Xie Nanxing, Untittled, 1999, Oil on canvas, 190/150 cm. (Coll. Navartis, Suisse, Urs Meile gallery, Lucerne).

Xie Nanxing, Seducing the Viewer and Amusing Himself at the Same Time

Xie Nanxing, untitled (No. 2), 2009, charcoal and oil on canvas, 220 x 325 cm.

Xie Nanxing, We N. 3, 2009, oil on canvas, 210 x 160 cm.

Xie Nanxing, We N. 1, 2009, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm.

Xie Nanxing, We N. 2, 2009, oil on canvas, 220 x 150 cm.


Galerie Urs Meile
Number 104
caochangdi cun
cui gezhuang xiang
Chaoyang district
+ 86 10 643 333 93
Stepfather Has an Idea! – Xie Nanxing
May 22-July 9, 2010


Many classic fairytales from our childhood have taught us about the character of the step-parent: that viciously tricky figure who, incredibly talented in tyrannizing the good-hearted protagonist, is capable of any kind of wickedness in an effort to derail all the hero’s constructive plans. It is with knowing accuracy and pleasure in subtle conspiracy that Xie Nanxing *1970, Chongqing, China) amuses himself in a self-styled stepfather role and draws the viewer into psychological games, starting with the choice of the name for his one-man show at Galerie Urs Meile Beijing-Lucerne, Stepfather Has an Idea! Reminiscent of a crucial passage abruptly excerpted from the middle of an unknown story, the title verbalizes the associative process that Xie Nanxing induces in the observer through the pictorial medium. In earlier oil paintings executed until 2008, by means of the artist’s unique, evolving, masterly technique and an intriguing interweaving of light and shadow, Xie Nanxing seduces the observer with alluring dreamlike images that, serving as intentionally staged visual déjà vu, stimulate the observer’s curiosity, inner recollections, emotions, and darkest sides of the subconscious mind.

Stepfather Has an Idea! features two new series of works, each comprised of three paintings, which constitutes the whole production by Xie Nanxing between 2009 and the beginning of 2010. Although Xie Nanxing’s conceptual leitmotifs — such as sexuality and psychology — are conspicuously detectable in all the six recent paintings, the two series We (2009) and untitled (2009-2010) not only dramatically differ with respect to content and style, but embody a further — and even more noticeable — experimental shift in Xie Nanxing’s research.  Since the 2008’s blue series of 3 works, entitled The First Round of a Whip (also known as The), in which the artist enacted a pictorial transposition of the Freudian theory of the Slip of the Tongue, Xie Nanxing has been more openly dealing with the relation between two different forms of language: painting on one hand, and writing on the other.

In The First Round With a Whip (No. 1, 2, 3), 2008, what at first seems to be monochromatic, semi-abstract and almost cartoon-like silhouettes gradually appear to the viewer, eventually turning into figurative subjects immersed in a hallucinatory, fluid-like three-dimensional atmosphere. In those paintings it is only after a long observation that the viewer is able to slowly identify a deeper narrative connection among the three images, each looking like disconnected stills from the same unfathomable story. After this stylistic climax in balancing abstraction and representation was reached in 2008, the next series Xie Nanxing created in the following year technically subverts the previous one, and this in order to put the observer in the condition of focusing on a totally dissimilar subject matter. Openly referring to the recent history of art, in this figurative series Xie Nanxing reinterprets three lesser known works by Francis Picabia (Paris, 1879-1953), analyzing the social, artistic, political and private aspects in the life and career of this irreverent and much discussed artist. The title “We” reveals the closeness Xie Nanxing perceives to the French/Spanish master in terms of unceasing artistic experimentation and the sensual dimension of the works. The three works Xie Nanxing reproduces in a larger scale and in black and white are Femmes au Bull-Dog (1940-1942), Deux Femmes au Pavots (1942) and Nu (1942), originally colourful realist nudes, drawn from source materials that included pin-ups, postcards, pulpy photo novels and erotica, realized during the period when Picabia was no longer actively engaged in the avant-garde mainstream. Xie Nanxing’s decision to newly paint the works in black and white is due to the will to stress the division in judgment of the critics during Picabia’s time. When Picabia’s paintings first appeared, a small number of critics positively commented that these works were aimed to ironically and provocatively oppose a contemporary, mass-produced kitsch aesthetic to the classical concept of beauty found in the works of famous nude painters like Ingres. The majority of the experts, however, labelled them as purely commercial and deprived of any genuine artistic value. Like a wink to Picabia, the only written statement with which Xie Nanxing directly glosses each of the three paintings belonging to the series “We” is the signature, jocularly made up of the transliteration of Picabia’s surname into Chinese characters.

The use of the written language plays a central role in the most recent series, untitled (No. 1, 2, 3), 2009-2010. In these paintings, Xie Nanxing carries out an extreme formal simplification, where the figures are turned into basic shapes and both the identification of the characters and the description of the scene, including tactile, visual and olfactory sensations, is made possible by deciphering a few hints, namely, the Chinese characters left on the canvas as they were clues in a mystery. The artist’s personal reinterpretation of the fairytale Snow White, with its strong sexual/ironical allusions and a crescendo of violence culminating in untitled (No. 3), suggests either an orgy or the perpetration of a group rape in the framework of a seemingly incestuous family relationship. In untitled (No. 1) 220 x 385 cm, and untitled (No. 3) 220 x 385 cm, the composition indeed recalls a crime scene sketch-map reminiscent of those employed by the police in the reconstruction of a murder, where the “victim” — Snow White — lays in the centre, surrounded by the seven other characters. Besides the structure, untitled (No. 1) and untitled (No. 3) share Xie Nanxing’s distinctive pictorial technique where the Chinese characters are not written but treated as any other part of the painted composition, and thus appear blurred to the eye. Unlike the other two works, untitled (No. 2), 220 x 325 cm, smaller in size, is arranged and painted in a significantly different way. This is because the artist wants the observer to use other means to discover the image, and also due to the fact that the function of text differs from the other works in the series. When looking at the painting, the viewer initially sees Xie Nanxing’s personal notes quickly scribbled in charcoal at the margins of the work, abstract blots of colour in the centre of the composition, and only a few fragments of bodies, represented in a comic-like style, appearing outside the borders of a second, smaller missing painting that has eventually been removed from the canvas. In order to imagine the picture Xie Nanxing originally painted, the onlooker is therefore forced to analyze the few visible figurative traces through which the well-known fable comes back into mind — the bow in the hair of Snow White, the cap of a dwarf — and to slowly follow the image toward the centre of the picture. What tells us that this painting is not a mere reproduction of a famous image from our infancy are the instructions the artist seems to have recorded only for himself, such as, “pay attention to the gesture of the hands”, “testicle”, “passivity” or again, knowing Xie Nanxing’s code, “stepdaughter’s second adventure.”

Xie Nanxing, untitled (no.2), 2006, Oil on canvas, 220 x 385 cm, Courtesy Goetz Collection.

Xie Nanxing, untitled, 2003, Oil on canvas, 150 x 360 cm, Courtesy: Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.

Xie Nanxing, untitled, 2001, Oil on canvas, Courtesy Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.

Xie Nanxing, The First Round With a Whip No. 3 (also known as The Wave No. 3) 2008, oil on canvas, 219 x 384 cm., Courtesy: Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.

Tricking the Viewer's Eye, Xie Nanxing's Slips of the Tongue on Canvas

Xie Nanxing, untitled no. 1, 2006, Oil on canvas, 220 x 385 cm.

Xie Nanxing,We No. 1, 2009,Oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, Courtesy: Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.

Xie Nanxing, untitled, 2000, Oil on canvas, 190 x 150 cm, Courtesy Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.

Xie Nanxing, untitled, 1999, Oil on canvas, 150 x 190 cm, Courtesy Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.


Galerie Urs Meile
Number 104
caochangdi cun
cui gezhuang xiang
Chaoyang district
+ 86 10 643 333 93
Big Show – Xie Nanxing
November 8, 2008-
January 11, 2009


If I were to describe Xie Nanxing (b. 1970, Chongqing), I would call him a rabid perfectionist, probably the perfectionist par excellence in the art of setting enthralling visual traps aimed to deliberately bewitch and faze the viewer. With the commitment and manic precision of a spider, Xie Nanxing spends over two months spinning each of his pictorial webs, eventually creating an incredibly variegated and almost hallucinatory texture of colour and light with the power to ensnare passing observers’ eyes and trigger their unconscious desires and fears.

In reference to the series of three 220x385 cm oil paintings created in 2008, Xie Nanxing makes one of his distinctive, seemingly innocuous assertions: “When, under casual circumstances, somebody misstates a word and happens to utter unpredictable and bizarre formulations — for example, I want to say ‘glass’, I have a glass clear in my mind, but I end up saying ‘bread’ instead — such 'mistakes' always involve a primary desire, the insatiable desire for expression”.

Far beyond a mere allusion to the theory of the Freudian slip (lapsus linguae, or "slip of the tongue"), Xie Nanxing’s pronouncement conceals his real interest: to orchestrate, by means of transposing the concept of the "slip of the tongue" on canvas, an alluring yet unfair game that the artist plays not only with the observer, but also with himself.

One of Xie Nanxing’s targets — or so it seems — is to destabilize and surprise the viewer (himself included) by the calculated insertion of what could be regarded as "slips of the eye," booby-traps that the artist sets in advance with strategic accuracy. With these "mistakes", Xie Nanxing stalks new possibilities for his artistic experimentation and, at the same time, serves up unfocussed visual mysteries that relentlessly tease spectators’ acknowledged logical perception of the image.

Xie Nanxing consistently and purposely constructs technical barriers in order to create a distance between his original expressive intent and the final result — the painted canvas. If the source material for the photo-realistic works of the late 1990s rested strictly on photography and its distorting effects (fish-eye lenses, over- or under-exposed light, unconventional angle shots), since 2001, the number of media employed by the artist

in the multi-layered preparatory process has increased in number, series after series. In each work from 2008, for example, the reference photographs that Xie Nanxing shot directly from a TV screen are preceded respectively by still frames from the video of a source painting visually altered by being flipped and back-lit.

Each of the three small-sized source paintings is in turn inspired by one of three sketches — and these represent the first such occurrence among Xie Nanxing’s productions the artist made based on images from advertisement billboards he chanced to see in Beijing that captured his imagination.

Previously, Xie Nanxing’s works were more closely related to elements derived from reality — albeit knowingly misrepresented. The 2008 series infiltrates a completely visionary, flustered, cartoon-like parallel world in which dark figurative forms slowly emerge in their full intensity after a long contemplation of what, at first sight, looks like a fuzzy, semi-abstract composition. “Painting is like a show window”, Xie Nanxing proclaims, “you can place everything in there — any specific object or something you just painted by yourself — and yet somehow always convey the impression of a visible and ‘objective’ reality. Painting has such a vast capacity, it is such a humongous space … I just let this distance exist … many spaces do not need to be filled completely”.

The works belonging to the 2008 series come wreathed in a semi-transparent, vividly blue atmosphere in which formally simplified figures appear suspended, as if floating in a liquid element. On this point, the artist confides: “This is the bluest and most mischievous series of works I have ever painted. This mischievousness resides, among other things, in the fact that the surface of these paintings visually invokes distinct layers of swaying waves whose unceasing movements render the figures in the depths not readily identifiable”.

When viewing Xie Nanxing’s paintings from the 2008 series, spectators’ eyes, like a camera lens focusing, start an attentive process of image-detection. As if the canvasses were film negatives placed against a luminous source, nebulous human shapes gradually come into relief, thrust to the fore by the artist’s painted light intruding from behind.

If a harsh, alienating glare seems to physically transfix the subjects from the back, generating an impression of aggressive intrusion in Xie Nanxing’s works from the so-called “billiard tables” series (2005), the pictorial rendering of the light in the 2008 series imparts an even more uncanny and disquieting feeling. In the recent blue series, this perception is further exacerbated by the monochromatic synthesis of the subjects with the background, as well as by Xie Nanxing’s pictorial use of inverted light and darkness, in a manner reminiscent of the engraving process characterized by xylography — a technique all too familiar to Xie Nanxing from his specialised studies at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. With their evanescent, elongated, comic-strip bodies and their almost completely obliterated features, the characters crowding Xie Nanxing’s 2008 works swarm like eerie phantoms that, behind a childlike appearance, hide ambiguous and unspeakable secrets. As soon as the viewer registers such elements as the exact same uniform worn by the subjects in all three works, or the much taller, differently-clothed human figure with raised hands and an inexplicable smirk on its face that towers in the middle of the group in the first canvas, the search for a conceptual connection among the canvasses takes flight. The observer’s voyeuristic lusting to disrobe the truth and unearth the plot of a story might, however, be requited with an unexpected lash of the whip, as suggested by the title of the series The First Round with a Whip (No. 1, 2, 3), also known as The Wave (No. 1, 2, 3). “Education is often somehow related to punishment”, art professor Xie Nanxing sardonically affirms. “Education might be an occasion to attain mutual satisfaction … if I staged all this in my current works, it is in order to let the bellwether and the younger sheep following it mutually fulfill their wishes. Perhaps this is the finest result of education”.

Just what is this desire, this wish that Xie Nanxing brands "romantic"? As director of his “big show of yearnings”, Xie Nanxing plays along with the observer, slips himself right into the game and then, eventually, his ultimate hope perhaps is simply to be unmasked.

Xie Nanxing, He no. 2, 2007, Oil on canvas, 148 x 360 cm, Courtesy Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.

Xie Nanxing, He no. 1, 2007, Oil on canvas, 148 x 360 cm, Courtesy Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.

Xie Nanxing, untitled, 2002, Oil on canvas, 150 x 360 cm., Courtesy Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.