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Looking back at your exhibition in the “Genealogy Study of Artists” project in 2019, I have noticed that you went the other way of creation by cutting off the subject in a way that you hadn’t done before. What motivated you?
Zhou Yilun: When I first thought about cutting off the figures, I actually wanted to highlight the processing of the “edge lines”. According to the concept of positive and negative shape in painting, the figure we draw is the positive part; on the other hand, the background of the figure is the negative part. The edge line appears between these two shapes. In order to highlight the edge line, I removed the subject in the middle of the painting, leaving only its background, and what it shows on the canvas is a strong, hard edge line.
The reason that I cut off the figures completely this time might be a kind of emphasis. It is also my first time to make this attempt in the project of “Genealogy Study of Artists”. Comparing to “smearing” or other way of expression, I think “cutting off” is much more stronger.
The exhibition “23%” presented a complicated spatial relationship, what was your intention? Does this spatial relationship create a strong echo with your work on display?
Zhou Yilun: The works on display in the exhibition “23%” belong to the same series, which is a relatively independent attempt. In the space, I superimposed two pieces of work, while another one was a cut painting with a wood panel in front of it, both ways of display came from the same concept. It Doesn’t Mean To Loose the Regulation (2019) and More Serious Than You Thought (2019) provide a unique visual experience when viewed from the front. If you look from the side, you can see that it is actually two separate pieces.
The wood board used in the work Untitled (2019) was found in my studio.It happened to have a stain on the surface. The edge line of the stain is particularly similar to the outline of the Virgin holding a child in one of the works in this exhibition. So I hung Untitled (2019) here, against a set of wood frames. The spatial relationship created by this way of installation echoes with another work in the exhibition: where a wood panel suspended in front of the painting. Untitled (2019) uses the back of the painting Wish You To Be the Best of Yourself (2019) as a background, is another way of presenting spatial relationship. These different attempts are all related to the spatial relationship between the front and the back, the edge lines and the background.
You said that your attempt in the “Genealogy Study of Artists” project is self-contained. We can also see the distinct intertextuality between these works. However, I want to mention the piece Hanging, Mass-Brawl, Sentence To the Gallows(2019) on the front wall of the first floor. The elements involved in this piece, especially the skeletons, are quite different from other theme of “Madonna and child”. Why is that?
Zhou Yilun: Nowadays, people no longer regard skeleton as a symbol of death and violence. Many images today are in the context of consumerism. Some clothes have skeleton printed on it. In this case, skeleton is just an ornament. Hanging, Mass-Brawl, Sentence To the Gallows(2019) was trying to create another kind of space. Therefore, in this piece, I painted the skeleton and bones in a three-dimensional way, like a kind of relief sculpture, resulting in the same spatial relationship as the other painting installations.
Speaking of content, it seems you’ve drawn groups of people in sports in the past: baseball players, men holding gold cups, basketball hoops, etc. Why do you pay special attention to this kind of subject matter?
Zhou Yilun: People receive large amounts of news images everyday. I pay more attention to sports news. I found that the composition of news images have something in common with the religious paintings in the early period of classical painting, for example, there will be pictures of a single person or a group of people doing actions. Some news media would use similar compositional principles to make posters, for example, when a team wins a championship or two teams are competing with each other.
Where do your subjects come from? Or, how do you choose the original motif that you need?
Zhou Yilun: At the beginning, I would find some images on news, which might have something to do with traditional paintings. Later, I realised that these images are not important at all. For example, in my recent exhibition (“Till I Believe”, Beijing Commune, 2022), I simply did an imitation of my previous paintings, or directly copied some used images.
I notice that many of your works are unique in their titles. They are long, narrative, and pictorial. Can they be seen as your cue to the viewers?
Zhou Yilun: Actually you don’t necessarily need a title, but sometimes you have to name works for the sake of naming. I actually do it in a very casual way. I have a notebook to collect whatever I’m usually reading or seeing. Then I will randomly take these phrases as the title of my works. I think any names will make people have a kind of association. If the work doesn’t have such a name, people may have a different imagination.
Your experiment in painting materials is extraordinary. Canvas and frames become elements in your work, while the stacking of different materials and colours with various textures is also unique.
Zhou Yilun: As a matter of fact, even if I use glass cement or other materials, everything on canvas can be regarded as a kind of paint. Even if I put a sponge on the canvas, it’s still equivalent to a very thick or different texture of paint. At present, some branded paints have thickness, which can be very thin and transparent, or presenting a thick, lumpy and bulky visual effect. The reason for me to use some unusual materials in my work is to create uncontrollable accidents.
The use of complex materials brings your work a “gritty, raw, and unfinished” quality. Is that the “perfection” you are looking for?
Zhou Yilun: This may be related to my personal habits; even if I am extremely careful, I can’t make sure my clothes is clean when I get home. So, I would rather wear a top which already has lots of paints on it. And in this way people might think this is the original design of the clothes, so does art creation. For example, my work is not as delicate, smooth and perfect as Sun Yitian’s work. I thought I might as well put more exploration on a different texture. Viewers may think it is arbitrary, but the way in which it is created is similar to what is handled in an exquisite manner, and I need to be particularly critical and controlled as well.
Can this be seen as a “rebellion and subversion” against your educational background (Zhou Yilun graduated from Oil Painting, China Academy of Art) and the historical shackles of painting?
Zhou Yilun: I don’t think it’s a subversion. It’s still traditional painting to me. I still work on mounted canvas, painting on a flat surface or doing some two-dimensional works. If I truly want to overthrow traditional painting technique, I will change from the concept of painting or turn to conceptual art instead. The content of my works presents many painting languages, while the painting subject is not detached from figures.