If nothing else, China is a land full of stories. Everyone has one, and each generation's tales differ wildly from those of the next. "History in the Making: Sketches for Iconic Paintings" is the artistic equivalent of getting the back story to a number of paintings by a large group of artists whose body of work came to visually define a political movement, a revolution and an entire generation.
While the finished paintings—small copies of which are found just below the sketches—are fascinating pieces of history, the drawings are what really pique the imagination. It's like looking into a private sketchbook, filled with half-finished ideas and thoughts. What was the artist imagining as he drew? What had his instructions been? What kind of room or circumstances was he or she sketching these in?
The titles of the finished works indicate the reasons for their commission, with titles such as Dong Xiwen's One Million Heroes Head South, or Lin Gang's Our Glorious Years, but the sketches personalize them beyond intended mass use, created not by a state machine, but by a flesh and blood person considering the way the light might be falling on the faces of a band of soldiers marching through the countryside.
The works are done in the Socialist Realist style of the time, and the obvious skill with which these artists rendered them is admirable. The sketches are at a level of technical proficiency increasingly rare in modern contemporary art. Spanning the years 1960-1979, they are a glimpse of the art scene in China at a very specific period of time, one that differs so much from today's that they are incomparable.
One of the best things about the challenging months spent tracking down these artists and their works from around the country was bringing so many of them together for the opening, gallery owner Hadrien de Monterrand told us. Many had known each other in their youth, and this was a reunion. We can only imagine the stories they must have recounted after so many years apart—stories we are content to wonder about as we gaze at their sketches.
What: History in the Making: Sketches for Iconic Paintings
Where: Hadrien de Montferrand Gallery
When: through June 3