The State of Continual Walking

Gulistan and Her Art

I met Gulistan this summer in Qingdao when we both took part in an art exhibition at the Qingdao Sculpture Park. During the course of our conversation, we both felt we should have known each other long before. She knows a lot of my friends, for her studio is near mine, and I know some of her friends. There are not many artists in this circle, and in particular, there are few graceful young women like her. I found her life and her art full of yearnings as I became more familiar with her.

It seems that she was born into art. When she was young, her family gave her a careful upbringing and she herself worked hard and made gradual progress. She was born into a mixed family of Uyghur and Han. Apparently, she inherited the art gene from her father, who is Han, who was an artist working for the army during the U.S.-Korean War. Gulistan loved drawing, music and dancing from her childhood. As a young girl, she specialized in dancing at the Xinjiang Art School. The excellent music and dance teachers from Shanghai began to develop her gift for art. At the same time, she received professional training in painting in her spare time. After graduation from secondary school, she became a hostess of a local TV program. She knew some professionals in the Scattered Cultural Heritage Office of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage when she was working in the cultural heritage system. She got the opportunity to inspect the historic sites of cultural relics and archeological sites and saw the paintings about the Silk Road published in Japan, which widened her view of art and added a historic realization and cultural accumulation that were not possessed by other people. Thus her thought space spread between the interweaving of history and art. The colorful world outside led her to Beijing for further study. During the five years of study in the Fine Arts College of the Central University for Nationalities, she improved her qualifications in painting. After graduation, she worked as an art teacher in a local Beijing college.

After this, she made further study in a post-graduate painting program, in which the well-known painter Shang Yang was her teacher. Currently, she is studying towards a Masters of Education from Australia’s Flinders University, which is developing her ability to know and feel the outside world directly and is expanding her artistic view to an international field. In Gulistan’s art world, the power of creation breaks forth like the sky full of stars. She always says that art is unable to know and that the exterior silhouette is the light of belief. She maintains her nature of being optimistic, active, open, quiet and gentle. She is weaving her own art world stably and continually, making use of all of her artistic resources in her paintings. In the past decades, she has created many paintings such as The Walking Series, The Self-Satisfaction Series, The Oriental Wandering Series, The Essence of Memory Series, The Memory of Time Series, and Contemplating the Middle Ages, among others. She says that good art needs the investment of time and the accumulation of sentiment and wisdom. Though a very sensitive artist, she needs to abstract her feelings and language of art so as to find her own way of expression.

The Walking Series includes a number of paintings about feet, shoes, walking persons and their bodies. There is a language similar to expressionism, being enthusiastic, changeable and moving. The blocky texture is saturated in its lively style and color. All these prove the imprint of time’s passing. The paintings in the series contain subtle visual metaphors which interact closely with Gulistan’s personal experiences and her thinking about life. She has a special love for the red dancing shoes that appear because she practiced dancing in her childhood and was influenced by the rhythm of music. The dancing body seems to connect her instant feeling with dancing and her abstract aesthetic experience of music. Everyone needs a suitable pair of shoes while walking to help him reach anywhere he wants to go. Gulistan’s road of art and life is appearing step by step. This series assembles her special experiences and rich feelings about life. While painting, she is like a bird flying with her thoughts and absorbed in the world of dreams and imaginations.

The Self-Satisfaction Series is the visual expression of her passion for music, which is an important part of her artistic life. After she entered art school at the age of 11, she began dancing to the sound of the piano. And for a very long time, the great classical musicians such as Chopin, Haydn, and Mozart often appear in her mind. Since she became an artist, she has always loved the tone of the piano. She thinks that the magnificent piano itself is actually a perfect sculpture which has moving visual strain. Its delicate craftsmanship, especially its tone, leads her into a character of feeling and thought. So in her paintings, she paints the piano in subjective, active and pure color. There is a kind of magic in her paintings. Music, dancing, vision, sentiment and thoughts are mixed together, which performs a symphony of life through the scene of the piano. In fact, music is obviously expressed in many of her paintings.

The French artist Chagall left a deep impression on Gulistan in his 1992 exhibition at the National Art Museum of China. She was instantly connected when she saw the flowing color and lines as well as the artist’s fresh energy of life. Other artists have also had a great influence on her like Giotto, Piero Della Francesca, and Tapies. Through their paintings, she realized the importance of the artists’ mind to the creation of art. She hopes to let her feelings flow freely in her creation. She is also aware of the brilliance of classical humanism—the euphoria and happiness from dreamlands, dreams and love. We can find the shadows of these western artists in some of her later paintings.

In Gulistan’s spiritual world, Chinese ancient culture and medieval history play an important role. She has a special relationship to history. In particular, the scenes filtered by time and the objects touched by several generations of people can activate her imagination and impulse to paint. This is not a simple nostalgia but an inspection of her life experience. In her paintings, people can see a great number of rich and solid textures, which not only serve the effect of the paintings but also meet the need of expressing exquisite historic sentiment. Her thoughts of the ancient Chinese cultures from her special central-Asian bloodline and the inspections of the rock caves and archaeological relics of the Silk Road make her greatly interested in her bloodline and her ancestors’ history, culture and communications with the central plain cultures in Europe. This is expressed obviously in The Oriental Wandering Series. In the series, she used traditional cultural signs such as the porcelain vases with blue flowers, ancient furniture, figures in the mural paintings of the tombs of the Han Dynasty, and masks of Xiyu, which were like memories and dreams and a kind of pursuit of the ancient culture of the east. While appreciating these paintings, one seems to pass through a time tunnel and wander through the culture in the east. In The Memory of Time Series, the visual signs representing different cultures were put together. For example, the painting of flowers and birds in the Song Dynasty and the marble sculptures of ancient Greece were put next to each other on two pages in one book, which showed the mixture of time and space. This is a common psychological sentiment nowadays.

In some sense, Gulistan’s paintings are searching for a core problem troubling modern Chinese in the context of modernization—where are we from and where are we to go? She is looking for the answer in her paintings.

Unlike the young artists who are anxious to find their own format and brand their own works so that their paintings can occupy a position in the market, Gulistan has created a great number of paintings to express her rich mental world, not paying much attention to the format and symbols. And this makes her creation obtain an extreme freedom. It is very important to such a young artist to have her own pursuits and thoughts. Though there are no evident individualized symbols in her paintings, they contain obvious individual temperaments of condensation, modesty, freeness, meditation, spirituality and introversion; therefore her style is like the breath released by a free soul and exists everywhere. It is hard to find an abstract form and a carrier for it, yet her work has a richness of meanings and is full of care.

People always regard art as the picture of the soul. Gulistan’s paintings reflect her mental experiences, her rich psychological life and her art qualifications. It is evident that her art reflects these natures. For an artist, all these natures are nourishments to make one successful. After over twenty years of effort, Gulistan’s art has reached a certain height. As a visitor to her art, I hope sincerely that her later art will care more about real life, that she can reconfirm her art qualifications and resources with feelings from real life so that she will complete the transformation from modern art to concept art and contemporary art, and that she will be able to expand into new spaces while keeping her original artistic view.

Zhaohui Zhang
1988: Bachelor’s Degree in Museology from Nankai University.
1995: Master’s Degree of Fine Art from the Graduate School of the China Art Academy.
1998: Degree in Contemporary Curatorial Studies from Bard College in New York.
Present: Ph.D. student at the Central Academy of Fine Art and a researcher at the Asia Art Archive of Hong Kong.