting creative inspiration, which also runs through every moment of her creation.
In this issue of “CA TALK”, we chat with Wu Beier, an artist studying in France.
CA: Your growth and study experience shows that your choice of studying art is impacted by your teacher who graduated from the China Academy of Art; I chose to study in France because I contacted French artists during the cultural exchange between China and France, and wanted to visit France. I chose the EESI Angoulême because the dean invited you to apply for it … all this makes it seem that you are a person who does not have too clear a plan of goals and is more of a go-getter personality?
Wu Beier: At the time to do something, there is always a choice. There are decisions made after objective judgment, I am casual mentally. My parents are also open-minded and supportive of studying art and going abroad.
CA: What do you mean by objective judgment?
Wu Beier: At that time, I learned French because I was too bored. Later, I got in touch with several French artists in a salon activity and cooperated with them in an exhibition afterwards. During the preparation of the exhibition, I felt the difference in thinking and working methods between Chinese artists and French artists. That experience was a big shock to me, and I was aware of the conservatism of the Chinese art system, which made me want to look at the outside world.
CA: Did it overturn your worldview or cognitive view?
Wu Beier: It’s the different ideas and attitudes towards art. Artistic creation in China tends to meet many restrictions, and some content and topics are forbidden. In the creation of French artists, from thinking, and process to artworks, you can feel a kind of heavy texture, which many domestic creative people lack. I was curious why is there such a difference? China has thousands of years of cultural and artistic history, but why can’t it become the fulcrum of our thoughts?
CA: One important reason for this is the discontinuity in culture and art during China’s modern development. Of course, this situation is caused by complex factors. So, when you went to France to study art in a completely different cultural system from the East, was there any urgency to claim an identity and trace your cultural roots?
Wu Beier: I later felt that these are actually in the bloodline of each individual. Even though I don’t use ink as a medium, the emotions, imagery and aesthetic interests of Chinese culture are naturally reflected in my work. So I haven’t thought about or explored this issue, I’m still more concerned with my emotions and how I present them in my paintings under the influence of stimuli.
CA: Are emotions your internal drive?
Wu Beier: I am almost emotionally driven, my themes, intentions or questions are all postulated, and I never pre-determine or conceive in advance, almost all my creations are sudden. However, I do research or accumulate ideas, and all the attention and records in my daily life are stored for inspiration. Inspiration must be closely related to your experience, what you pay attention to, and the influence you receive in your thoughts and actions.
CA: How do you research and accumulate materials daily?
Wu Beier: I have always had the habit of taking pictures and notes. When I see something interesting and like it, I will take pictures, or write down my ideas in time. Then, when I paint, I will recall my feelings and emotions with the help of photos and notes. But often, the result of the final picture is completely different from my mood when I was initially touched.
CA: I’m curious about one thing. The best major of the EESI Angoulême is animation. What is the best major at the Art School of the Hamburg University of Technology? Did you study the application of digital media there?
Wu Beier: My exchange to Germany was to study printmaking. The lithography process in Germany is sophisticated and the exposure to the creation of old workshops such as illustration and printmaking there inspired me. The study of digital media started during a trip to Düsseldorf, a city with quite a strong experimental image atmosphere, and it was natural to be influenced by that atmosphere and try to create some works in digital media. But for me, any medium is fine, the key is whether I can express my emotions reasonably and appropriately. I prefer traditional media to digital media because they are timeless and full of warmth.
CA: You mentioned earlier that when you were running in nature as a child, you felt the colour change of the scenery around you. This experience influenced your perception of colour afterwards. I guess you imprinted the inner feelings in that situation, and the colour is just the projection of your emotions.
Belle Wu: Yes, that state of being out in nature, which is completely different from the city, is capable of triggering my thoughts and evoking my emotions. I like running in the natural environment, as my body moves and my heart rate gradually increases, the landscape and colours you see are changing and I enjoy this process. Then suddenly I had an idea, how can I keep this feeling of colour in motion? This idea became a direction and a starting point for my later creative exploration.
CA: Are your abstract works from 2017 to 2020 the practice of feeling this scene?
Wu Beier: To some extent. But I don’t create works at the moment when my emotions are triggered. Often, this idea or emotion has been in my mind for several months, so I go back to the studio and sit in front of the easel, and filter out the information again. In this process, memory and emotion are no longer the initial one, and the memory is added with many other contents.
CA: Do you make a draft, or do you sketch while revising it?
Wu Beier: I never make drafts, and I don’t have any preset actions. I let the brush paint directly on the screen. Sometimes, even the outline is omitted. Once I paint it, I always follow the feeling of the pen tip freely.
CA: It’s communication between you and colour?
Wu Beier: You could say that, but often when you look back after finishing a certain number of paintings, their emotional expression and content are complete and consistent, even if there are some differences, the works are often surprising. Of course, if I am not satisfied with some of them, I will leave them alone and after a while or in two or three years. When I suddenly recall the feeling one day, I will continue to paint on that basis. This process is a superimposition of memories, emotions and feelings.
Wu Beier: You can say that, but when you look back after a certain number of paintings, their emotional expressions and contents are complete and consistent. Even if there are some differences, the works, in this case, are often surprises. Of course, I’m not satisfied. At this time, I’ll just sit still and wait for a while or two or three years. One day, I suddenly recall that feeling, and I’ll continue painting on that basis. This process is the superposition of memories, emotions and emotions.
CA: So how are they influenced by Lin Fengmian, Wu Guanzhong, Claude Monet, Georgia Totto O’Keeffe and Doug Henry? It’s hard to find clues in your creations.
Wu Beier: Rather than being influenced, I would say that I was inspired by their life trajectories and thoughts, such as how Lin and Wu found the connection and integration between their cultural value systems and the Western cultural system; Georgia inspired me with her experiences and identity as a female artist and how to find herself in the autonomy of her identity; I love Henry’s fiction, his seemingly non-professional illustrations, and the extremely genuine use of colour, which moves me much. Colour is important to me, and it’s my language. If it shows in the picture, there is a little bit of Henry’s style and feeling, but actually, including these artists mentioned earlier, their influence on me is internalized rather than externalized, and my inspiration always comes from that experience of running in nature as a child.
CA: You keep referring repeatedly to your childhood experience of running in nature. From a psychological point of view, this image, including that memory, maybe a reflection of your inner perception of “self”, that is, you are trying to return to that state, that emotional perception, and use that state of mind and emotion to relate to the world, the environment and things around you. Do you think that’s the case?
Wu Beier: It’s possible, but I haven’t thought about it subconsciously, just as I like being in the natural environment, even if a breeze may some smell, and then it evokes a certain emotion in my memory. This process is instinctive, being unconscious all the time, and I may not even observe it seriously. Hence, I never make drafts, not even for prints. The reason why I’m fascinated by printmaking is that I enjoy the process of overlaying one layer on top of another, each layer is unpredictable until the end, and this changing relationship between me and the material is fascinating to me.
CA: It’s like an emotional film.
Wu Beier: I like the word “emotional film”, which fits my series of “Blue Waves” prints. The creation time is relatively long, which means every time I add a layer, the memory and mood of the moment may be completely different, and I force myself to impose more layers … so the final result of the painting is what I probably didn’t expect anyway. As a result, the original plan of this series consists of six pieces, but the final result was only five, and one of them failed.
But in fact, this process is much like a game between me and the picture and slate. I exert pressure and action on it, and it gives me feedback including initiative, swing, positive, negative, positive, and resistance … You can hardly say that this is not a manifestation of the relationship between creators and media.
CA: Tell me about your work “Beautiful Man” in 2017. This work reminds me of Bernard Frize, which is different to other abstract or concrete works of yours. This painting has obvious hesitation, and the use of colour is not tangled or contradictory, but rather a bit sluggish.
Wu Beier: Before this painting, I had been painting landscapes, and at that stage, I did a lot of experimentation with digital landscapes. It was clear that I wanted to use oil painting to present the texture and effect of digital painting, but I just couldn’t move forward in any way, and in the end, it even felt like my hands were imprisoned and my whole body was emotionally imprisoned. Later on, after painting, I found that the unconscious feeling of the figures’ faces, which resembled prison bars, was very much in line with my state of mind at that time, so I kept the painting.
CA: Your NFT creation is based on your digital practice. What I am curious about is what kind of consideration is the superposition of those traditional Chinese landscape elements and geometric space lines with a golden ratio in the picture?
Wu Beier: It’s a practice of digital printing similar to printmaking. It’s also superimposed layer by layer, and finally, a complete result comes out. What’s different is that the digital version of the painting is a superposition of layers, similar to the overlaid film, so I tried to combine different elements to see if I could collide with a surprising result. What I didn’t expect was that the final result had some Ukiyo-e style.
CA: What were the creative ideas for the colourful animations Echo and La Luné at that time?
Wu Beier: “Echo” is created when social news of shooting death in France happened at that time. The accident reminded me of the spring and autumn hunts of the French aristocracy in ancient times. You can see that the deeper layer is a traditional Chinese symbol of the five-colour deer, which has some kind of metaphor for the brutal “plundering” of ancient art and culture by modern civilisation”, rather than an orderly transmission.
CA: I find that you unconsciously relate everything to nature. In your eyes, the city with its high buildings is no different from the forest with its thick jungle. It seems that human beings and “animals” can be similar. Even the mechanisms of civilization and modern society are essentially interlinked with the most primitive survival rules of nature … Your inner desire for freedom is something that the real world and life cannot satisfy, and maybe even sometimes, deep down, you are the “deer” that runs. Therefore, to some extent, creation is an enclave that you build for yourself, where you will empty, block out some things and people around you, and let your emotions release and spread there.
Wu Beier: You have a point. I am indeed a person who always expects surprises, but I haven’t analyzed it so clearly, and I haven’t considered why it is so. At the realization stage, I am still in a state of “feeling”, and the quantity has not yet reached the stage of causing qualitative change, so my style and ideas are always unstable and changeable, and it is difficult to summarize and summarize what I am doing with a certain style, theme or technique.
CA: Last question, when did you get to know NFT art? What’s your view?
Wu Beier: At the beginning of last year, Beeple’s works had a sky-high price, which made NFT art big fame, so I started to learn about it. For me, the medium and the scene are not important. For some artists, the medium, the theme, the way of exposition, etc. may work as the language. But for me, colour is my language, and it’s just another scene to tell the story. But I quite like the NFT field, because everyone can speak freely, and we don’t need to care about people’s comments, let alone approval. Anyone can find their circle there.