Magic and Reason, Pulling on the Rope of Imagination This article is written by Dewi Dian Reich.
Magic and Reason, Pulling on the Rope of Imagination…The opening of ‘Truth Be Told.. Imaginary Doubts’ is our first feature on an international emerging artist in our local community. The values we strive to cultivate as an artist community and a gallery include the vitality inherent in intellectual explorations. These explorations are an important part of an authentic creative process. Nurturing creativity and functioning as a facilitator for those thoughts, questions and dialogues to be communicated to a wider audience. That we may have conversations that inspire, that challenge and revitalise the creative instincts in each other.
I have a big part in myself that is uncertainty.. that is why there are two extremes, and both are part of me. Magic and reason.. are the contrasts.
Imagination is freedom.. its a place without rules, without restrictions.. or maybe it is art. Reason is realism, without imagination.
When I think about the values we are striving for, Shuai Feng’s works engage many meaningful things to explore. This is a feature on the works of one artist. Her process, influences, and the stories poured into her work stand independently. We can appreciate them, their beauty and their uniqueness, according to our own personal tastes.
The Source of Creativity
However, in addition to that, there are interesting observations about the undeniable power of the creative force. Does it stand independent even from ourselves and our identity? Does it wield itself as part of a greater consciousness? and are we merely channels and conduits for its flowing energy?
As an artist, Shuai came about her gift in painting very suddenly and already as a mature adult. One day discovering that she can paint, without deliberate intention to pursue art in her life, shows how powerful a creative force within each person can be. It is almost as though it is independent of our will and will compel its presence in life whether we seek it or not.
These occurrences of visual imagery emerge through an unconscious channel, yet they connect somehow to another point in time echoing a similar reality.
Left and below: The self portrait with gecko and rabbit was painted prior to the photograph taken several years later reminiscent of this similar composition.
Some ironies are present here. Shuai Feng herself has an ongoing debate in her consciousness. A debate between two opposing world views that are both fighting for dominance in her conscious mind. Causing what she recognises as a strong element of uncertainty in her life. Because these two opposing sides both compel their argument.. trying to find proof of concrete truth.
The Side of ‘Reason’ vs ‘Magic’
On one side, as a student of anthropology and with a worldview strongly anchored in scientific logic she identifies herself as an atheist. We shall call this the side of ‘Reason’. On the other side of this argument, is one that we shall call the side of ‘Magic’. What is defined here as ‘Magic’ is an encompassing word that addresses things not easily explained by scientific deductions. Perhaps touching on the spiritual, supernatural and divine.
As an artist whose process is centred on defining self-identity, these two opposing world views seem quite contradictory. Yet through her art, she is forming connections between them. Discovering that what ties them to each other is in fact, imagination. The rope of imagination which is being tugged by two opposing forces is where both realities can meet and play together. In this dimension, her dimension of freedom without restrictions is where she asks her questions and lets go of reality.
I visualise a tug of war, each pulling strongly to win on its side. The side of reason and the side of Magic. Reason rules, but yet, does magic exist? The connecting pathways are that of imagination.
Magic and reason.. are the contrasts. Imagination is freedom.. its a place without rules, without restrictions.. or maybe it is art. Reason is realism, without imagination.Shuai Feng
In one respect she is an artist whose creative compulsions were driven by a need to explore identity. In search of it with a strong need to also communicate it. As a natural outcome of this, her expressions and visual references are based on portraits. The need to define herself and find a concrete certainty in how the world perceives her. As well as to tell her story.
Working mostly in portraiture on canvases. Using acrylics and oils is how Shuai usually works through her process. However, during a certain period in her life throughout the years 2020 through 2021, the relationships that formed also challenged the boundaries she had set for herself. In their way, these intimate bonds perhaps unknowingly contributed to the shifting of boundaries of her self-definition. Her creative energy soon experienced being in an environment where individual and collective identities seemed to have less clear boundaries but instead melded together.
The push and pull between ‘reason’ and ‘magic’ seemed to have found a fuel in which to propel forwards in her exploratory works. With surreal and symbolic elements becoming more pronounced. Oftentimes I find they are reminiscent of a similar enigmatic surrealism as that of the works of Leonora Carrington. A similar boldness, and unapologetic bluntness.
A Watercolour Chapter
During this time, Shuai uses watercolours much more often. Often combining her visual expression with people that have formed strong bonds with her in collaborative works painted together. Perhaps by the breaking down of these walls of self-identity more of her subconscious creativity.. thoughts and questions emerged more visibly through her watercolour sketches and illustrations.
The ‘Magic’ of Weird Bird
In these watercolours, we begin to see a theme of strange animals and shapes. There is a recurring theme. A theme of strange-looking birds appears throughout her illustrations during this period of time. By this time, the process of defining her identity as well as her exploration for ‘Truth’ is immersed in the freedom of imagination. The symbolism of her work explodes in a strong gush, in her watercolour series. She is drawn to natural elements in Nature and identifies the shape of the weird bird as somewhat akin to her ‘Soul’.
Her surrealist portrait presentations extend to the way she interprets her relationships and her world. People present in her life sometimes make an appearance through symbolic and conceptual representations layered with symbolism.
Losing Boundaries Opening Vision
Prominent relationships take on roles in her work, their shapes morphed between the logical and the bizarre. Yet, we cannot deny that when seeing these images, their emotional language is clear and direct. Perhaps it is through intuition, that we can sense and understand the truth in her story. Emotional components play a more dominant role in the themes of her portraits, represented through surrealist imaginary representations.
In the watercolour illustration ‘Relationship I’ we see an image displaying a woman. here is a shark swallowing her head. And her lower limbs are decapitated. Followed by ‘Four Eyes’. Here in this image, we see two characters that do not stand alone but instead they merge into one. The clarity of individual boundaries. Identities have morphed together.
She begins to explore her dream world and incorporates her dream consciousness into her visual storytelling.
Echoes and ripples, not just for sound and water?
In a recurring pattern of rueful synchronicity, the images that emerge from her free imagination come back to her. Often in surprising visual reminders at a later time in her life. Perhaps like ripples connected, made by the same pebble thrown into a lake. Perhaps it is this thought that I find most intriguing. That creative intuition comes to us from a connected source. One that recognises not time, country or culture.
Imagination, a human invention?
Throughout my conversations with Shuai, I discover that the scientific mind of the artist explores the notion that perhaps ‘imagination’ is a human tendency to enhance life. Human beings often feel dissatisfaction with reality. And they will create stories to compel ‘more’ from their experiences. More to their stories inevitably means more to their lives. Perhaps for that life to be more bearable. She does not believe this to be an absolute, but just one possibility of the truth behind the power of imagination.
Because maybe because you don’t want to accept a boring life.. imagination is about a human being.. not being good enough perhaps about life not being what you expect and you create something more,.. some more story for yourself.. they are going to be the story,.. they are going to be more because they keep building stories.. for the beginning. Human being feels that life is not good so they create imagination…
Shuai Fengs’ creative journey takes her on an adventure. One that is full of the daring energy so identifiable to the person she is. The interesting question her work raises perhaps already provides their answer. Even in a mind strongly grounded in logic, the creative instinct challenges our reason. Intuitively guiding us towards visualisations that seem to challenge our preconditioned reality yet somehow brings us to a clear truth within our reality.
Separate from our visual appreciation, the hallmarks of an artist with a strong creative language and individual identity have already started to take form very early in her creative journey. What I find to be beautiful and meaningful here is that I feel the works by Shuai are honest in their questions and honest in their uncertainties. How willing an artist is willing to be honest with himself or herself, and allowing their works to reflect that self-honesty is perhaps what I find the most valuable gift an artist can offer to anyone.
Truth Be Told
The truth is the most powerful force.Shuai Feng
In seeking to find her truth, there is an insistence to reveal a concrete truth. Through this process, we witness the compelling power of creative intuition, which in itself defies the limitations enforced by perceived realities. The artist feels a strong presence of uncertainty in her life. Yet, her truth through creativity, in trusting this creative force, is none other than trusting a force akin to ‘magic’ and spiritual in her life. Perhaps those doubts have already revealed they are in fact imaginary. Existing only on the rope that ties together two ends of one reality.
The Art of Shuai Feng
14th October -17th November