ASelf Awareness Investigation Throughout Painting

                  Yan Liang                   


The debate of the function and purpose of art could be traced from the period of ancient Greek. It could beroughly reduced to the embody of the objective spirit which clarifying the relation between self and the contemporary world and self- opinions to the world. The other one may seem as a impulsion of life which may be an expression of self- consciousness .(I think the opinion of it is a kind of social ideology from Marxism and the theory of re appearance put forward by Aristotle are kind of more specific derived example of the first two theory )And it seems like this is an issue would be considering when artist making their work , directors making their movies , scholars writing their theory, ext. even these are points from historical perspective .I think self- exploring could either have the function of finding out potential consciousness and the reaction . Simultaneously making the relation between me and the contemporary world clearer. Having seen the opinion of the react from instinctive that promoted by steven Reiss(2000)1, I think periodically introspection may be one of the useful way to better self- fulfilling. And the painting of my current 3 movements could be a kind of way to record and understand the journey.

If tracing back to the very initial motivation of making this series that might be the beginning of paying attention to German art after world war 2 which may also considered as a time which Germany new expressionism appearing . I have been inspiring from Anselm Kiefer from his miserable memory in the past and his attitude to the ruins from his composition and schematism2. The materials he chose to organize the painting could either give a review , questioning the disaster , as well as giving a sort of hope or sense of unknown to the future(maybe because the material itself has historical symbolic meaning and the studying of alchemy may be seen as a kind of process of self- actualizing. In terms of the metaphor from both schematism and materials , arousing me the interest to the utopia philosophy and mental psychoanalysis from Sigmund Freud3. Which may plays an important role to the train of thought to my work . I try to explore the narratives and the expression of the form separately and trying to seek the connection between each other.

Base on the ideas of self-exploring , I read some theories about objective idealism philosophy .Plato(G.R.F.Ferrari,2003)4once claim that the world consist of “idea” and “phenomenon”. The “idea”world is the real world which is truly existed and invariable. And the world human beings get in touched with is just a kind of shadow of the real world. The world we getting touch with consisted by different phenomenon which affected by the changing  time , spaces or context . The Interpretation of dreams also clarify the relation between illusion or dream and one’s subconsciousness and extend of the methodology of realizing self- value which has been claimed in psychodynamics from Sigmond Freud. Therefore I start to research some artists who intend to face the memory directly and reconstruct the dreamland through existed elements. 

From André Derain’s painting5The Painter and his Family could I realize his recall and sentiment to the ideal scene which based on his own life. And may also paying respect to the life status of renaissance period. The way he organize the figures of his family members in the studio gives a strong recall roughly traced to baroque period.In the context of the metaphor role symbolize his  attitude to his world. And the animals he depicted in his painting also imply his admiration to the natural world .6

Having inspired by this kind of reconstruct way and the interest of the allegorical meaning of familiar images I start to confirm the elements and the composition of the first painting Touching. The ruined self- gazing at somewhere which may be a dreamland I hoped to attend to . The hand seems like respond in a malposed position right opposite above the self- portrait is a kind of looking back of the memories as well as yearning for the natural world. Just admire to Derain’s painting, I would also interested in the multiple metaphor that the painting trying to convey through a kind of relatively traditional way to convey.

As Sigmund Frued(2018)7once claimed in his theory , superego could be seen as a kind of ideal scene ones want to persuit. But the distance between id and superego may cause special feeling to the world ones getting touch with. Even appear phantom in one’s mind. Based on the experience of the journey I started the second piece of the serious which called Invisible staring. Man Ray8once made an installation with a metronome and a clipped paper drawn with an eye and he set the paper on the pointer and let it start to work just like what some pianists used to do when practicing. He claimed that he would like to create the illusion of being watched as I painted. Maybe inspired by this form of the sense, I start to think about creating the sense of being stared by people. But not like man’s work, I think maybe what he tried to convey is a reluctant of his past or his lover. This is certainly based on his own life experience. The eye world I try to create is a quite conflict scene. On one hand, the scene I made comes from the activities from my heart, it may intertwined with complex feeling to the world I have been experienced . The scene could be a memory that I want to escape from or it may be the world that I couldn’t leave alone and waiting to explore.

At the period of world war 1 in Germany , the storm and stress of the society stimulate some artist to express themselves through exaggerated abstract geometric figure to convey their subjective feeling. Either from painting to music. From Kandinsky’s painting9could we find out his interest in abstracting the real life into symbols and keep them in a conflict situation. From 1918,Austria composer started to use the view from expressionism to comment on music. So that the music style has been changed since then . the obvious characteristic of fractional of the melody, disorder of the beat, and the changing of the strength changes in an exaggerate way. Arnold Schönberg’s10music is a kind of perfect combination of unconscious and delication.And it directly influenced the keynote of my second painting. Plato once promoted a theory of Cave Metaphor in Utopia “ A group of prisoner were in a cave with the raging flames behind them but their hands and foot are bind and so they couldn’t move just stand back to the entry of the cave . And the only thing they could see is the shadow reflected on the wall. They assumed that those shadows are the real thing since they couldn’t see other real things. One of the prisoner get rid of the chain and escape from the horrible cave . But from the point of those prisoners the escaped man maybe more stupid then escaping away from the cave since nothing existed in the contemporary world except those visible shadows. I think what Plato wants to explain is an optimistic and an innocent attitude to the contemporary world. Just inspired by the sense Plato conveys in his theory, the illusion I depicted may be the world I am feeling in is just just as the shadows on the wall. And it may comes from the situation when id couldn’t reach the goal of superego . Therefore “invisible” in the title means the contemporary world I come across may still not the real world I felt. It may be veiled by the complex feeling of self- consciousness . The child’s head with a pair of big exaggerate eye on the front of the painting indicates a kind of attitude to the contemporary world.

Brian Wilson11once made a comprehensive installation to manifest the the process of awareness called if everybody had an ocean .the work consist of three phases which is the first stages depicted the interplay with the popular culture and the second stage expressed by music may be an internal activitiy to the outside world and the third one enhance the turbulent emotion of the finding out the distance between self and the dreamland which indicates the function of dystopia theory. Wilson’s work discuss phenomenon brought by different culture background both with different contents and context. After seeing his work I was clearer to make the third piece through questioning the theory of the meaning of Utopia and the relation and function with dystopia . 

Aldous Huxley once claimed in his famous book Brave New world that the “new world” is just a kind of Hell and everyone was controlled by the gene company which work for them unconsciously.spirit anaesthesia makes you numb to all the things no matter happy or painful. The issue of utopia similarly discuss in the book Animal Farm written by George Orwell. Utopia is just another existed form of despotic society . In terms of the depict of dystopia , I start to make the work that could reflect my own view to the critic to Utopia.As far as I am  concerned , the query to the utopia is unavoidable it is a fantasy that imagined from people’s mind and the theory of dystopia would always like to remind people to have a clear perceive about the contemporary world and the future. From this perspective , I start to put the figure upside down from the sky to the water just like aerolite. From the second piece, do it conveys a kind of desire to escape from pain and pursue the fantasy. But the world we are chasing is unrealistic just as making attempt to reach the stars from sky. But the beautiful wish reflect the shadow in the water . When the figure falling down into the water he finds a lot of self shuttled back and forth around the reflect shadow. What I try to indicate is the happiest thing may be the process when chasing and reach to the fantasy in our heart.

This also gives me an enlightenment of exploring the relation among art, literature and opera. And utopia as a function to find out the value of art of how to contribute to the world. The issue I am going to explore next may focus on the way of realizing and participate to the both contemporary world and the fantasy world . Also trying to discuss how to adapt existed cultural trace into contemporary world (I think this might be a quite limited topic to discuss). And also keep exploring the materials which supports current practice . Also as a painter the form to present the art work is a long term journey to experience even it seems not a deep issue to discuss but it still could keep the interest and passion to the practitioner . When I move to the exhibition I naturally start to find out the special form that different artist try to present . Just as Brain Wilson ‘s work. When I first goes into it the first thing arouse my interest may be the tone that both conveys by painting and music , and I think it might be a motivation to keep you going for the art work. In general , the next step may be the function of Utopia effect exploration based on the self- conscious experience along with materiality of the art work.     



1 Steven Reiss , 2000 , Who Am I ,Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam,New York


 magarethe 1981

  twilight of the west


  1. Sigmund Freud , 1997, The Interpretation of Dreams, Steven Wiilson, Britain

  2. G.R.F.FERRARI,2003,Plato The Republic,Cambridge University

  3.  the painter and his family,1939

5 Tate Gallery:Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88,London 6.1996

7. Sigmund Freud,2018,The Ego And The ID,Dover    Publications,New York

8.Indestructible Object 1923, remade 1933,editioned replica 1965

9.around 1920



11.If everybody had an ocean