Artist statement

Dark Flame






What, then, is the true relation between the nature of a scarlet red rose and an art which tries to take refuge in the refined universe of the literati, in retreat from the din and fury of the secular world? Can we really welcome the idea of our own "nothingness" in a "Zenitude" safe from the obsession of existential nausea, triggering shattering revolts, or screams, hymns to a fleeting Dionysian joy?


 "Nothing is Zen in your universe, everything is !" said a French philosopher, discovering my studio.


 Malevich posits his black as the principle of the supremacy of the pure feeling of forms and colors. As for me, my dark flames are there only to visually paraphrase a feeling, pure or impure, clear of the incommensurable complexity of the universe, obscure, fascinating, intolerable, because of its inaccessibility. I cannot find better than the blackness of the Chinese ink to base the intensity of such  metaphysical vertigo,  not to say malaise; "The man who does not meditate lives in blindness, the man who meditates lives in  darkness, we only have the choice of black". Victor Hugo in “William Shakespeare”.



 A solitary bench leaning against the ocean of unfathomable depth; A Greek pi π of the immeasurable, which defies rationality; question marks suspended in the sky, uncertainty constellating the earth, the spirit. The vertiginous void, in which "the power of the poetic breath is translated into a lucid and desperate cry against the immense loneliness that inhabits man". Rainer Maria Rilke


 Between the two dark banks that Hugo depicts, between the sky and the earth infused with dark flames, to carry on the journey, I have little choice but to let some rays of light pierce through, as sign of consolation, though temporary, a  persistence of a disenchanted quest for meaning  in a world of nonsense, of  unsustainable desire for the desirable, in search of  unfathomable  beauty and  of  wide open spaces, where we roam aimlessly.







After my wanderings through the Western philosophy and the pictorial art , which has  started in the 90's, I undertook for more than a decade to revisit Chinese  ink , vector of  a millenary art, which incarnates, in my eye, an aesthetic and spiritual singularity of an exceptional nobility, in contrast to  a contemporary artistic landscape largely subject to Western conceptual games.


The task would be simple if it could be accomplished by a pure technical adjustment; substitution of brush drawing by the manipulation of materials, revamping space composition, intensifying ink painting impact by introducing texture, collage, which forced me to move from rice paper to canvas etc. But the most disturbing factor  in this return "to the  misty land of oriental wonders", lies in this constant tension that I feel, between my often troubled interiority, strongly tinged with Western philosophical pigments and the spiritual orientation of  ink art, which traditionally embodies a wisdom defying  passion, faith  and all metaphysical (mis)adventures.


If the taste for duality, very Platonic,  recurrently  intoxicates  the Western spiritual  quest for grandeur, sublime,  truth and for the dramaturgical expression of "chiaroscuro" in all its arts forms, musical or visual,  Eastern wisdom, on the contrary,   feeds on the gray gradient in a  foggy ground  kind of  “ in between,” celebrates   ambiguity, transience , modesty  where, the status of permanence and absolute is forever denied to the truth.


Having opted for intuition against the intellectual order, oriental art based on such a blurred state of mind can only go against the rational construction of meaning by argumentation. The ink art thus, leads  me to venture into the land  of semi-abstraction where  the figures and forms are to be dissolved in the mist , symbol are to be veiled  under  the  half  tone,  beauty,  to be loaned without a “ hyme of gloria” , solitude and  melancholy are to be perceived but  restrained   from romantic drama.    Containing my dark flames below the limit of explosion, hold back my desire for an outgoing intellectual brilliance, mute my surges of enthusiasm and groan become a challenge, that the mist that bathes my paintings, I hope, could provide me a chance to face with.


 Ink painting, by its fluidity and lyrism, imposes improvisation. (compared to the "impasto" of the oil painting, so apt to embody rationally organized three-dimensional forms).  The ambivalence of its forms without form, evasive, allusive, represent precisely the quintessence of a culture, soul sister of poetry rather than of science or philosophy.  It is an art that chooses to bypass the real to reach the imaginary.   It is a wisdom that worship the virtue of doubt, encourages the suspension of sentence, mistrusts arguments and confrontation, too often decline into violence.


Can a frog at the bottom of a well capture the dimension of the sky?

“Since human beings participate in only an infinitesimal part of the whole, they are unable to grasp anything with certainty”.

By those words, Jacques Derrida restated con brio the old Chinese metaphor, which should be understood as stemming from a deep commitment to prudence and tolerance:  claiming a response to such serious questions as the intrinsic meaning of the world and of life, being trapped however in his fatal finitude, denotes an infantile lack of maturity,  likely to disturb both the peace of the  world, and  the peace of  soul.


Thus, moral virtue and pictorial quality converge in a single classic injunction: It is precious not to see too clearly, ( thus  not  to paint too clearly ) all, in order  not to judge too boldly. 





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" I am convinced that formal structure of art works  is of such an essential importance for art work to be elected as art work that a true aesthetic emotion could only be the fruit of harmonious  spatial relations of plastic volumes and tonal arrangement., no matter how ugly the subject  may be.."      

                                                                                                                                    Li chevalier



 “The starting –point of all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience of a peculiar emotion. The objects that provoke this emotion we call works of art.”


By this aesthetic hypothesis, the English art critic Clive Bell seems to have established a strict correlation between works of art and the aesthetic emotion, make this last point a constitutive elements of work of art.


Going one step further, the American Philosopher Monroe Beardsley defined   work of art as “an arrangement of conditions intended to be capable of affording an experience with marked aesthetic character.  In another word, the aesthetic experience should “result in a product which constitutes an adequate record of that experience.”  And this “product” possess what Clive bell called the “significant form”, that is a combination of colors or line and relations of forms capable to stir our aesthetic emotions.


However,   by making  the” significant form capable of provoke aesthetic emotion” a essential quality of work of art,   we  have  to face  the problem of dealing with works that are  explicitly created  in defiance of  aesthetic experience  either from formal view point or from emotional view point.


 To be upgraded as a contemporary “artist” in the west today, one has to flee the suspicion of the mawkishness and vapidity of the genres “lovely prince and princess under the moonlight” as plaque.  I am kindly advised    to reactive my memory, to search into every corner of my brain for the darkest experience of my past life so that it could become the  spiritual nourishment of  a  powerful art.  And I was advised so many times to abandon the formative beauty in order to create powerful art. 


The suspicion toward   beauty   arises  no doubt from the its epistemology failure to possess a universal criteria for its application,  but few  would contest the quasi  “universal”  utility of the  negative emotion and formal ugliness   as an efficient tool  for creating visual impact  .


Am I going too far by saying  that the great ‘social visionary’ of Saint Simon has successfully installed a brand new culture, the culture of the cult of ugliness?   


Needless to say that no matter how powerful  the emotion results from the  ugliness and disgusting may be, it has little to do with   the Schopenhauer state of rapture, the  state of aesthetic exaltation when one loses oneself in that infinitely sublime state of mind,  a state of complete joy, of perfect peace.


Is aesthetic emotion necessarily related   with some positive values worshiped by old fashioned  moralist? To avoid this accusation,   Lets put aside   immediately the necessary equation of Goodness and Beauty by Plato, the  distinction of the beautiful and the sublime by Kant. Some could laugh   in front of the tomb of  Tolstoy  buried  together today with his claim that “art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen. Let’s tell Sillier and Beardsley’s follower   that  yes, art works  may contains the virtue of tension relief and inner harmony and brotherhood promotion but not only that. Art is a discourse, an opinion , therefore,  it must has multiple functions and in art works, we may encounter both positive or negative emotions as we encounter both in  human life.


 However, I am convinced that formal structure of work of art is of such an essential importance for art work to be elected as art work that a true aesthetic emotion could only be the fruit of harmonious  spatial relations of plastic volumes and tonal arrangement. No matter what kind of discourse the art works may express,  it has to possesses some basic formative quality  without which it should be disqualified as art work.


 It would be of great interest to figure out  if the contemporary predilection for  the negative  emotions   and formal ugliness  will be  considered through time as  permanent quality of powerful art  or it is no more than  just a fashion as bird, forest, lovely ladies was in the past.


We are living through a era of cult for both formal  and emotional ugliness.  An era when one eventually could content oneself to care about strong emotions without it being aesthetically valuable and to invent new forms without it being “significant”.


But how long this will last?

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How a poet could desert the sky?

 Paris is considered by many as the most romantic city of the world, as France  are considered, wrong or right,  by   most of the Chinese as the most romantic nation.   A person lack of romantic spirit is called by  some French people  as  "le comptable de province "     He is  realistic, , cautious,  well abacus  and reasonable .   Life is riskless but  tasteless, two sides of the same coins .


If I have one "artist statement' to make it will be this :    Artist is a sponge of sensitivity . Art is  eternally romantic by its  irresistible desire to  'take off'  from the land of reality.  How a poet could desert the sky?    Art is  an issue of passion, obsession,   of collision and rebound.  All this ,indeed,  has little to do with the horizon of a  "comptable de province. "or the spirit of the "passion prof"  Kant!


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Nihilisme and Chan Aesthetics

 Criticql Journal Byam Shaw@Central Saint  Martin's College of Arts and Design London

li chevalier (Shilan in chinese)


dogme et tao  - Copy.JPG


It is received fact that western art in the modern era is strongly influenced by nihilistic thought.  Although the art of the Dada movement is considered the most directly inspired by nihilism, many schools of art (futurism, surrealism, even pop art) are considered to reflect nihilistic elements.  That is to say they share a common disdain for tradition, a will to destroy the ossified, backwards and conservative past, and an obsession with bludgeoning the public with shock and sensational effect.


However, since WWII, against the overwhelmingly noisy, speedy, rebellious backdrop of western culture, there can be seen an increasing interest in Zen aesthetics, not least in the modern day popularity of Zen inspired interior design.  Searching the word Zen in the cyber space, one finds a series of Zen inspired products like Zen bathroom, Zen toilet, Zen bathtub.  It often costs a fortune to buy these products as if there is a premium to be paid for a private space in which to immerse ourselves in an environment of  tranquility and silence, and to take the chance to shake a concealed hand with life. 


Who among the “bathers" would imagine that by inviting Zen into their bathroom, they will be plunging into a daily nihilistic bath?

No other word delves so directly into the core notion of nihilism than "nothingness".  Nihilism showcases a vision of world without sense.  Human existence is as insignificant as its history.  From a metaphysical standpoint, nothingness is a direct refutation of the concepts of “being” in ontology, “God” in Christianity, “absolute truth” in Plato's philosophy.  The root of nihilism is the Latin word “nihil” while its corresponding word in Chinese are the characters “Wu”, nothingness or "Kong", vacuity.  Wu and Kong are respectively fundamental notions of Taoism and Buddhism.  Despite the difference in expression, a strong line could be thus drawn between western nihilism and the two pillars of oriental thought; none of them give credit to the ideas of the existence of God or an intrinsic meaning to life.


Schopenhauer, one of the most eminent figures of the nihilistic West, noted a great similarity between his doctrines and Buddhism and even proclaimed himself Buddhist of the West.  A profound atheist, he described  a vision of  life that has no creator at origin, no paradise at the end, and in-between, sterility of  blind will and desire that leads mankind to endless suffering. "Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom".

As a somewhat recent historical vintage of an ancient thought that could be traced back to the Greeks, Nihilism resurfaced in the western modern history only after a ferocious battle of ideas.  Being nursed during centuries by the idea of a loving God and of life in paradise, the eruption of nothingness created an authentic post partum depression and gloom.  Nothingness is a source of existential horror and emotional anguish.  Nothingness reveals each individual as a lost being in an unresponsive universe, a world of silence that is “barred forever from knowledge” (E. Kant).


Contrary to such trauma in the West, the absences of God and any intrinsic meaning of life are diluted with a "Chan” touch of serenity in the eastern mind.  The latter shows an eternal easy-going acceptance of the notion that nothingness precedes life and follows death.  The absence of a monotheist religion born in China no doubt provides a major explanation thereto.


In his book  "The nihilist temptation"  French philosopher Roland Jacquard  brought  out  a legendary  tale of Master Tao, showing a radical vision of oriental relativism: Two neighboring landlords fight over a propriety right on a piece of land.  A Tao apprentice brought the case to his master with the hope of getting a final sentence.  The first landlord presented his arguments, Tao said:  “You are right”.  Then the second one expressed his,   Tao said “You are right”.  The apprentice was puzzled.  “They can’t both be right!” to which Tao replied: "You too, you are right”.


One could legitimately conclude that in this value system, there is no space for justice.  However, in my eyes, the suspension of sentence by Tao should be understood as stemming from a deep commitment to    prudence.  It advocates in its own poetic way the virtue of doubt.  Here appears in a Chinese mythological language, the same ancient epistemological question by Xenophane: “May we seize the truth or are there all just opinions?”


“Since human beings participate in only an infinitesimal part of the whole, they are unable to grasp anything with certainty”. By those words, Jacques Derrida restated con brio an old Chinese metaphor.  We are like the "the frog at the bottom of a well".  As such, claiming to answer such serious questions as the origin of the world or the intrinsic meaning of life without being qualified equals to an infantile lack of maturity. 



jardinzen 2.JPG




After my Western art adventures started in the 90s, I made a radical return to my "mother tongue" by choosing ink as my medium.  Through the use of mixed media, including Chinese ink on canvas, I try to transcend the classical ink-on-paper model and hope to convey my passion and understanding of Chan aesthetics, which exercises even stronger fascination on me as it appears far off and unreachable.


To prepare the dissertation for my fine arts post graduate diploma at London Central Saint Martin’s College of Art, I conducted a discreet inquiry among students on the Chan concept.  Most of the responses I got were related to the ideas of "peace, balance and quietude".  While one student mentioned the concept of nothingness, nobody pronounced the word suffering: Buddha teaches suffering and the end of suffering by enlightenment. Zen no doubt conveys the state of enlightened mind.


Peace and balance are words that remind me of my Japanese experience in the 90s.  In the Japanese aesthetics, I felt the elegance of ancient China, but Japan's peculiar predilection for simplicity, sobriety and quietude, which transpire in its architecture, garden design and interior decoration, left me with a long lasting "visual shock".  It offered me a rare visual experience of what I would call Chan aesthetics.   


Chan as a spiritual school in China has both Taoist and Buddhist origins.  Zen, as it is better known in the West, is the Japanese pronunciation of Chan.  Chan aesthetics, a merger of both influences, carries a strong philosophical connotation.  Painting, as the most venerated art medium in China, has actually never played an important historical role in representing the visual reality of the material world.  It has always been considered as the best medium to reveal a cosmological vision or philosophical claim.


Unlike some Western values like greatness, eternity and the absolute, the Zen spirit conveys different qualities, namely the transient, the illusory, ambiguity and modesty in our continually shifting reality.  It depicts a hermit realm of self imposed isolation, a universe of  literati that crave spiritual retirement.  Translated into art, the great economy of means in Chan-inspired art goes hand in hand with the idea of purity and simplicity.


Thus on canvas my choice of forms and shades is reduced to its simplest expression, to subtle tones rather than convulsive explosions of color, to naturally curved shapes rather than hard edges. The transparent grey and fluid brush strokes suggestive of cascading water, which is simultaneously controlled and uncontrollable, can be seen as a metaphorical language for fate, the paint becoming a veil covering our world with delicate modesty.  


Landscape is a major theme in my works. Unlike the geometric harmony of the French garden, the Zen-inspired nature faithful to Chinese tradition does not appear to have been arranged.  The French philosopher Luc Ferry suggests that the French Garden is a rationalist expression of abstract mathematical reason by which one reaches the truth and the divine order.  Zen-inspired nature however could be compared to the virginal nature of the Payne spirit cherished by Western romanticism.  Intuition is preferred to intellectual order, spontaneous vital energy prevails over geometric forms.  


Allusion, speaking silence, acting emptiness, solitary spleen, endless nights, dreary days, infinite spaces, lingering dangers and unexpected charms, all shape my canvases, always suggested, never imposed.



Tao  - Copy.JPG



At one of my exhibition openings in 2008, a reporter came to me and said: "Despite the atmosphere of your painting, you do not seem to be a Chan-like person".  What a keen observer! 


My feet are deeply rooted in the overwhelming noisy and speedy modern world.  My heart is filled with one gram of patience and tons of passion.  My body is torn apart by desire and anguish.  I often have the sensation of hanging on Schopenhauer's pendulum, swinging from desire to despair.  All this has little to do with the state of impassability and quietude of a Chan hermit.  In front of the Chan realm, I'd rather consider myself an outsider, an observer, an admirer.  As I have no way of escaping from the pain and contingency of secular life, I can only offer myself the luxury of a creative space to depict a world of silence, contemplating the peaceful realm of Chan from far away.


To free ourselves from earthly gravitation, apart from religious enlightenment, there remains aesthetic elevation.


                                                                                                                           October 2010, Beijing




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