Exhibition “Imprisoned” – Luo Jie
Solo Exhibition of Luo Jie 罗杰 and limited prints publication.
First Venue: Canvas International Art, Amstelveen, the Netherlands, 2008;
Second Venue: Lococo Fine Art, St. Louis, the US, 2009
Curators: Selena Yang and Martijn Kielstra
Supported by: Oooit Art
The first thing that strikes one when looking at Luo Jie’s work are the black and white painted figures made of ropes. Some figures have clothes on, varying from underwear to a prison uniform to a smart black t-shirt. And there are some with a hole in them somewhere, in an arm or in the neck or even a whole limb missing. Sometimes they have painted human eyes or teeth, but mostly they only consist of rope.
The figures occupy a great part of the compositions that are black and white in general and all shades of grey in-between. They clearly play the leading part, alone or in company, at peace or in panic, in embrace or in combat. The scenes take place in plain architectural spaces , that is closed interiors, indeed sometimes with a window or door as an escape, or half open like a room in the shell of a skyscraper with scaffolding parts in the background. Occasionally Luo Jie places his characters completely outside, like a motorcyclist in the air. Light plays an important role in Luo Jie’s work. The source is unclear, even though there is sometimes a lamp. The light is bright and gives sharply outlined shadows. With this strong contrast Luo Jie gives his paintings a dramatic effect.
The ropes are probably the most characteristic of his work. Luo Jie knew them from his father. During the Maoist regime his father was a forced maintenance worker on a road at 4000 meters high on the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. The area is known for its beautiful grasslands, but Luo Jie’s father’s work was far from idyllic. The work was physically very heavy, far from civilisation and also completely away from his family. One month per year he came back and Luo Jie remembers how his father could be moody and short-tempered. His father probably could not sit still and began knotting fishnets, initially to catch fish, but soon knotting became a purpose in itself. Luo Jie remembers well how the face of his father relaxed during the knotting and how his house was gradually filled with nets. His mother worked on a silkworm farm. Luo Jie enjoyed going there to see how the worms spat out their silk threads with which they made a cocoon around themselves. Just like the fishnets the threads of the silkworms are a familiar image for Luo Jie and that image probably underlies the threads and the sometimes cocoon like presence with which Luo Jie sometimes portrays his figures.
Luo Jie sees people as prisoners of their cultural background especially if it is compelling and leaves no room for individual development. He portrays this literally especially in his earlier works by giving his characters a prisoner’s uniform with a number. But it is particularly the crisscross of ropes in which he shows the imprisonment of his characters. He refers to his father’s forced heavy life, but also to his own life. The culture in which he grew up stipulated that he was the eldest son in the first place and had to look after his parents and artist only in the second place.
After he graduated from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1991 Luo Jie could not devote himself to painting. The insecure life of an artist would not enable him to fulfil his duty of supporting his parents. Luo Jie did all sorts of work, such as real estate planning and painting billboards. It gave him a stable income and it was in the line of expectation that he would settle down and for example start a family, but as he says himself: ‘I am not that kind of type’. It was an unhappy period; his father retired, suffered lung disease and had a near fatal accident. The house where Luo Jie and his family had always lived was demolished due to city reforms. From a rural environment they had to go, as many others did, and live in one of the new unimaginative skyscrapers as they received too little money for their house to buy a reasonable house elsewhere. Luo Jie felt obliged to help but was unable to and saw his parents gradually deteriorating. He was only able to paint after their deaths. This unhappy period full of frustrations and sleepless nights, not being able to settle in the city and the fast changing society ultimately pushed him in the direction of artistry. Since taking up his brush a number of years ago he paints incessantly. He makes large, labour-intensive paintings and as he says himself just like my father’s knotting of the fishnets, this makes me calm: ‘I can drink a light tea in the afternoon’. And indeed with becoming calmer his characters are also becoming calmer, sometimes they watch TV, the new housing developments are fading to the background and the characters are more modernly dressed. But judging by the painting of the falling man his nightmares have not completely disappeared.
Luo Jie has developed a very distinguishable style in a short period, in which he creates penetrating characters and scenes, that not only render his life in a special way, but that of many Chinese and other world inhabitants.
“Painting to calm down”, by Froukje Holtrop