Tuesday 7 October 2014

China Flash: Kong Lingnan, Beijing painter, on natural beauty and human ugliness

This is an expanded version of an article which first appeared in Time Out Beijing.

O Brambles, O Brambles, by Kong Lingnan (2012)
Indulgence is hardly what one would associate with the prolific, rigorous artist Kong Lingnan, who lives and works in a chic warehouse space in the 318 International Art Village, a Beijing zone so cutting edge and (literally) far out that it’s still being constructed by hard-hatted, belly-baring builders. Kong’s visually stunning large-scale paintings replicate the eerie, sexy effect of neon tubing. “I was trying [unsuccessfully] to draw portraits, until one day I saw a neon light in front of my window, glowing in the darkness, spelling out the Chinese character for ‘spoil’ or ‘indulge’, and it struck me as funny.”

Unnatural, electric neon proved to be Kong’s natural language, the one she uses “to describe the world.” That world contains equal parts terror and beauty. Her style has developed from epic landscapes in which tiny humans are caught up in scenes of male violence (particularly male sexual violence against women), natural disasters and accidental devastation to globular, seemingly abstract images where a bird’s-eye view of islands resembles amorphous biological cells. “I don’t want to be narrative at all. I want to describe a state,” she explains.

Over the last five years Kong’s work has made her an art market must-have, a favourite face in Vogue magazine (when photographer Peter Lindbergh recommended her to Vogue China’s Editor in Chief Angelica Cheung following a group art show with Kong), a collaborator with the Chinese fashion label JBNY and the headliner of a solo exhibition, Beach, at Beijing’s Gallery Yang in the 798 Art District, which ends on 10th October.

When I point out the sinister elements of her work and the conflict they portray between nature and the human world, Kong agrees: “I am very sceptical about all the things we’ve built. Our culture, our moral standards, our religions. We’re building, building, building – and coexisting with nature. A human is just a tiny creature. We can be strong, but also very fragile.”

To read my China Flash series of articles about contemporary China, please click here or explore some of the links below: