The School of Design at University of Leeds plays host to Professor Fenghua Wang of Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, China. As a painter Wang has exhibited globally in places such as Israel, Korea, Germany, Taiwan and although he has exhibited in group shows in the UK several times before this is his first time he has presented work in Yorkshire and is his first solo show here.
Wang is primarily concerned with the phenomena of urbanization taking place in China’s rural landscapes. It’s an issue that is catalysed by any growing economy and China’s rampant economic growth sees it as a country not just growing out of but diverging from a deeply rich past, one steeped in centuries of spirituality.
What is first noticeable about the scenes Wang depicts is the lack of human presence, conspicuous in its absence, his collection maps out a society distinctly depopulated. The subject matter of his works are nowhere-places, locations found on the peripheries of towns and cities, places on the cusp where bricks, mortar, steel and iron slowly encroach into the domain of nature with viral like purpose. The mundanity of these scenes attest to the futility of it all as lakes, rivers, forests and open fields, places of intrinsic beauty that allow for peacefulness and contemplation are sacrificed, given over to the whims of capitalist progress, but for what? Waste lands of debris, shanties built out of stone and the remnants of degraded industrial infrastructure? Wang’s paintings act as a diagnosis of the malignant and tumorous spread of urbanism, the emblematic consequences that every industrialised country still has to bear.
Painted with an air of sensitivity Wang manages to approach the subject matter with a sense of calm, his paintings demonstrate a touch born of fragility, it is his greatest achievement and endows his work with the power to illicit a rarefied opportunity for contemplation. Maybe it’s the stillness of his work that offers the time to stop, to breathe and time to consider the implications of losing rural space; the safety zones that allow for reflection, away from the relentless march of asbestos tinged progress.
Wang’s paintings succeed in bridging the expansive distance between Xi’an and Leeds, cities that are divided by a geographical and cultural gulf, two distant lands now unified by Wang’s thematics. Safety Zone encourages us to see the very same issues that lie in the heart of our society as a city and as a country. It makes one wonder about the past that was down trodden by Leeds’ industrial progress, it begs the question what was lost and for what gain? The work on display at Leeds University feels like the quiet lamentation of the inevitable subsidence of the past.
So Xi’an, like Leeds, and like every other industrialised society, are characterised by the aspiration to create an environment that is not just divorced from the natural world but one that transcends it. However, faced with the impossibility of such an endeavour our societies choose to simply carpet over the natural world with concrete and rubble.
Safety Zone: Fenghua Wang
Foyer Gallery, Clothworkers Building Central, Leeds
April 16th, 2018 — May 8th, 2018