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September 14, 2019

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Fashion designer listened to call of her art

There is something very different when judging a “canvas” created by Xu Nangezi.

The abstract tableau filled with wild brushstrokes of black and dark red reflects a unique glaze especially when bathed under light.

On closer inspection, stitch after stitch overlaps stitch, making this a somewhat special “embroidery painting.”

“I didn’t purposely make it at the very beginning,” said Xu Nangezi. “I just followed the call of my heart.”

Born in Zhoushan, a small fishing village in Zhejiang Province, Xu showed interest in needle work when she was only 5.

“It was my grandma who taught me how to do the needle work, but she didn’t expect that I could do it so well,” she said. “I was immediately drawn to it, and even today I can’t explain why I am so addicted to it.”

Later Xu chose to further her study in fashion design in Shanghai for two years.

“I am a passionate person, and I actually had a very good job in my hometown as a broadcaster, but I felt that my hometown was too ‘small’ to embody my big dream,” she said.

She embarked on a career path as a fashion designer and established her own brand. But in 2013 Xu took a break from fashion design and engaged herself in abstract painting for the following four years.

“Those four years for me were so important,” she said. “I thoroughly freed myself. I felt that I almost conducted a reclusive life, and what I faced everyday was my easel and a world of colors. I was pursuing the forms without contours.

“The beauty of the world resides not only in a figurative mountain, lake, people or a flower, but also in the transitory moments of the universe. I tried to capture such transitory moments of the universe on my tableau, or to be exact, as a kind of my own emotional release.”

Xu didn’t think of fusing embroidery into her artworks at the beginning.

“I just applied different-hued oil that I preferred on canvas, but still the outcome lacked something that I could hardly tell,” she said.

Later on Xu wanted to reflect one part of her abstract painting via embroidery and was totally overtaken by the unexpected result.

Once oil and canvas were replaced by silk thread, needle and silk fabric, Xu immediately found her inspiration. The abstract “embroidery painting” is filled with glaze, vitality, power and, most important of all, her own art language.

By breaking the limits of traditional Chinese embroidery (the works were usually stitched on flat surfaces), Xu adopts a random stitch embroidery, a special style in Chinese embroidery art, which integrates some modern painting technique with the colors in the needlework.

“Each stitch is similar to the dots of Georges Seurat (1859-1891),” she said. “Sometimes to enhance the visual effect, I would also apply some oil directly onto the embroidery, which is quite spontaneous and exciting.”

The charm of her embroidery painting lies on the luster of the silk, which changes subtly under different angles. Say it is a golden color at the first sight on the canvas, but if you look carefully, it contains at least seven or more silk threads, including orange, pink and brown.

For example “Phoenix Nirvana,” a lacquer-like work, allows viewers to appreciate the nuance in colored dots. When light shines on the painting, the black hue consists of purple, blue, green, brown and even more colors are layered and infiltrated with the red.

“My embroidery painting went through several stages, from crudely imitating my own paintings using threads, to my own paintings being embroidery based but guided by the theory of color synthesis, and later to combine painting and embroidering into one picture.

“Thank God, I had the chance to master such a beautiful skill, and to freely express the beauty I felt in my heart,” she said.

Different from her peers, there is one small label beside each of her paintings that not only states the title of the work, but also the number of hours the artist devoted to the work.

“For example, 1,187 hours means the total hours that I spent on the work,” she said. “I merely wanted viewers to feel my emotional attachment to the piece.”

Xu prefers to compare herself to “a bird that never stops.”

Today the versatile artist also has various other art media to develop, varying from her pottery, her new design in Chinese suites, her abstract oil painting and a series of art side-products. She even hosts a sound program at Himalaya Radio Station that introduces poetry.

“I like to listen to music played by Ocarina during the time of my creations,” she said. “For me, there is something primitive, unreal and distant from this material world.”

Her “embroidery painting” will be shown at the 2019 Shanghai Art Fair that runs through September 15 at the ShanghaiMart.

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