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May 31, 2011

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Peter Pan art reflects state of mind

INFANTILIZED art or Peter Pan ("I won't grow up") painting reflects the state of mind of many stressed-out Chinese young people and their art is a private, emotional release, reports Wang Jie.

As China hurtles ahead and everyone strives to succeed, nearly everyone is pressured by expectations and frustrations at work and at home. Much has been said about mounting stress and depression and a longing for earlier, slower times and days that were simpler, such as childhood.

In fact, many people cling to childhood and youth as a buffer against harsh reality and demands of adulthood.

This is very evident in some young Chinese artists.

"Infantization," meaning a clinging to or idealization of childhood, is a term coined several years ago by Zhang Qin, curator of Shanghai Biennale, to describe this psychological state, particularly as it applies to some young artists.

They may present themes from childhood, or adult themes in simple and "childlike" ways. Dolls and people who look like dolls are typical subjects. A woman nude from the waist up has a doll's face and tears are rolling down her pink cheeks.

For these artists, art becomes an emotional release and a private undertaking.

"They are not anxious to obtain fame and wealth through art," Zhang says. "Their art is pure and reflects their real condition. This is a rarity now."

Gu Tingting, a new graduate from a local art academy, creates a series of cute little monks in different costumes in various backdrops. It drew attention at the Shanghai Spring Art Salon last month.

"It was created during my studies in Holland," says Gu. "I felt I was this little monk, dreaming about my various identities. It was fun seeing them appear one after another on the silk screen."

In the past decade, pop art, cynical realism and gaudy art - repeated again and again for commercial purposes - have occupied a disproportionate share of art work. But when commercialized art loses its creative edge, it's imperative to encourage a more thoughtful approach, says Zhang.

So he decided to study the realities and "truthful art" of urban young people. He and his team extensively studied "infantization" in art and came up with thought-provoking findings about the 1980s generation.

He describes categories or types such as "pseudo-tender." Just as 50-year-olds try to pose as 40-year-olds, 40-year-olds as 30-year-olds, and so on, the desire to seem young has become a widespread pursuit among the urban classes.

He also cites the "prolonged young," referring to some people over 30 who refuse to become true adults. They float idly on the foam raft of youth in lifestyle, customs, dress, language and expressions.

A third type he calls "infantilized youth," the most extreme. They are over 20 but they are equally terrified of youth and adulthood; they are emotionally unwilling to enter early adulthood.

"This is a social problem, but in the past it was not seen so much via our artworks," Zhang says.

Liu Ye, a world-famous artist, is the pioneer in excavating the beauty of "innocence." His paintings evoke empathy for his young female subjects by reducing the background to the simplest of forms and lighting the figure from an unseen source. The works are like portraits of intelligence and contemplation.

"Liu's works not only conquer the hearts of Easterners but Westerners as well," Zhang says. A Western woman fell in love with one of his works at the 2008 Shanghai Biennale and wanted to buy it.

Another painter in the "infantized" school is Tang Yunhui, who paints simple animals with human emotions and personalities. "When I started to paint those personified animal characters, many friends urged me to stop," he says. "They thought these paintings lacked status in the art community. But I really want to mirror feelings and emotions through their eyes in their dreamlike house."

Tang's illustrations filled with naivete and sweetness conjure up fairy tale scenes.

Now he's famous.

"Today, world-famous Japanese illustrators such as Yoshitoro Nara and Murakami Takashi, conquer both the art and fashion worlds with their distinguished works," says Tang. "Don't think it's easy to illustrate; one must retain an imaginative mind and a pure heart, casting away the pressures and burdens of cold, harsh reality."

Industry observes note that the future of art belongs to the young and to young artists.

"Who will buy art in 10 or 20 years? Today's young people," says a Mr Ji, who declined to be further identified.

"What do today's youngsters like? Manga. Their own aesthetic taste and experience will decide what kind of art they will purchase in the future."


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