NASHUN NASHUNBATU, Untitled (Above the Clouds), 2014, oil on canvas, 100 × 160 cm. Courtesy Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

Stop Thinking, Start Breathing

Nashun Nashunbatu

Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong

“Stop Thinking, Start Breathing,” Pékin Fine Arts’s latest exhibition at their Hong Kong space, features the work of Nashun Nashunbatu. Nashunbatu, who was born in Inner Mongolia in 1969, received his graduate degrees in art from Germany and currently spends his time between Frankfurt and Beijing. Having lived overseas he is fluent in many languages, including Mongolian, Chinese, English and German. Similar to many contemporary Chinese artists who have risen to the international platform in recent years, he is well-traveled and well-educated and connects Western and Chinese culture—as well as their history and affairs—in his works. At first glance, when entering the gallery, one could feel a sense of traditional painting in Nashunbatu’s work, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is much more than that to his practice.

Influenced by the landscapes of Mongolia, Nashunbatu’s paintings come from his imagination. Nashunbatu states, “I don’t paint from real life. I don’t follow the latest dogma in constructing what is essential to my paintings.” The artist’s work makes the viewer question concepts found within traditional oil paintings. His paintings are recognizable as landscapes that might be seen in classical art galleries; however, they are not “traditional.” The dark palettes and flattened backgrounds within the canvases mix Eastern and Western styles in a subtle way. They seem to form collages of visual elements taken from the artist’s mind, which are emphasized by the simultaneous use of depth and flatness through the two different artistic styles.

Nashunbatu’s artistic practice is reminiscent of traditional oils, even in his application of paint on canvas. The artist prepares the canvas with rabbit bone glue, which prevents the work from too much stretching. The foreground of the painting is thick and consistent with historical Western painting styles. Nashunbatu’s work has been compared to art from the Romantic era, which typically used themes of nature’s power, unpredictability and chaos. In contrast, the background in his paintings are evocative of Chinese ink paintings and their soft clouds and brush strokes.

NASHUN NASHUNBATU, Untitled (Magpie), 2010, oil on canvas, 180 × 130 cm. Courtesy Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong.

The dark color scheme in Untitled (Above the Clouds) (2014) suggests a threatening, sinister atmosphere. Gloomy clouds appear as if they are just about to pour rain onto the vast lands, —which spread beyond a row of trees in the foreground—suggesting the arrival of a storm. There is a male figure in the corner, sitting atop one of the trees and looking at a mirror. His face is obscured, potentially to ensure that he stays a symbol of humanity rather than be a literal representation of humans themselves. He seems misplaced in the imagery, yet purposeful at the same time. Compared to conventional landscape paintings with people featured in them, the male figure in Nashunbatu’s painting is not the focus of the work; rather, his presence is seen as being equal to, or perhaps even less significant than, the rolling storm clouds in the back. However, the man inevitably becomes our focus, as we naturally identify with the concept of humanity, which he symbolizes.

In Untitled (Magpie) (2010), the colors used are consistent with that of the rest of the show. Here the artist, again, utilizes his international influences. The view portrayed in Untitled (Magpie) looks up at a cave opening and down onto a shallow, underground pool of water. There is also a magpie in the painting. Traditionally, in Chinese imagery, a magpie represents good news on the horizon. This, paired with light coming in through the opening, suggests a feeling of hope. However, despite such connotations, the painting also exudes a feeling of unknown and mystery, as what lies beyond the cave and water is not clear.

Nashunbatu’s work defies the constraints of traditional painting, while combining his culture, heritage and experiences. The large-scale canvases have a commanding presence, and even though they all have a similar palette, each work is noticeably individual. The presence of human figures makes the paintings recognizable yet unfamiliar. The artist’s imagined landscapes create intense, ominous atmospheres and urges the viewer to question what is happening or about to take place. It also entices our mind to ponder what is beyond the imagined landscapes.

Nashun Nashunbatu: Stop Thinking, Start Breathing” is on view at Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong, until February 14, 2015.