Recently I came across one short article online titled "Why Are Neo-abstract Expressionist Works Look So Much Alike?", which was written by Jerry Saltz and edited by Chen Ying. In the article six groups of images were attached, each containing 5 to 6 pieces of art works with provenances. One could easily detect a serious resemblance or similarity between the pieces and, according to the article, the market-oriented mentality is to blame for it.
Nevertheless, my experience as an art critic over the past twenty years tells me the problem is not as simple as it appears. Quite a number of unknown artists were totally engaged in their art creations behind closed doors, despite their poverty and depressive living conditions, with a strong sense of anti-social norms and established rules .Yet their finished works, once shown to the public, may accidentally bear a resemblance or similarity to those already created by other artists. Such a phenomenon is especially true in the genre of abstract art, due to the nature of abstract art itself.
From pure art to anti-art, the physical scope is “zero” without any gap, which, according to Marcel Duchamp, is called “Infra- Mince”. The moment when Lucio Fontana cut open his canvas, he turns the pure limit space into an anti-art arc light. The abstract art lays very close to the “zero” point, with a relatively narrow scope . Similar to the spectra - the scope of pure spectrum is infinitely narrower than that of the mixed one. Following the introduction of the theory "Point-Line-Surface" by Kandinsky, the so-called "creation on the canvas" and "creative world " have become the pet phrases of the abstract artists. Nevertheless, it did not last long since people started to realize that they could go nowhere with them. In the cases of Kazimir Malevich's pure black blocks, Klein's pure blue canvas, Lehman’s white canvas, Sander, Newman and Richter’s pure red color, are they different or similar anyway? Are the predecessors imitating their pioneers, or simply creating their own? There seem no correct answers to this question at all.
Having touched on abstract arts, Sherman Lin has to deal with this dilemma of avoiding resemblance or similarity.
It may be too early to conclude that Sherman Lin has already achieved major success, yet it is his success in jumping out of that trap of resemblance or similarity that counts. Whether in his Calligraphic Painting Series starting from 2008 or in his Broad Brush Painting Series starting from 2012, he has achieved his own distinctiveness and formed his own creativity traits. Coming out from the closed door, Sherman frees himself from the painful study of “Point-Line-Surface” and turns to real life, re-living the principle of "Being inspired by the external universe, while remaining loyal to one’s internal world" by Zhang Zao, a traditional Chinese artist in Tang dynasty over a thousand years ago. In the eyes of the contemporary artists, nature consists of all visual objects, dead or alive, remaining or evolving, which include nature itself, the material products as well as the spiritual world of the human society. It is in this sense that “Turning to nature for artistic inspiration” has been the experience shared by many successful abstract art masters, such as Henry Spencer Moore, who was inspired by the stones, Joan Miró, motivated by the organic world, Willem De Kooning stimulated by female’s figures and both Pierre Soulages and Jackson Pollock who were encouraged by the new media.
As for Sherman, he is inspired both by nature as well as by artifacts. Of course, this is just a general conclusion, as he is at the same time learning from the pure nature as well.
Being a designer himself, Sherman is unequivocally against the direct transformation from designed works to abstract arts. What he focuses on is a unique merging point between secularity and spirituality. Designing being the fundamental part of his life and living, this merging point between secularity and spirituality inevitably and naturally bears the traits and charms of designing.
How does Sherman discover this unique merging point between secularity and spirituality? We can find several significant clues from his Broad Brush Painting Series which are not restricted to the broad brushes alone:
1. Methods of observation: His unique ways of observation, Different from the conventional ways of view finding, Sherman is exceptionally skillful in his unconventional partial observation and micro-view finding. For this purpose he has accumulated a huge reservoir of image collections . Totally carried away by this unique way of observation, he has been rewarded with new findings which evolve to abstract expressionism. His frequent involvement in product designs has inspired him to the creation of his unique Broad Brush Painting Structure, and the discovery of the mutually supplementary structures between Geometric Abstractionism and Lyric Abstractionism, Square and Straight Broad Brush Strokes and Flow Line Broad Brush Strokes, based on his understanding of the correlation between humanized nature and the pure nature. In his works, the overall geometric compositions do not overlap completely with his broad brush. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes, he makes the geometric compositions with broad brush, which turns the whole picture into a broad brush structure(such a technique was more frequently seen in his earlier works); other times he alternates between square and straight broad brush strokes and flow line broad brush strokes or overlaps the two to create his overall geometric compositions, while broad brush structure simply serves as one component of the overall picture(such technique has been applied more often in his recent works). From a future development perspective, the latter promises greater potentials. There are many artists who use broad brushes, yet it is Sherman who has stood out among his peers by creating his unique artistic language structure and frame of mind, consisting of contradictory yet harmonious elements such as Ying and Yang, firmness and flexibility, reality and fancy, movement and motionlessness, sense and sensibility, and coldness and warmth.
2. His unique ways of live painting. There was a significant difference between the Chinese way of live painting and the European way in classical arts. The European way is called “Mirror Image Method”, while the Chinese traditional painting had applied the method of “Responsive Image Method”, which adopted a series of painting rules and image formats that reflected the nature. These formats transformed nature into certain paintable formats which had been constantly rejuvenated and revived through live painting. Ever since the introduction of Paul Cézanne’s “the Second Nature”, the “Responsive Image Method” has gradually replaced the predominating place of “Mirror Image Method” which differs significantly from the traditional Chinese one in terms of the contemporary nature of its artistic concepts, highlighted by the creation of individual formats instead of the application of collective ones. Sherman’s methods of live painting, in a contemporary sense, differ from either the western classics or the traditional Chinese way. After forming his own broad brush painting structure and his frame of mind, Sherman responds to the nature with a brand-new, unique and personalized visual structure and conducts his live paintings with an individual format, which was best exemplified in his live works series on Yellow Mountain，Taihang Mountain, Lima of Peru, and Rocky Mountain of Canada over the last two years. To quote his own words, “Sometimes I regard the mini-views in nature as an object. For example, the magnanimous Taihang Mountain was viewed as partition screens or shaped objects.”
3. His innovative painting rules. The core of traditional Chinese paintings is the application of calligraphic strokes, the key elements of which consist of a strictly vertical brush pressing hard downward, the thin lines outlining the shapes, and strokes full of twists and turns, etc. Carrying on the concepts developed by the pioneers of the contemporary Chinese Ink and Wash Paintings and breaking away from the traditional painting rules, Sherman Lin is no longer confined by those aforementioned key elements. Instead, he creates his own mutually supplementary structures between geometric broad brush and flow lines paintings, and is establishing a new set of painting rules of his own. Amazingly, such rebellion and revolution against the tradition are dictated by the tradition itself. For one thing, the essence of traditional paintings lies in its expression of the heart and soul. Namely, all the painting media, such as the brushes, the ink, the paper and the water are regarded as part of the nature, and painting means the mingling and merging of these media in motion with the heart and soul. Sherman’s paintings have not deviated from such essence. Furthermore, the criteria for the appreciation of a Chinese Ink and Wash Painting is none other than these two words: “Exceptionally unique”. “Unique” means the application of highly personalized methods; while “exceptional” describes an enhanced and elevated artistic level.. The four-year journey of discovery in his creation of Broad Brush Painting Series is indeed a process of continuing enhancement and elevation in Sherman’s artistic career in his relentless pursuit for exceptional uniqueness. Thirdly, the ancient theory of “penetrating power of the brush and ink” is still valid today, as it highlights the importance of avoiding the sluggish and slippery strokes that tend to happen easily with those watery materials which make the picture seem superficial and shallow. In Sherman Lin’s works, however, his adaptation of this theory is not confined to the what Bin Hong Huang preached as “Five Ways Strokes and Seven Styles of Inks”, but rather focuses on forcefulness of the painting structure. It is even not confined to the strokes themselves, but rather expressed in the overall structure that consists of the shapes, the brushes, the colors, the layouts, and the space, which effectively delivers the power of strokes structure.
As Sherman puts it, the above-mentioned areas of revolutionary artistic adventure “use shapes against shapes, distill abstractionism from abstractionism, apply ink and wash to offset ink and wash, while keeping the essence and spirit of water and wash painting as the foundation of the paintings. The layout is based on grey color to offset the ink, demonstrating a color scheme that takes on the advantage of his designing background.”
Sherman Lin’s Abstract Broad Brush Series is named “Falling Mountains”, hinting not only the poetic mood of his works that illustrate the overwhelming mightiness of the avalanching power of the falling rocks, but also reminding us the tempestuous relationship between him and his works.
Farewell to the old-fashioned way of “Learning from Nature”.
Rendezvous with a new style of “Learning from Nature” in abstract arts.
Abstract arts, far from coming to an end, harbor huge potentials and possibilities when they interact with nature and the infinite world of our heart and soul.
20 February 2015
In San Ya City