The Fantastic World of the Kaleidoscope

During his time at Yunnan Academy of Art (2001-2006), Guo Peng worked hard but ignored his proper duties at school, just like me. He majored in sculpture, but engaged in contemporary art with a group of feverish young experimental artists without looking back. From live art to installation art to performance art, Guo Peng explored different art forms, and gradually found his own way of creating photography-based work. He independently accumulated a lot of experience making art when he was still in school, a rare thing among those Yunnan art students.

His first foray into photography involved a kind of performance – recording couples’ happy moments with one-inch photos, developing those photos in his humble darkroom which was once his kitchen, coloring them with tea, trimming fancy borders, then drying them. When the photos were done, he sent them back to those couples. It was warm and sincere. Maybe in the process of coloring photos with tea, he recalled a childhood memory: our parent’s generation used to color their black and white photos, the impressive scarlet lips and expressed the romantic family sensibility of the 1960’s and 1970s, yearning for a colorful world in times of scantiness. After the popularization of the color photo, hand coloration was of course abandoned. And now people modify their digital images with Photoshop. Hand-colored photography is vanishing, but is re-used by Guo Peng, a post 80’s artist.

From 2003 to 2005, Guo Peng used this out of date method to work on different contemporary subject matters. He re-took pictures of cover girls, garden landscapes, city squares, ruins, puppets, Pecking Opera on the TV screen, and other images he happened upon, hand-coloring them, creating a nostalgic and wistful feeling. These pocket-size photos were kept in an old photo album, becoming the memory of the family. Such work seemed the result of indulging oneself in private images. Since 2005,in order to get rid of this nostalgic style, he started developing A4 size silver salt black and white photos, the biggest size one could develop at home. Here he focused on water, reflected images, lotuses, rockeries and trees, totally fascinated with certain delicate qualities of light. He gradually formed his own method and style evoking the literati’s ideal landscape through hand-colored black and white photos.

The diffuse and mottled colors in the dreamlike scenes of this series of works attract and confuse us at the same time: we can hardly tell it is true or fake. Guo Peng explored different possibilities within a limited space. For example, he borrowed the idea of coloring old pictures to awaken and decorate the black and white world; coloring a photo according to its original lines to create the feeling of modern design; or dividing the picture into wave-like color domains. These photographs give a sensation of a dizzying dreamland, just like the fantastic world of the kaleidoscope, like a huge projector casting gorgeous colors from the overarching sky.

Guo Peng is a quiet and thoughtful person. He enjoys his domestic life, has very healthy habits, and spends a lot of time meditating, reading and writing. He’s not slaving for anyone – I really envy such life condition. Recently, he’s been thinking about why Chinese literati sapped their spirit by playing crickets.

Suddenly I realized there are quite a few young Kunming artists who are living independent lives. They haven’t given up their dreams, they haven’t gotten caught up in the market, and they just cultivate their art with plain living and a peaceful mood. Guo Peng is a special one among them.

Written by Luo Fei
2008.4.10
Translator :Zhou qiao

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