Wind from the Valley, 1988 signed and dated 'Ai Xuan 1988' and inscribed in Chinese (lower left) oil on canvas 36 x 28 1/4in. (91.4 x 71.7cm)
PROVENANCE: Hefner Galleries, Inc., New York. Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Ai Xuan's powerful paintings capture desolate atmosphere and solitary mood. His images serve as personal reflections on the human will and encourage viewers to ponder the spiritual and possibly divided relationship of man and nature. As a product of the Down to the Countryside movement during the Cultural Revolution, Ai Xuan experienced many setbacks in his early life as a painter - ultimately shaping his artistic practice. The artist secretly carried on with his painting while laboring in the rural village of Zhangjiakou when as a youth. In the years after the conclusion of the Cultural Revolution, and in the rise of the Chinese Avant Garde movement, Ai Xuan carved himself an important role in the snowballing movement of theoretical Realism.
The trend of realism changed profoundly after the Cultural Revolution. No longer did realism serve to bolster the image of Mao Zedong; instead artists harnessed the powers of realism to depict their emotional wounds from his command and legacy. Appropriately termed "Scar painting", this avenue of realism flourished in the new avant-garde community. While many artists of the period focused on portraying their own personal wounds through direct representation, Ai Xuan turned to the depiction of others to inform his own scarring.
Inspired by the people and landscape of Tibet, Ai Xuan's paintings imbue a powerful energy of deep sadness and distance. Often placing a lone figure within a snowy terrain of ominous desolation, Ai Xuan reflects upon the themes of hardship and the solitariness of life. However heavy and dark, ultimately, the strength of Ai Xuan's work comes with his uncanny representation of the theme of persistence. Particularly in his use of children, Ai Xuan comments on the strength and steadfastness of humanity even in the harshest of climates.
Wind from the Valley serves as a poignant example of his work. Unlike many of his images featuring a frontal figure with an intense gaze, the child in this painting is turned in profile, determined and moving forward out of the picture plane. Set in an ambiguous snowy atmosphere, the scene is cold and harsh yet it affirms the figure's determination to persist.
The realization in Ai Xuan's works, echoed by other avant-garde peers, brings new meaning and expanse to the practice of realism. Inspired by artist Andrew Wyeth, Ai Xuan's paintings bring an instantaneous directness to the ebb and flow of the human will. His exploration of the human condition, particularly when juxtaposed with unruly nature, exposes the raw emotion of bitterness, as well as the mysteries of the human will to persist.