“Presence of Whiteness”: Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi at Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore

“Presence of Whiteness” features the work of Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi across Pearl Lam Galleries’ two spaces in Singapore.

Running until 30 April 2017, the dual-space exhibition includes a series of over 20 coloured paintings created between 2012 and 2016 at Dempsey Hill, as well as painting, installation and text works spanning 50 years of Zhu Jinshi’s career at the Gillman Barracks.

Zhu Jinshi, 'Go Grand Master' (detail), in "Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu Jinshi, ‘Go Grand Master’ (detail), in “Presence of Whiteness”, solo by Zhu Jinshi, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

When considering the work of Zhu Jinshi, it is instructive to imagine, for a moment, that point in the artist’s life, after having known only the flatness of ink painting and reproduced images, encountering the technique of impasto, and the possibility of physicality in paint that it embodies. “Presence of Whiteness” features a hint of this transformative period, in the form of a selection of a number of very early paintings by Zhu: in Presence of Whiteness 5—1985 Sunshine (1985), for instance, the beginnings of his use of non-representational impasto can be seen.

Zhu Jinshi, 'Sidaokou (Four-Way Intersection)' (detail) in "Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu Jinshi, ‘Sidaokou (Four-Way Intersection)’ (detail) in “Presence of Whiteness”, solo by Zhu Jinshi, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

With this origin thus anchored, the exhibition branches out in very different directions – with Pearl Lam Galleries’ two spaces in Singapore, each venue explores very different aspects of his practice, not unlike having two simultaneous solo exhibitions by the artist. As the title of the show might suggest, the two spaces are linked not just by the artist exhibited, but by the staging of the exhibition – cool, soft lighting with white-painted floors lends a sense of etherealness, somewhat suggestive of being in one of James Turrell’s Ganzfeld works.

"Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, installation view with (left to right) 'Go Grand Master', 'The Chu King Trembles 1', 'Low- Key Singer 2', 'Abstract Rubbish 2', 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

“Presence of Whiteness”, solo by Zhu Jinshi, installation view with (left to right) ‘Go Grand Master’, ‘The Chu King Trembles 1’, ‘Low- Key Singer 2’, ‘Abstract Rubbish 2’, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

"Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, installation view with 'Presence of Whiteness 2', 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Gillman Barracks), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu Jinshi, “Presence of Whiteness”, installation view with ‘Presence of Whiteness 2’, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Gillman Barracks), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Across these two spaces, the centrepiece of the exhibition as a whole is Presence of Whiteness 2 (2016 – 2017), in Gillman Barracks – a staggering amount of black oil paint, of equivalent volume to the reinforced canvas stretchers on which the paint rests, in large slabs. One of the central propositions of Zhu’s practice, of paint’s physicality, is borne out by these masses of paint, irreducible to any image or abstraction. There is something of a bonus for eagle-eyed repeat visitors to the exhibition, as the surface of the freshly-set paint warps subtly in accordance with the long, slow oxidation of oil paint.

"Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, with (left to right) 'Presence of Whiteness 2' and 'Presence of Whiteness 1 - A Dialogue Between Zhu Jinshi and Yu Haiyuan', 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Gillman Barracks), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu Jinshi, “Presence of Whiteness”, installation view with (left to right) ‘Presence of Whiteness 2’ and ‘Presence of Whiteness 1 – A Dialogue Between Zhu Jinshi and Yu Haiyuan’, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Gillman Barracks), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Accompanying the work is a wall-length textual installation, Presence of Whiteness 1—A Dialogue Between Zhu Jinshi and Yu Haiyuan (2016 – 17), presented in Chinese with printed handouts of an English translation available. In these brief excerpts of a conversation, a range of subjects are addressed, including the philosophical underpinnings of the artist’s practice.

Produced on-site per the artist’s specifications, Presence of Whiteness 2 demonstrates the conceptual notion of dissociation from the artist’s hand, in common with several other pieces in the Gillman Barracks’ space, which thus far appears set to play host to more experimental, conceptually-focused artwork than Pearl Lam’s Dempsey location. Among the less-painterly artworks to be found here, for instance, are Presence of Whiteness 4—Old Building No. 2 (1994), comprising an arrangement of wooden stretchers stacked in a corner of the gallery, their serial similitude standing in stark contrast with the uniqueness oft-associated with painting in general.

"Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, installation view with (left to right) 'Presence of Whiteness 4- Old Building No. 2', 'Presence of Whiteness 6', 'Presence of Whiteness 5- 1985 Sunshine', 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Gillman Barracks), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu Jinshi, “Presence of Whiteness”, installation view with (left to right) ‘Presence of Whiteness 4- Old Building No. 2’, ‘Presence of Whiteness 6’, ‘Presence of Whiteness 5- 1985 Sunshine’, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Gillman Barracks), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu’s Presence of Whiteness 3 (2006 – 2009) takes a similar tack of displaying what would otherwise be materials incidental to the paintings proper. Namely, the work consists of a selection of the artist’s paintbrushes, neatly arranged on the wall and still heavily loaded with multi-coloured swirls of paint – swirls which those familiar with Zhu’s oeuvre might be able to tie to specific paintings.

"Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, installation view with (left to right) 'Presence of Whiteness 6', 'Presence of Whiteness 3', 'Presence of Whiteness 2', 'Presence of Whiteness 1', 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Gillman Barracks), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu Jinshi, “Presence of Whiteness”, installation view with (left to right) ‘Presence of Whiteness 6’, ‘Presence of Whiteness 3’, ‘Presence of Whiteness 2’, ‘Presence of Whiteness 1’, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Gillman Barracks), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

With most of the paintings at Pearl Lam Galleries’ Dempsey space being produced past 2009, it seems rather unlikely for there to be a direct correspondence between Presence of Whiteness 3 and the paintings here. There is, of course, some resonance to be found between the traces of colour left on paintbrushes and the array of paintings on display, which range from restrained applications of heavy black impasto on a bare canvas, as if expressions of a three-dimensional evolution of calligraphy, to far more ebulliently polychromatic compositions. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes are works like Such a Master (2015), in which the treatment of the masses of paint comes to suggest geological strata, or some strange, terraced terrain.

Zhu Jinshi, 'Such a Master', 2015, oil on canvas, 180 x 160 cm (70 7_8 x 63 in). Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu Jinshi, ‘Such a Master’, 2015, oil on canvas, 180 x 160 cm (70 7/8 x 63 in). Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

"Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, installation view with 'Mistaken Dream of the Lotus Pond', 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu Jinshi, “Presence of Whiteness”, installation view with ‘Mistaken Dream of the Lotus Pond’, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Despite the sheer masses of paint employed, such as in the expansive triptych Mistaken Dream of the Lotus Pond (2014), the paintings do not seem excessive, but rather driven by an assiduous focus on the material, physical qualities of paint, particularly in its extension far beyond the plane of the canvas’ surface. As with Presence of Whiteness 2, detailed inspection of the surfaces of these artworks – despite their comparatively imposing scale – reveals all manner of physio-chemical interactions of varying degrees of incidentality.

"Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, installation view with (left to right) 'Low-Key Singer 4', 'The Chu King Trembles 1', 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhu Jinshi, “Presence of Whiteness”, installation view with (left to right) ‘Low-Key Singer 4’, ‘The Chu King Trembles 1’, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhi Jinshi, 'Mistaken Dream of the Lotus Pond' (detail) in "Presence of Whiteness", solo by Zhu Jinshi, 10 January - 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

Zhi Jinshi, ‘Mistaken Dream of the Lotus Pond’ (detail) in “Presence of Whiteness”, solo by Zhu Jinshi, 10 January – 30 April 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries (Dempsey Hill), Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries.

When applied at the thicknesses Zhu employs, masses of paint may shear and crack; solvents might sweat to the surface, and, more commonly, undulating wrinkles emerge on paint surfaces, either complementing or contrasting the directions established in his brushstrokes. Particularly apparent in monochrome works like the Wall of Nine Dragons (2011) series is a subtle staining of the canvas near the paint proper – emergent shadows which yield an even greater sense of depth to his works.

Bruce Quek

1551

Related Topics: Chinese artists, painting, installation, gallery shows, events in Singapore

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