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Tuesday, October 15, 2019, 11:22
Spiritual warrior
By Lin Qi
Tuesday, October 15, 2019, 11:22 By Lin Qi

An ongoing exhibition in Beijing sees sculptor Ren Zhe unlock the material energy of his combative creations to convey a sense of tranquility and inner strength, Lin Qi reports.

Ren Zhe's ongoing solo exhibition at Taimiao shows 36 sculptures, including Above the Clouds. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Beijing-based sculptor Ren Zhe developed a fascination for warriors - both historical and mythological - in childhood as he listened to people telling stories of war heroes. These figures have become the recurring subjects central to the creations of the 36-year-old sculptor, who received his formal training at Tsinghua University's Academy of Arts and Design.

Ren's warrior sculptures, which are often made of stainless steel, exude a sense of power. They present Ren's inheritance of the classical spirit - evoking a dignity, solemnity and sensuality that can be found in ancient Greek and Roman sculptures and in Baroque art.

At the same time, Ren seeks to form a resonance with the pursuit of humanity and expressions of implicit emotions as being integral to Chinese cultural traditions.

Ren's works, as Duan Jun, a close university friend, says, "do not intend to show a contrast between Eastern and Western cultures, but look for a consistency between the two cultures on an ultimate level".

Ren Zhe's ongoing solo exhibition at Taimiao shows 36 sculptures, including Four Symbols. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Ren is showing 36 statues from his warrior series at Qi, a solo exhibition at the 600-year-old Taimiao, or the Imperial Ancestral Temple, next to the Palace Museum in Beijing, through Friday.

"I see this exhibition as an examination of myself," Ren says. "I hope to see whether I'm still as genuine as when I first worked with clay 20 years ago, whether I still feel that energy of purity, and whether my motivations for creating art have altered."

Ren re-creates many figures from ancient Chinese tales, mythology and novels. These works demonstrate an inner energy that combines his knowledge of Western sculpture with a reserved elegance that sparkle with the wisdom of Eastern aesthetics.

Ren says a good piece of work should embody a philosophical depth and a sense of divinity.

"An artist's career is like an iceberg," he says. "His works are just the tip that indicates the scale of the other 90 percent of his understanding - the intensity of his cultural and spiritual accumulation that will continue to nurture his creation."

Ren Zhe's ongoing solo exhibition at Taimiao shows 36 sculptures, including Deer. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

One can't fully appreciate Ren's work without relating his approach to art to his study of ancient Chinese clay figurines at Buddhist and Taoist temples.

But meanwhile, Ren's sculptures represent "products of complete modern technology" with their polished, reflective surfaces made of stainless steel, excite and move the audience also because they "mirror people's dreams and hidden feelings about modern society", says Sheng Wei, a curator and art critic.

The ancient warriors Ren sculpts do not hold in their hands a metal rod as usually described in tales - Ren replaces it with a bamboo stick, a symbol of integrity in Chinese culture to soften the tone of the work and also, to convey a Zen-like touch.

And these warriors are not depicted against the backdrop of a fierce battle but instead are seen practicing tai chi or playing a wooden zither to convey a combined feeling of tranquility and inner strength.

Ren Zhe's ongoing solo exhibition at Taimiao shows 36 sculptures, including Azure Dragon. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Sheng says there are antiques, classic paintings, calligraphy works and sculptures scattered all over Ren's studio as examples of his passion for traditional culture, and he is resolved to transform his love of them into a modern context.

Ren declines to call these cultural manifestations of old traditions the inspiration for his work.

"I feel that these so-called inspirations are not something I own or discover, they are more like signals I receive from the world," he says.

Ren says he believes an artist should try to be as innocent and sensitive as a child, so that he doesn't become blinded by preconceptions that could block out these signals.

"An artist needs to work hard and think hard every day to keep his heart pure and open - and in turn make works that will touch others," he says.

Sculptor Ren Zhe (center) introduces his works to artists Li Xiangqun (right) and Zeng Chenggang at the exhibition opening. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Awed by the reflective sculptures Ren presents at Taimiao, one however can hardly imagine the work Ren has to repeat in his studio.

"The process to completing a work is not as vibrant as people think," he says. "Being an artist is similar to being a factory worker. He repeats the same thing step by step, day by day, till he finishes the work.

"Doing art is for me as essential as eating. I care little about what I eat, but every morning after I open my eyes, I think of my work, and about how to complete it, and then about the next piece of work I want to do.

"The studio is my home. I keep piling up the clay on the pedestal, sculpting it, adding things and taking things away. It feels close to the way a monk practices his faith. It is something I will repeat every day, and this way of life is what I consider as the basic requirement for a career artist."

Contact the writer at linqi@chinadaily.com.cn

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