Tag Archives: photo realism

Tian Taiquan, The Red Army Graveyard

"Lost No 7", by Tian Taiquan

Working through my backlog of neat art, I found the work of Tian Taiquan. Or, rather, it had been so many months since I bookmarked his show that it wasn’t up any more and I had to go and re-find his work. But, whatever, I’ve got it here now.

I found several series of his work, and most of them revolve around exploring what might be the last Red Army graveyard. I’m not up to speed on my Chinese culture as Cor and Roose might be, and so far the best criticisms I’ve found of Tian’s work are rather badly translated, so I might miss some of the context here, but he apparently works a lot with the concepts of ghosts to try and reconcile the undeniability of what happened and what the graveyard signifies while at the same time speaking to how Chinese culture has a seeming intent to ignore it, to purposefully forget about it. In a refreshing bout of translation lucidity, one critic said of Tian’s work:

He is trying to express a sense of sensibility between the forgotten and the unforgettable, as well as between the forgotten and the recollection.

-Yang Xiaoyan

Stepping more comfortably into what I can grasp, his work often uses photomanipulation to convey figures–typically a young, attractive woman in military garb–in various states of spectrality or dissolution. There’s a feeling of haunted in most of the pieces, and while some push the manipulation too far, many more succeed in creating an atmosphere of nostalgia, and of concern. The series “Lost” features this motif most strongly, while “Marks” absracts the idea of the female figure down to glimpses and fragments melded with the cracked and breaking tombstones. “Totem” apparently explores the re-emergence of sexuality after the Cultural Revolution.

The series “Salvation,” though, strays from the more photomanipulative body of his work into what I’m comfortable calling photo-illustration (a term more loaded now than ever, thanks to online forums and the ongoing war about what a photograph is and isn’t in the digital age). They communicate much more abstractly, and combine photograph elements with a more illustrative flair and nuance.

A good chunk of Tian Taiquan’s work, including all the series above, can be found here (at least as of writing this post):


And, should you want to wade through the iffy translations for some critical insight into his work, find that here (click on Articles in the upper right):


What’s Up With Ultra-Realism?

by Diego Gravinese

So, let’s get it out of the way: there is no doubt in my mind that artists who work in a photo-realistic style– that is, in a style that without immense scrutiny is indiscernible from real life or a photograph–have immesne and extraordinary talent, and deserve all due recognition for it. But, other than feathers in the cap for technical skill, I don’t get the point. Technical skill does not itself make art, if it did Flickr’s approximately 18 billion technically flawless macro shots of flowers and elapsed landscape shots of water crashing on rocks would seriously threaten Christie’s business model.

by Juan Francisco Casas

And that’s because—for photography, at least—we’ve accepted that technical merit alone does not equal art. It equals technical merit, while art is retained for something that captures an idea, emotion, or moment. So why is photo-realism in painting, a medium that long ago abandonned capturing life verbatim once the camera tripped onto the scene, so popular right now?

Don’t get me wrong, artists like Diego Gravinese and Juan Francisco Casas (both pictured, linked, and found on Artist A Day) make good images. I’m just saying I’d like them identically as photographs and not just paintings (or ballpoint pen drawings) that look just like photographs. Again, other than the “oh wow” factor, which is transient, I don’t understand what this retrogressive technique adds to the image.

I suspect, whatever the artist’s intentions, the popularity has to do with the notable trend currently of ditrusting anything but the most authentic image, because of a fear of forever being lied to spurred by the digital revolution. It’s popular currently to cling to the insane notion that there’s an ‘honest’ way to create images that doesn’t distort, alter, edit, and lie the moment you frame a slice of infinite, 3 dimensional life elapsing in time into a single, 2 dimensional frame. Which, I also don’t understand. But, I welcome your thoughts and debate on the subject.