Writings by xiangpeng


Piero Boni
from Piero Boni. Un mondo che non è qui, exhibition catalogue, Fondazione Antonio Mazzotta

Correspondence With a Museum Director.
Passage from a Letter
Bergamo, 7 June 2006
Dear Mr .. [text omitted]

...of what I think about painting
The key point is, as I explained in our conversation, the intention to merge abstract and figurative
painting. Has this been attempted before? Admittedly, the two genres have been placed side by side,
perhaps widely (from the Cobra group to the New Dada and beyond). But the abstract side always
preserved its non-referential quality: viewers had to search for the “sense“ within themselves.
Perhaps (though modesty calls for caution!) this is the first time something different takes place.
Through the “naming“ performed by the title and its setting in imaginary “planets“, abstraction acquires a
figurative value. Accordingly the few figurative referents drawn in simple lines lose their “familiar“
naturalistic connotations, generating a homogeneous complex of alien reality.
We do not know whether this reality actually exists, but can imagine our intelligent side exploring its
spaces after leaving the indistinct (and unknowable) maze of interiority (which has no openings on the
outside) to study forms and emotions that are new and yet linked to those we already know – thus
advancing our learning experience.
I think there is a need not for questions or puzzles (as in the observation of abstraction) but for
explanations. For this reason we do not need to “observe“ new forms and lines but to “live with them“.
Only by making them familiar can we eventually get to know them.
This, in a nutshell, is my assumption, based on a conceptual process: “the naming“ performed by the title
is the only way to achieve a merging that avoids the opposition of abstract and figurative art.
This difficulty has perhaps been ignored before because it appeared unsolvable, but it allows a new
understanding of art in its eminently expressive-creative function.
Which reminds me of Albert Einstein‟s encouraging words (simplified here): “There are problems that are
considered unsolvable until an „amateur‟ comes along and solves them!”.
With best wishes and .... [text omitted]
Represented Worlds
These paintings depict moments in the life of the (imaginary) landscape of planets Giò and Artù.
They are both, in a spiritual sense, more advanced than planet Earth, being characterised by a subtler
concreteness, a lighter physical presence.
Their spirituality lies not only in images evoking humanoid figures but extends also to elements of nature:
trees, volcanoes and islands that clearly display an intelligence of their own.
Planet Giò is, in terms of spiritual evolution, at an intermediate stage before the summits for Planet Artù.
It is not therefore an evil planet opposed to a good one.
Its lower evolutionary position allows me to use Planet Giò as a setting for typically “chiaroscuro“ themes
such as pollution (which is immediately offset by regeneration containers), (relatively eco-friendly)
industrial districts and so forth. There are no wars. Picture number 1, War, is set on an “earthy“ planet
(reminiscent of our own) that never reappears. Intense conflict is experienced only by inferior entities:
elements of nature, mountains, islands and plants. On Planet Giò, these entities – usually immersed in a
material sleep or (perhaps) in an elemental psychism – finally awake to awareness and, at this initial
evolutionary stage, may even cause hostile reactions bordering on war and terrorism, which after all are
viewed with ironic detachment because of their inherent immaturity.
Due to its higher evolution, Planet Artù avoids even vaguely-upsetting themes and has necessarily
monochord evolutionary features implying a certain spiritual sophistication.
Here the whole of nature, in line with the evolutionary stage of its “residents”, participates in events both
sensitively and empathically.
Both planets are located beyond the confines of our reality, in a dimension that offers a haven for
castaways escaping physical shipwrecks: a place where evolutionary experiences are prolonged,
following the exoteric element in various religions but also as a manifesto of Christianity: “In my Father‟s
home there are many rooms”.
In this sense, there is an eschatological quality in this kind of painting.
Suggestions of different poetics converge in my paintings into a coherent whole, strengthened by evoked
worlds and by the naming in the titles.
Technical-creative Innovations
Signs are reduced to their graphic essence to produce an image (with greater conformative or referential
expressive force). For this reason they emphasise the extreme aspects – always marked in black in my
sketches – that recur in the very dark tones of my pictures.
Signs provide a support for volume, enhanced by light and shade effects or by the intensity of colour.
Colour, in turn, underscores the signs.
Taken together, the dark signs alone (without the support of colour, against a white background) express
a unique balance, with all the elements in the picture juxtaposed to introduce, at times clearly, a series of
metaphysical resonances.
Signs, therefore, take on a symbolic value also when they introduce invisible elements – a symbol being
a “living momentary revelation of the inscrutable” (W. Goethe).
Through signs I seek to express also elusive spiritual realities such as vanity (in the sketch Extra-urban
Centre with Bed of Vane Flowers), disease (sketch, A New Sickness on Planet Giò? No Way, So
What?), obligation (sketch, Compulsory Navigation), the seriousness of war and fear (painting, Warrior
Plants Guard the Way to the Jungle), terror and fanaticism (sketch, Beautiful Landscape Vanguards on
the Traces of a Fanatical Terrorist Plant, where the figure of the terrorist is created by putting together
the signs of terror seen in the sky of the previous sketch), a tangled forest (sketch, Inextricable Forest)
and other clearly visible aspects in my other sketches.
These signs involve plants because their structure frees the artist from any mandatory cultural reference
to humanity and allow him to create, as the forms takes shape, new images pertaining to fundamental
sign values identified and expressed selectively – albeit (necessarily) a compromise with similarity and
metaphor and thus with our cultural heritage.
My intention is to avoid generating a series of “universal“ sign values indifferent to the naturalistic forms
we are familiar with, so that the message retains its utmost expressive purity.
I believe no research of this kind has yet been attempted.
Logical and Linguistic Foundations
My painting does not address issues concerning the nature of art or its logical and linguistic foundations
because such a debate presupposes a representation of realities linked to a familiar naturalistic world
and to the phantasmagorical realms of the subconscious.
Such difficulties are overcome by referring to a fantastic, intuitive reality through a conceptual process
that draws truth from its own representation. The world I sense could not be any different because this is
how I imagined it; it can only embrace the pictorial laws and rules I employ because they are what
comes to mind. I represent a world that is elsewhere, so that its reality – as it appears in my
representation – cannot be disproved. There would be difficulties (inherent in the art‟s analytical
orientation and the value of its codes) if I linked my reality to a naturalistic reality; but its mystery is in fact
connected to my worlds only insofar as they belong by analogy to the great circle of life. In all other
respects, the two realities are not comparable. For this reason, I can paint “intelligent” skies whose
appearance changes according to the spiritual needs of the world they hang over: “intelligent” islands
that can even evaluate the viewer. This notion of island is borrowed from everyday language – lands
encircled by water. But water in my pictures is not made of “H2O“; perhaps it is a spiritual element (I
have not checked) and the islands are not shaped by erosion, prevailing (spiritual) waters or the
(underground) force of an Earth that ought to apologise before acting (in a world dominated by good
manners). They are there for an impending principle of cosmic pleasure, they are not yet anchored to the
heaviness of physical matter and can even afford to fly – especially when they are wild.
The captions serve a traditional denotative function, but the lack of images rooted in our reality create a
correspondence between iconic and verbal utterances. The pictures express their “own” reality, not a
reality alien to them. I introduce a universe to be interpreted as it is painted and as it is “named”.
In my case, the conceptual investigation suggested by the titles does not deny the presence of
referential forms. Great importance, however, is attached to the propositional judgement that defines the
object and its artistic status: there is a coexistence of semantic determinacy and indeterminacy, of
monosemy and polysemy, of extension and intension, by force of the metalinguistic nature of the
captions‟ “definitions”.
The verbal elements do not halt the flow of meaning but merely channel it through their denotative
power. This is how polysemous indeterminacy can coexist with monosemy and the formalisation of exact
codes. It results in the foundation of a new semantic universe, new spheres of meaning where
hermeneutic and symbolic aspects can come together.
A Fusion of Abstract and Figurative Art
My landscapes do not rule out the presence, as constituents, of paintings based on a strict formalisation
of combinatory procedures and on the use of a logico-mathematical approach. Such procedures seek to
dispel any semantic ambiguity but their move to my landscapes (generally in the upper section of the
picture, where the sky appears in naturalistic depictions) brings with it a number of new meanings.
These sections retain the unavoidable structural bases that govern relations between signs, yet their
syntax allows them to express something new – at times even naturalistic (of a nature clearly unknown
to us) – that is unavailable outside the context used to introduce them. This implies a new perspective on
abstract art – even a loss of its abstraction – and is possible only by reference to a nature that is openly
“named” as alien to our world. Thus any established formal structure loses its syntactic freedom in a
strictly deductive process based an axiomatic idea, while laying itself open to emotional-expressive
interpretations suggested by the picture‟s captions. If the sections are “named” as the planet‟s “sky”, they
inevitably take on this meaning. Their inner rationale requires in such cases an inspection of the other
parts of the picture – the contribution of an intuitive-perceptive process. The evolutionary rationale of
plastic expression, built on increasing formal abstraction (through the creation of stable basic units and
clear grammatical-syntactic rules) takes therefore a totally opposite direction in my conceptual venture.
Nature reappears in a fantastic, intuitive form. Everything turns into illustration, into a symbolic
metaphorical connection. After all, man can only conceive and depict landscapes because (if he exists)
he can only experience and depict his own space as a landscape he belongs to both visually and
sensorially. When this does not seem to happen, man is in fact painting something associated with the
specific tools of his trade – an engagement (in a world viewed as a single tool) with life (as when an Arab
workman reproduces his tools, a stylised comb and scissors, in the knotting of a rug) – generally
including formalised pictorial codes and alphabets.
On the other hand, the alien nature of the world presented here, compared to its familiar counterpart,
and the naming power of the captions rule out any narrative compromise with its psychic associations.
Everywhere is landscape.
My work reflects a radical reduction in the elementary units of visual language, despite the fact that the
code is transitive and its referents stretch into revelation and the unknown. There is, nevertheless, a
deconstruction of the pictorial code through the creation of abstract language units. Analytical and
referential strands (with the latter pointing to new realities) reach a meeting point here, a union of
abstraction and empathy, of analyticism and involvement. The canon of similarity operates at the
elemental level as an extreme cultural and linguistic legacy, while the autonomy of signs coexists with an
alien code the seeks its referent in unknown realities, expressed more forcefully because essentiality
tends to underscore (by subtraction, using a procedure similar to “caricature”, but without its entertaining
function) its referential value (i.e. what is represents) by searching for “new” similarities and “new”
A hermetically “sealed” objectivity characterises my work, whose self-significance does not exclude the
presence of similarity, metaphor or polysemy. Although its reality is unrecognisable, it allows a
metaphorical linkage to familiar naturalistic forms – object platforms for the visual exploration induced by
the captions.
The merging of figuratism and abstraction can only take place by way of the above-mentioned
conceptual process.
In the past, art only placed abstract and figurative parts side by side, with each preserving its own artistic
The New Dada, with its informal experiences, did not therefore yield an iconographic merging of old and
new objects, which were instead gathered using a bricolage technique, joined randomly only to suggest
an abstract paradox. It was a way to penetrate and explore reality.
Nor does Klee achieve such a merging: in some of his abstract (“absolute”) work, totally devoid of a
referent, the title denies abstraction merely for ironic reasons (e.g. main roads and secondary roads) and
does not, strictly speaking, imply a conceptual process. Such a process, moreover, would require a more
credible topical setting.
In other abstract works (or “networks”), the addition of small squares (windows) or triangles (roofs)
prevents abstraction by introducing a childish vision (e.g. Vision of a Town) which, in poetic terms, gives
the work its naive quality.
Relationship with the Sublime
The “sublime” is felt emotionally as a warning, an awareness of something that in itself does not lead to
understanding. It is easier to gain knowledge through imagination and an ability for premonition by
means of intuition.
Only painting can show up intuition, making it visible. If there is life in our universe, it dwells in a
landscape and landscapes can be depicted essentially through painting.
The representation of a perceived landscape is not mimetic but arises from knowledge and revelation –
thus reaching beyond mere representation.
Art is not truth, art is a lie (Picasso) if its representation of reality is misunderstood. If applied to a
suprasensory reality, however, it can draw on other aspects of truth that allow it to be “narrated”.
If time does not exist in absolute terms, if outside the time and space we live in there is an eternal
present and linked to spiritual evolution there is an opportunity to glance at parallel worlds (past, future
and other yet unknown dimensions), then only paintings can illustrate this aspect. The “sublime” that
reveals itself in the present at a time of momentary disorientation can encourage us to reflect, but it has
no bearing whatsoever on this aspect, which can be illustrated by the figurative rapprochement of
different skies, of neighbouring contemporary worlds rushing into the same picture.
To this day, the sublime in art has offered a figurative response to the disconcerting complexity of these
parallel realities.
Links with Surrealism
Some of the figurations may be inspired by Surrealist images (especially in the paintings Crowds at the
Landing Stage... and Warrior Plants...).
This link, however, is limited to a conformative outcome or end result which – despite its apparent
reference to Surrealist themes – originates from a different creative source. There is no appeal to the
subconscious or to Freud, to logical paradoxes or the standard paradigms of Surrealist poetics.
Ideation emerges as a deliberate intuitive force which (through foresight) attempts an approach to Truth
unfettered, let us say, by the shackles of reason.
The reference to St. Thomas is not out of place here. His claim that there will be plants and animals
(though perhaps differently formed) in Paradise is no surrealism. It simply activates a sort of premonition
that forces the imagination into action.
This (mutatis mutandis) is the path I follow, aware of the constraints involved and of the indecipherable
nature of ultimate things.
My approach to artistic conception rejects therefore the “omnipotence of dreams and the interplay of
indifferent thoughts”. The planets are not depicted as expressing the authority of thought over reality,
“with no control exerted by reason, indifferent to artistic or moral concerns” (Breton).
There is no rationalisation, so to say, of the irrational (not to mention folly).
Everything exists within a reasonably coherent whole that is dreamlike only insofar as it gratifies desire
and yet, apart from this, is an object of intuition, of knowledge achieved by our intelligent element when it
draws near to a higher reality.
My painting is of course influenced by cultural and personal experiences and aspirations embedded in
the subconscious, from where they may influence certain difficult rational decisions. But these never
reach to the level of ghosts emerging freely and chaotically from a creative milieu characterised by
psychic submission. There is no (psychic) automatism or “casual union of sewing machines and
umbrellas on the operating table”, i.e. no conjoining of incompatible realities – to use Lautréamont‟s well-
known description – whose baggage would be too inconsistent with the creation of realities as subtle as
planets Giò and Artù.
Moreover, in the two pictures mentioned earlier the giant flowers seen in Crowds at the Landing Stage...
are (for the creative imagination) “evolved flowers” possessing a degree of self-awareness. They may
actually exist – the caption being an appeal to believe them – well beyond the sphere of art and should
not therefore be viewed as inexorably disturbing metaphoric or symbolic figures, but as real, wonderful
life forms of the planet they inhabit.
As for the “warrior plants guarding the way to the jungle”, in the upper part of the painting (or sky) I have
added signs of terror conveyed by the spiritual landscape‟s empathy (later assembled in the image of a
plant in the sketch Beautiful Landscape Vanguards on the Traces of a Fanatical Terrorist Plant).
This intuitive operation is thus coupled with a deliberate, rational effort to distil lines and forms consistent
with the creative intention aptly expressed by the captions, which draws also from the subconscious
(where everything converges) and its repertoire. Again there is no automatism or interplay of free
thoughts but the will to unveil a possible dimension of life and sense that extends beyond
consciousness. The creation of a disturbing image does not alienate words from their referents, nor does
it produce riddles or question marks but captures another reality, points to solutions and provides artistic
conviction. It “represents and reassures” also by virtue of its underlying irony.
The Links to Conceptual Art
Understanding my paintings involves a conceptual process controlled by their titles. These elude their
usual context – thus becoming super structural additions (to sensory, formal evidence) capable of
enriching the viewer‟s experience – and take on a different function as essential cues to the painting‟s
This task is especially important in the pictures where figuration and abstraction openly merge and
overcome – through a sort of logical-perceptual leap – the immediacy and directness of conventional
Hence the merging takes place by force of the naming power of the captions, which constrain the
interpretive orientation by attaching figurative/naturalistic values and meanings to parts otherwise devoid
of referential quality.
The alien naturalism created by the imaginary planets makes this arduous task easier and more
There is no reduction therefore – as in other experiences and speculations labelled as conceptual art –
of “the object to a concept“, that is of an image (signifier) to the idea (signified) that presided over it when
the work was created and is now its protagonist, as shown by the repeated tautologies of conceptual art
(the object naming itself) and by the object‟s reduction to a number of potential representations, its total
suppression and replacement by mere definitions, or its dissolution into mental reconstructions.
The procedure here is inverse: the title and its concepts lead to the object (image and signifier), which by
force of the naming process acquires on a different quality which, nevertheless, remains figurative. All
the abstraction vanishes, as the captions provide interpretations that link abstraction (within the bounds
of the utterance) to “conceptually identifiable“ counterparts, sites and entities in our world, i.e. to known
referents (related in widely metaphorical terms) or to functions, forms and semantic content unknown to
us (and yet comprehensible), by evoking a planet that is a mere figment of the “imagination“.
This is possible because when a concept – the mental representation that defines the essence of things
– becomes independent from the final “structure“ of a painting, it does not appear to add any further
revelatory value if (as customary) it relies only on a conventional codification, on a “register“ of current
Fusion produces a mutual semantic strengthening of these two linguistic resources (figuration and
abstraction) thanks to the cognitive spaces contributed by the imaginative mental process that produced
I believe that for deeper insights into our surroundings (their essence), the only conceptual approach is
one leading to the object. The greater the number and variety of samples, the better the results.
While in our world this has already been widely described in terms of potential information content,
greater progress could be made by relocating the object in an alien environment or inventing new
objects, new forms, new functions and tasks, but – why stop here? – also new skies, intelligent skies
capable of assuming (to please resident humanoids) even so-called abstract forms.
In the boundless landscape that opens up, the usual display of forms is infinitely enlarged because the
site of the display has lost its boundaries. No known scheme or convention can change this condition.
Here the eye is free to explore the terrain in every perceivable expression, which alone (being subject in
the imagination to physical perception) is the only way we can establish human relations and advance
Familiarity with the once indefinitely abstract form that is now “physically“ – albeit more subtly – part of
another perceivable reality, can disclose new secrets of its identity, thus paving the way for illuminating
contacts and revelations. This happens because the way we approach the external appearance of things
inevitably acquires strong cognitive (and emotional) values when it is separated from the familiar, intense
materiality of our planet – whose objective appearance (widely analysed in terms of formativity by
cubism, whose constant references to it sought to exclude, by deterrence, its entire abstract potential)
has lost almost all of its mystery – and is tied instead to “unconstraining“ material (or spiritual) realities
that match our deepest imaginative and moral needs.
Blending Figuration and Geometric Abstraction
Introduction to Mondrian‟s Picture Number 2 (1921-25) in the painting Small Spiritual Volcano With an
Intelligent Sky Attempting to Appear Abstract etc.
By reducing the phenomenic world‟s variety and its “non-variants“ (i.e. its limited, constant constituents),
the fundamentals of language acquire an order so that their expressive mechanism can be identified and
investigated. But when such “primitive features“ are the outcome of a mathematical combinatory
process, they gain a clearer artistic value if they are interpreted differently, in a way that does not
exclude the depths of space. The primary-coloured areas bounded by black perpendicular lines (as in
Mondrian‟s paintings) can be seen not as unfathomable barriers but as coloured depths or disguising
mists. When placed in an ostensibly flat, impenetrable space, these barriers thwart and mortify the
intuitive-perceptive view that they are merely the outcome of a cognitively and emotively sterile display of
syntax, while instead they can usher in the secrets of the underlying reality if approached in figurative-
conceptual term, like the gates to a garden.
The restored connection with an “alien“ concrete nature does not imply a revisitation of pathetic lyricism
or of the tension between individualism and universalism, nor a resurgence of the “tragic“. Instead this
connection emerges in the painting as an environment created not for utilitarian or practical purposes
alone (which would be unacceptable on Planet Artù) but as something “pure and complete in its beauty”,
because its “naming“ has earned this quality.
The spiritualist element and the utopian force that are perhaps “the weakest point in Mondrian‟s
theoretical claims” are neutralised by inverting his fundamental tenets: the presence of a tragic conflict
and existential anguish. Anguish is indeed unknown on Planet Artù and very rare on Giò.
There is no need then to introduce an impersonal, subjective vision through conventional signs,
establishing a new, anti-naturalistic balance that drives out the anguish of subjective, personal
The mesh he created, however, is not altered but only placed interactively (in my painting) beside a
naturalistic image of Planet Artù to be its sky.
This addition stems from my intention to normalise images as part of an empirical experiment driven by
fancy and imagination, drawing inspiration from the intuitive threshold that underscores so much of
Mondrian‟s work which, accordingly, remained unfinished and contradicts – for expressive reasons – the
formalisation of pictorial language, its neoplastic code.
My insertion also resolves the unsolved difficulty of abstractism: the missing referent that is an
indispensable basis for intersubjective linguistic exchange – the “redundancy“ on which information is
Blending Figurative Art and Action Painting
Introduction to Pollock‟s work Number 7 (1950) in the picture Small Boats in Space, Village on the
Border with the Great Hedge etc.
By deliberately merging figuration and abstraction, I take Pollock and give him a figurative,
representative character.
In this case, the physical psycho-organic nature of informality is lost.
The rejection of all empirical referents, the utter alienation this entails and the re-enactment of its
creation in the experience of viewers, all dissolve into the new figurative-representative value of an alien
referent, of what is evoked by naming a title linked to the naturalism of planets Giò and Artù.
When the Informal is understood as a “poetics of open art” endowed with a fundamental indeterminacy
supplemented by the viewer‟s interpretation, the latter provides an orientation and “determines“ its
outcome by radically modifying its original goals (arising from an expressiveness linked to the sheer
pleasure of the performance, an automatic response triggered by the distribution of pictorial matter on
the canvas).
This helps to enlighten its general nature and highlights how, even without figurative features, informality
requires an explicit naming of the self and an openness without which it would evolve into something
else and acquire a range of figurative values.
When Pollock‟s work is introduced into my painting, it ceases to be (as argued so far by critics) an art of
pessimistic existential crises and becomes a hedge beyond which one is engulfed in the boundless joy
of a higher planet.
Pollock here, if properly understood, no longer points his finger at an irrational destiny.
Signs, gestures and matter, albeit amalgamated into mere pictorial substance (free of conforming
pressures), attain a figurative plane of naturalistic mimicry, as compared to the cosmic regions that
“might“ naturalistically correlate with the paintings. One cannot rule out that everything exists and
belongs to an immense, unknown natural world.
In such cases, “representation” occurs only through the artist‟s inner vision inspired by that nature, but it
is not easy to connect with this fantasy and view it as if the naming performed by the painting‟s title were
introductory to its interpretation.
Abstract Painting in a Figurative Context
When an abstract painting is placed, as part of its surroundings, within a figurative painting, it surrenders
its nature and acquires a figurative quality.
Taken separately it clearly retains its original (abstract) nature, but as part of its new surroundings it
loses that nature, which is no longer noticeable.
Under such conditions, the abstractness can be restored only by naming a title that overtly evokes its
nature. In the case considered, the picture‟s tendency to connect to – and almost merge with – its
surroundings, depends on its structure, made of powerful lines, colours and volumes. These are the
same elements that form the naturalistic world we all know, from which the painting differs only insofar
as it expresses forms with no name or function. The picture therefore has a figurative quality provided by
its connection to a reality whose attributes it shares but are, so to say, “unknown”, or by unrecognisable
portions of familiar forms.
Today the term abstract is reserved for something that awaits identification by means of a specific name
or function, something that escapes the classifying effort preliminary to any knowledge of this world and
yet part of it – at times as a dream or possibility, as a reality that is also intimate, on the threshold of
apparent reality.
Ergo: the task of discovery inherent in painting can also confront the form itself, thus inventing new forms
and assigning functions (or vice versa) which are linked to colour and its relative value or significance.
These include unusual forms that are either unexplored or associated with functions that are today
inexistent or fictional.
In astral sites of unidentified galaxies life pulsates and moves on.

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