On a Sunday afternoon in mid-April, MadeIn Gallery, on Shanghai’s West Bund, held its first art opening since it closed in January as part of China’s nationwide lockdown. The crowd was smaller than usual, and everybody wore masks. The gallery space, however, felt larger: only a few finished pieces, along with empty canvases, hung on the walls. The exhibiting artist, Ding Li, rehearsed a few brushstrokes on an unfinished piece in front of the absorbed audience. Everything was filmed and live-streamed on Zoom for those who couldn’t attend.
四月中旬的一个周日下午，在长达三个多月的全国封禁终于解除之后，位于上海西岸艺术中心的没顶画廊（MadeIn Gallery）终于举办了首场展览开幕式。观众比往常要少，每个人都戴上了口罩，但画廊却显得更大了：仅有几幅成品挂在墙上，与之一同呈现的是其他空白画布。在看得入迷的观众面前，参展艺术家丁力正挥动画笔创作。现场的展览被拍摄下来，并在 Zoom 平台上直播，与无法亲临现场的观众一起分享。
Named after the opening date and the gallery address, April 12th, No. 106, 2879 Longteng Avenue, Ding’s show displays recent works from his abstract portrait series that feature his trademark thick brushstrokes. Since he moved to the gallery in mid-March, he has been painting onsite and working with the curators to create a show that reflects our strange times.
“Like most artists, I don’t feel comfortable being watched while I’m working. I also have techniques I don’t want to reveal,” Ding says. “But I think that, given the present situation, we can’t resist doing so. The current crisis has made it more necessary for artists to be in front of the public and online.”
At a glance, it seems that Ding works on his paintings with a digital toolkit because of the tube-shaped lines that form his anthropomorphic compositions. He recreates the visual impact of digital art, especially the simple graphics of primitive 3D modeling. He even recreates flaws such as blurriness, distortion, and empty spaces between his lines.
丁力的这场展览《4月12日，龙腾大道 2879 号 106》以开幕日期和画廊地址命名，用他一贯充满个人风格的厚重笔触向观众展示了他最新的抽象肖像作品。自从三月中旬丁力将工作室搬至画廊空间，就一直在现场创作。通过这场展览，他与策展人希望激发人们思考现今这个光怪陆离的时代。
Ding began experimenting with the aesthetics of digital graphics in 2017, when he painted several untitled pieces that were utterly isolated from the world of recognizable forms. In these studies, we see his multiple layers of vigorous brushstrokes, color gradients, and the defused blurred effect of spray cans. The more digital resemblance he seeks, the more intricate his craftsmanship becomes.
丁力从 2017 年开始试验创作这种数码绘画风格的画作，当时他画了几幅无题作品，这些作品与可识别的成品作完全不同，在这些前期实验作品中，呈现出多层的笔触、渐变的颜色，以及喷漆的模糊效果。数码绘图感越要逼真，他使用的绘画技巧就越要复杂。
Ding’s foray into portraits didn’t happen until 2018. His layered lines and color contrasts, either in bright tones or in grayscale, now create the impression of three-dimensional faces. The effect is fun, soothing, and haunting, all at once.
He paints his family and acquaintances, as well as people he knew in childhood. Nondescript titles like Teacher, Graduate, and Old Lady offer viewers only a vague idea of his subjects’ identity. “By giving them names and titles, I hope to emphasize the essential position that these figures hold in our society,” he says.
丁力从 2018 年开始创作这个肖像作品系列，层叠的线条，以及用明亮彩色或灰调形成的色彩对比，勾勒出立体的面容，呈现有趣、平静和令人难忘的画作。
In a corner, we see his studio equipment piled between two unfinished paintings. A large wooden board is clamped to a lab table; on top of it lie a mess of materials: used brushes and paint tubes, dirty tissues, solvent and water-spray bottles, turpentine, and a few cups of coffee. There’s also a Marshall speaker and flatscreen television standing on an easel.
Ding uses the screen to display references for his paintings since he also looks for photos of people online. His fascination with the digital world goes beyond its visual aspects: he admires the internet’s openness and interactivity and aims to reproduce these traits in this exhibition.
“I want to demystify the artistic process,” he says. “Artists and galleries need to learn and adapt to these changing times and give the audience a chance to appreciate the process, as well as to ask questions. In the age of screens, the way we work as artists needs to change.” The exhibition and his paintings work in unison: his style imitates digital tools that, in turn, mimic traditional painting tools.
在展厅一隅，他的工作器材堆在两幅未完成的画作之间。一块大木板夹在实验桌上，上面摆满了各种绘画用具：用过的画刷和颜料管、纸巾、溶剂和喷水瓶、松节油，还有几杯咖啡，一个 Marshall 音箱，画架上还装了一台平板电视屏幕。
In the age of social distancing, this seamless interplay of online and offline experiences has become a temporary norm for artists and art institutions striving to keep their audiences engaged. While virtual museums and online exhibitions don’t replicate the thrills of live viewing, audiences seem to prefer a more intimate, informative, and interactive form of consuming art, through live-streamed performances, online studio visits, and Zoom conferences.
As China emerges from the crisis, Ding Li and MadeIn Gallery are experimenting with the possibility of a new dynamics in art that engages the viewer throughout the process of creation.
To keep up to date with upcoming exhibitions or works from Ding Li, visit the MadeIn Gallery website.