Diamond & Pearls 金剛與舍利子: 永恆的智慧

Wang Zhigang. New paintings 王志剛作品展 

with photographs by Zoey Li 李瑤「凡人」劇照

March 26-May 25 2016

Working in acrylic on canvas, Wang Zhigang paints the head of the Buddha and seated Buddha figures 坐佛 on multiple canvases. He set out to paint "multiples" of the Buddha--China's biggest celebrity. This falls in the lineage of Andy Warhol's silkscreen images of celebrities from the 1970s, he says, with a wink. Mass -produced art may well have started with religious icons and ritual, and Wang returns to the core of this practice, in effect.


He reenvisions the Buddha and śarīra pearls in his work.


In autumn 2015, 512 of the head of the Buddha covered a two-meter wall, with one thousand and eight canvases, each 15 x 15 cm in size, positioned end to end at the Nanjing Institute of Fine Arts. On Wang's request, a Buddhist priest blessed the images (kaiguang 開光), as a kind of performance art.  Li Shan (b. 1942) joined in this performance at the opening reception, painting a pink lotus on the mannequin of a pregnant woman with the Buddha painted on her belly.


In 2015, Wang began a new series of paintings that reflect on the impermanence of the physical world and the fragility of the body.  He arrived at this by chance, after a visit to the hospital to X-ray his spine. He found the blue-on-black images of damaged vertebrae complement the stone surface of statues he paints in acrylic on canvas.


The śarīra (sheli 舍利) or "pearls" are what remain when a Boddhisattva is cremated. These are jewel-like relics, also called "bone shards," that can be seen as permanent remains of detachment from the material realm, temptation, and desire.


There is a sensation of stone in Wang's paintings, solid and real, to the eye, but an illusion. The bone in the body is impermanent, that is reality.  Such interplay between permanence and transcience is a concern in the Diamond Sutra (Jin'gang jing 金剛經). As Wang says, the sutra is impenetrable, and those people who recognize that the meaning eludes them are enlightened. The people who think they know its meaning have not yet grasped it.


Zoey Li's photographs from Being Mortal are inspired by the experience of seeing a family member on life support, and crystallized after seeing the x-ray juxtaposed with stone surface in Wang's paintings. A talented lighting designer, she selected images from her graduate show for the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. 


Fourteen X-ray Buddha images are in the current show, and sixty black-and-white images of the head of the Buddha, each painted by hand, identical but each unique.


Wang's first solo show in Hong Kong also features ten Buddha heads painted in gold, 15 cm square, from a series of 100 hand-painted images, which shimmer and seem to move as the light changes through the day. The paintings are sculptural in effect, as seen on the left.  


A set designer and artist based in Shanghai, Wang Zhigang has been a full-time fine artist since 1996. His works are in private collections in Shanghai, Changzhou, Canton, Japan, and the U.S.