Somewhere Elsewhere Nowhere – Xue Ruozhe

Xue Ruozhe - Left footed, 2014

A new artist in our China Contemporary section: Xue Ruozhe. In his paitings, Xue Ruozhe researches on the act of decontextualization, or better the subversion of the ordinary. And perhaps what emerges the most from the artist’s work is his capacity to observe moments of ordinary appearance, giving form to his expectations of finding truth in unexpected details.

Xue Ruozhe’s paintings are rich in suggestions and ambiguity, and explore the infinite possibilities of representing an elsewhere, somewhere in space, but nowhere in time. Like a stage director, Xue puts at the centre of his works the individual, bringing out the poetic dimension and hinting to the implied narratives.

WoMA: Your paintings, especially the Plurals series, suggest a style that is tinged with realism, or perhaps photo-realism. Yet, it also redirects in a certain sense to fiction and imagination. What are you most keen to represent? What inspires you?

What I want to represent is my state of mind, it locates somewhere between reality and the virtual world. I think it is the absurdity hidden in our daily life what most inspires me. Whenever I have no idea what to do, I go to the busiest streets in Beijing or London in search for a crowd, and then observe people’s gestures and how they relate with each other.

WoMA: The composition and cut-outs within your works offer a peculiar perspective of the portrayed subjects: at times busts, other times backs, still other times hands or feet. How do you decide what to include and what to neglect?

When I was a student at CAFA, I used to paint portraits, or nude figures every day, I was not interested in neither vivid colours nor bold brushstrokes. Since what I could paint was set by professors, what I could really play around was compositions and angles. Then I gradually found what I am most interested in, I’d like to distance myself from models, to form a more or less ‘objective’ point of view, like seeing things through a calm eye.

In terms of how I choose the subject, it has to do with how I tend to describe things, I don’t like to be straightforward. I prefer to suggest rather than simply revealing everything. For instance, I paint many hands, this is because I feel hands are potentially more expressions than faces, and at the same time, hands are more implicit.

WoMA: Opaque and impassive tonalities, ranging from blue to grey, confer to your works a melancholic aura, arousing a deep sense of nostalgia in the viewer. Do you associate any colour to a particular feeling? What motivates your chromatic choice?

The tonalities are actually not the result of my decisions, they instead derive from the place and setting in which I was at that particular moment. What I try to do is to simply intensify the feelings. In my opinion, paintings are like plants, they have their own path of growth, and I do is to let them grow.

Xue Ruozhe - Cancelled landscape, 2014
Cancelled landscape, 2014

WoMA: Many of your works, as in the case of Cancelled Landscape, convey a sense of alienation and anonymity. The background represents a remote “elsewhere”, and in a similar way, the portrayed figures can be imagined anywhere, but also nowhere. Which is the spatial and temporal dimension you intend to recreate and allude to?

I like to play around backgrounds. For instance, in Cancelled Landscape, the background is anonymous and seems to be boundless, but if you look more carefully, you will notice the faint shadows behind the figures, indicating that the space is actually enclosed.

I think it relates to storytelling, I tend to give viewers a very limited range of details to think and meditate upon.

Some people say my works have timeless quality, and I believe it is very true. Not only time is ambiguous, but also the space and places I portray. What you can see is only a short time span that is sealed in the works, the figures are set somewhere you can’t really tell. For me this is crucial, if these things were revealed, then viewers’ attention would be easily distracted, and the subtle atmosphere I try to build up would immediately vanish.

Xue Ruozhe - Two Guy, 2014
Two Guy, 2014

WoMA: Despite the anonymity present in your paintings, your art also deals with the theme of individuality. The protagonists in your works are plunged into a reality made of silence and solitude, contemplation and transcendence. What are they looking for? What do you look for?

The doubles I portrayed do not refer to any specific person, they are only dual images of certain individuals, who are looking at nothing but their own shadows, while they themselves are being looked at. Things inside the frame can be very specific, like the girls, the plant, the road, I try to put my gaze on each thing equally. But when your eyes bring them together, they no longer make any sense, and you start feeling slightly detached from the image. Maybe that’s where transcendence comes from.

WoMA: Which direction will your artistic research take?  Which are the new narratives you intend to explore in the oncoming future?

I will dig a bit more into psychology. It’s hard to say which narratives I will bring on, I feel my paintings are changing little by little. We shall see.

Anni Wu