Yesterday, I finally got to meet the Shanghai artist and painter Lu Xinjian. Earlier in the year, I commissioned him to create a site-specific wallpaper for my PhD exhibition, ‘The Temporary: 01’, that I am still yet to write about here (image shown below). I met him at the opening of his solo exhibition, ‘City DNA IV’ at Hua Gallery, London, on display until 20th October 2014.
Lu combines his skills as an illustrator and a painter through using Google Earth satellite imagery – his “crucial artistic instrument” – to capture, from a bird’s-eye view, the structural landscape and essence of cities around the world, analysing their features and structures, before meticulously translating these illustrative images to large-scale canvases. He chooses colour patterns that fit each city, representing its culture, spirit or his personal impression of the place he has visited. They intricately create a complex relationship between shape and colour, abstraction and simplistic realism, structure and deconstruction, signs and symbols, making reference to the visual semiotics at play and each city’s historic, economic and political contexts. He creates graphic compositions ‘of global metropolises whose structures are scattered into a concentration of fragmented lines’…as such maps, an archive of reflective of a personal memory of a city. They, in part, also making reference to language and communication, specifically how Chinese Mandarin language, when untranslatable in its pictorial character form, is seen as a language of icons.
“With City DNA, I wanted to give the audience a visual of the hidden stories and rhythm of a city. I have tried to express its origin and the evolution of its movement and culture, its economy, morphed into fractals.” – Lu Xinjian
Lu started the ‘City DNA’ series with ‘Groningen’ in 2009, where Lu lived during his graduate school years. In this particular work, he traced a bird’s eye view photograph he took of Groningen, transforming it into a painting, where the lines and shapes are much more simple and loosely arranged than the works he has since developed using Google Earth. After this first experiment, under the guidance of his then professor, Lu gradually took on more challenging cities like Beijing, Pairs, New York, and then London with more complexity in their cityscapes, as shown in this exhibition.
For my PhD exhibition, ‘The Temporary: 01’, Lu was commissioned to turn his painting ‘City DNA/London Nº 2′ into a site specific wallpaper installation to frame and “map” the entire exhibition. It was translated as an abstract metaphor for the how we negotiate, interact and decode cities and spaces as they change and develop. As it is site-specific, it is literally “temporary” in nature, and links directly to one of the main exhibitions aims and themes of examining “architectures of change” through transcultural encounters between Chinese and non-Chinese contexts. I must write about this exhibition soon!
At Lu’s opening event, he very kindly gave me a copy of his new catalogue…personally signing it with a one-off illustration…note the glasses. He designed the cover art himself incorporating the exhibition’s title. Clever and intricate with visual clarity and power. I’m looking forward to reading the critical perspectives within its pages.