Chen Ruo Bing: World of Reflection

【Comment】Tao of Minimalism

Li Xu

As an artist, Chen Ruo Bing grew up in China and finished the education of Chinese painting, then continued his education in Germany and formed his individual style.  Permeated with the rational spirit of traditional Chinese philosophy, his works assimilate the creative concept of German modern art and build up a vivid example of contemporary Minimalism existing among cultures with delicate and subtle formal language.


In traditional Chinese philosophy, the representative figure of Taoism is Lao Tzu who lived four hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Even now, his Tao-te Ching are still read and studied by intellectuals throughout the world, constituting the bridge of harmonious relations between the heaven, the earth and the human being, meanwhile becoming many artists’ source of inspiration. When probing the origin of the world, Lao Tzu says, “The Tao produces one, one produces two. The two produce the three and the three produce all things.” As magnificent as Genesis, his point of view restores the complicated phenomenon of the substantial world into its pristine nature like the explosion theory of universe’s formation, and also corresponds to Cezanne’s expression that all the visual forms originate from the simplest geometrical graphs from the ancient times.


Chen Ruo Bing’s primary creative inspiration not only comes from profound philosophy theories. During the course of studying and researching traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy, he finds out that, the aesthetic pursuit of Minimalism like western modern art could be found almost everywhere among the art works at the times of Lao Tzu. In Han Dynasty of two thousand years ago, this tendency even became more obvious. In Chen Ruo Bing’s early works, we may easily find the influence of stone sculpture art in Han Dynasty. In a very short period, the depiction and symbolization of nature was replaced by more abstract and purer brushstrokes. At the end of the 1990s when he still studied in Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, he had already began the initial experiments of semi-abstraction.  Experiments in this stage were mostly processed on the medium of ink painting on paper, therefore the images were usually black and white, expressing his yearning for the grace in Wei and Jin Dynasties. After learning from Professor Gotthard Graubner for many years, he really started the exploration of colors.


For a student who grew up in Southern China and learned ink art beside the misty and cloudy West Lake, the world of black and white is Chen Ruo Bing’s familiar space of expression. Gotthard Graubner is skilled in applying fluorescent colors, plus concise and pure formal language with splendid and spectacular visual effect, which gave this young student from China the unprecedented impact. Gotthard Graubner is the representative of contemporary German color painting, and an outstanding educator at the same time. His interests in oriental traditional art and philosophy also interact well with Chen Ruo Bing. In this atmosphere, Chen Ruo Bing found brand new comprehension for colors. As a matter of fact, from the stage of early experiment, Chen Ruo Bing’s strong interest and excellent expressing capability in some basic geometrical forms began to be revealed, and how to use color language to present his concepts more satisfactorily is a unique challenge for him.


When studying in Germany, Chen Ruo Bing got to know many quite unfamiliar painting tools and materials, especially the categories and quality of pigment provide him new clues, and the choices in the aspects of tools and materials provide more expansive space of imagination for him, meanwhile the possibility of formal creation also greatly increases with it. Among these, the application of simultaneous contrast has enormous influence on Chen Ruo Bing’s language of colors.


Viewing from the composition, Chen Ruo Bing’s works are actually not very complex. In recent years, the styles of his each series are mainly variations of trapezoid, square and rectangle, and he continuously experiments with subtle rhythms and harmonious rhymes in plastic art. Sometimes, those images are regular, arranged in rational patterns at the same intervals; sometimes, those images are casually scattered, reflecting romantic poetry in sparkling and flowing atmosphere; sometimes, those images are solemn, with monumental composition to present the fair gracefulness behind colors; sometimes, those images are elegant, with well-planned arrangement to reveal the ethereality and beauty.


Though the painting could only involve two-dimensional space, Chen Ruo Bing’s works often show the charm of three dimensions. The images are arranged in different density. When many images are arrayed and linked, the technique of transparent coloring in many layers produces the glistening overlapping effect, and some spaces among the images even become the main part of the picture. In painting experiments, the fluorescent effect created by using simultaneous contrast is difficult to be mastered. The exploration for many years, especially from 1999, has already contributed to Chen Ruo Bing’s skillful usage of color language. No matter as the impression or the figure symbols, the colorful fluorescence always bounces and floats, as magnificent and spectacular as the strokes of calligraphy losing gravity in space.


In painting style, Chen Ruo Bing always insists on the way of Minimalism, which is inevitably linked with his interactive comprehension of eastern and western philosophies. In ancient Chinese philosophical and literary works, we may find endless eulogies for the beauty of simplicity and concision; and in western modern art theories, the aesthetic opinions to advocate restoring the thing-in-itself also emerges repeatedly. Actually, the road chose by the creators of Minimalism are quite difficult beyond imagination of other people, especially the perseverance for many years is really a lasting challenge for their own creativity. Usually we could not see the hardship of exploration in Chen Ruo Bing’s works, instead, what’s impressive is his fresh imagination.


Minimalism and Tao are amazingly similar in spirit, and I regard Chen Ruo Bing’s works as Tao of Minimalism to describe this art’s existing situation among cultures in the 21st century. The opinions advocated by ancient Chinese philosopher of Taoism, such as that The Tao follows the way things are, have something very similar in nature with the opinion of western Minimalism that the artists ought to abandon personal feelings, however Chen Ruo Bing improves unusually on this premise. Under the circumstances of his works, there is strong sense of oriental poetry hidden inside, and he also benefits from traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting’s metaphysics in form on a high level. Tao of Minimalism is actually a summery for aesthetics’ nature transcending time and space, which is the visual experience to be comprehended by artists from different countries.


Nowadays, in numerous international exhibitions of visual art, new media art, presented by installation, performance, photography and video arts, occupies the dominant position, and painting has been neglected for a time, even many art academies have abolished the education of painting …… In such an art reality, like most artists engaged in experiments, Chen Ruo Bing defends painting’s dignity with persistent spirit of exploration, and delivers his individual visual experiences to the new audience confidently and patiently.


Precise, rational, and seemingly discreet in speech and manner, Chen Ruo Bing would frequently reveal his intelligent sense of humor. Just as his personality, his works may not make the audience fall in love with him at the first glance, however they are worthy of appreciation and aftertaste in the long years. Though he lives abroad for a long time, his art is still permeated with strong oriental temperament, continuously providing a brand-new example for the experiments of Chinese art’s contemporization.



Li Xu

Director of Academic Research Department

Shanghai Art Museum

September 5, 2005



Vivian Lu