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这些既没有标题、也没有具体内容的多样形状与颜色的画，你可以称之为抽象的，同时也是物件。画板上堆叠了厚厚好几层颜料，这些颜料被打磨过，表面有光泽，是类似蜡笔的质感，殷双喜还将此比作“包浆”。画板的形状不一，既像小儿稚拙的随手圈画，又仍能隐约呼应日常的事物；比如一幅用了拼接色的长条形的画，有点像飞机，又有点像袜子。这些不指向特定形象的形状，让形状的边界模糊起来，打开了可能性。这些形状用于画作，在今天，让我们得以像闫博一样轻松地回顾艺术与观看的早期历史。无论是阿尔哈曾所提出的体验——即大脑只能看到早先已“确认”的外观，还是亚里士多德和达.芬奇都写到的关于在墙上的斑痕中看到动物或人物形象及场景的观察，或是弗拉维乌斯·菲罗斯特拉图斯（Flavius Philostratus）关于在云层中看到各种形象的说法，再到如今当代艺术似乎越来越把观念和观看分离开来；只要视觉仍是大多数人最主要的感官，在面对艺术时，我们就仍须考虑并应对观看与识别。亚里士多德说：“我们之所以乐于观看图画，就在于当我们进行观看时，我们试图认知并推断每种事物究竟是什么，如’这即是某某事物’（that is that）。”（《论诗》1448b）抽象的色彩与形状，与此种认知不同，它更近似阿尔伯蒂（Leon Battista Alberti）在《论雕塑》（De Statua）中所说的：“可能偶尔在树干、泥块或其他无生物中看到了某种形状…通过不断矫正和改善表现特殊物体所需要的线条和表面，他们（指艺术家）实现了自己的意图，与此同时，他们还从中获得了乐趣。”
闫博在学习绘画之前学的是平面设计、装潢，这或许让他在工作逻辑与方法上同其他人不太一样，包括求学的时候就接触了视觉心理学。艺术的技术，如果掌握了这样的技术的人被称为艺术家，那么他们是否也即是思考并研究视觉的本质以及我们和世界的关系的科学家？闫博画了三十年，中间有过鲜明固定的风格，然而因其限制了可能性而停了一段时间。他认为每一件作品都要有属于它的性格、结构、材质、颜色。从2001年入学央美后，他做了大量材料实验，仅颜料就包括堪培拉、丙烯、矿物质和树脂等。随后，他针对材质的发色方式做了大量实验，通过画很多层再打磨，达到由光的折射造成的不同的透明度。与其说实验的对象是材质，莫如说是眼睛。神经生物学家玛格丽特.利文斯通（Margaret Livingstone）就在著作中专门研究我们的眼睛和大脑如何将不同波长的光翻译成色彩与形式，以及艺术家如何利用他们发现的技巧创造出独特的色彩效果与空间错觉。（Vision and Art:The Biology of Seeing, Abrams, New York, 2002“）类似的科学先例还有很多。闫博的方法则是试错，做很多遍，“每一遍做的时候都知道这东西不是”（本文中闫博的引言除非标注都摘自2017年1月24日笔者同他的采访）。画很多遍，画面的效果是经由时间与材料共同叠加并消磨的过程，在透明与不透明之间寻找一个可显现的点，不能比它透，也不能比它厚。”还有一个，不能太玻璃化；我需要它能有抵抗时空的感觉，像石头、玉、陶瓷。”闫博清楚地认识到不同材料所对应的不同的心理属性，比如石头天然的花纹或上好陶瓷的胎体。“用反复刮白打磨的方法，让画面感觉更丰富，打磨的时候能留下前面几十遍做过的东西，但又能透出下面那么多层的色，这种发色方式是色层叠加。还有一种色彩空间混合的方式，色点和其他色点形成空间的混合，就像点彩那种。于是总体上光在折射反射很丰富的层次。”
Abstract painting is facing a certain danger. In “Zombies on the Walls: Why Does So Much New Abstraction Look the Same”, the critic Jerry Saltz satirized the similarity of new abstraction and the phenomenon where its attraction to most collectors is driven by its “decorativeness”, thus reducing abstract paintings to mere ornamentation in modern households. Yan Bo offers answers on how abstraction can avoid being “zombified”.
Simplicity is a virtue, especially in the case of sophisticated simplicity. Both Yan Bo’s paintings and the viewing of Yan Bo’s paintings reflect the virtue of simplicity. These paintings—which, if the reader may, I refer to as innocent, unaffected works—are imbued with Matisse’s optimism; in turn, Yan Bo calls Matisse honest but witty. Although a ubiquitous visuality is to an extent erasing the history of painting and the history of image-viewing, Yan Bo carries a relaxed ease towards painting, understanding its history without it being a burden. This much can also be seen in his paintings, which imparts a cheerful lightness.
These paintings of various shapes and colors that are without titles and specific content can be called abstract. Yet at the same time, they are concrete objects. The picture plane is covered by several layers of pigments, which have been ground to have a lustrous sheen and the texture of crayons. Critic Yin Shuangxi compares such pigments to “patina”. Of different shapes, the canvases both resemble children’s casual paintings and yet seem to subtly connect with the everyday. For example, a painting with stripes of color blocks looks like a plane as well as socks. Instead of representing any particular image, such shapes blur the boundary of forms and open up possibilities.
Today, adopting such shapes in paintings enables us to review the early history of art and art exhibition with ease, just as Yan Bo does. In terms of viewing and discernment, Alhazen (c. 965 – c. 1040 CE, philosopher) proposed the brain can only discern appearances that had been confirmed in advance, while Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci all mentioned they had seen images of animals and humans in spots on the wall. Flavius Philostratus also saw various images in clouds, while modern art increasingly tends to separate ideas from seeing. As long as vision is the primary sensorial organ for the vast majority of people, we need to consider viewing and discernment when facing the art. Aristotle said: “The reason why we are happy to see drawings is that when we see something, we will attempt to cognize and figure out what it really is, like ‘that is that.’” (On Poetry, 1448b）While abstract color and shape are differentiated from this understanding. In Leon Battista Alberti’s De Statua, it was mentioned that how a certain shape can occasionally be seen in tree branches, clods or other inorganic substances…. Based on the specific object in their mind, they (artists) continuously adjust and improve lines and surfaces to create what they want. At the same time, they amuse themselves greatly in doing this.
Yan Bo once said: “When I discern a painting with my eyes, I respectively see color, shape and texture of the material; when I see them with my soul, I see texture, color and outline. Anything I see, including a drawing, lies between the visual and psychological distances. Thus, I also adhere to this principle in painting.” At odds with a general pervasive anxiety, his attitude towards painting is serene, believing painting naturally as a legitimate form of art. If someone regards painting merely as traditional or decorative, he will probably disagree.
Yan Bo learned graphic design and decoration before studying painting, which led him to a different working logic and method; at his studies, he also encountered visual psychology. If those who mastered the techniques of art are called artists, then are they scientists who reflect on and research the fundamental nature of vision as well as our relationship with the world? Yan Bo has painted for 30 years, during which he had established a unique and fixed style. Yet he stopped for some time precisely because of its limited possibilities. He believes that every piece of work should have its own character, structure, texture, and color. After entering the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2001, he experimented a lot with materials. Just in terms of paints, for instance, he worked with Tempera, propylene, minerals, resins, among others. Then he experimented greatly with how materials give off different colors. He painted several layers first and then polished them to achieve different degrees of transparency caused by the refraction of light. The object of his experimentation lies more towards the eye, rather than on material texture. The neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone demonstrates in her works how our eyes and brains convert lights of different wavelengths into colors and forms, and how artists deploy the skills they discovered in order to create unique color effects and spatial illusion.
Yan Bo’s method is that of repetitive trial and error. “Each time I make something I know when it’s not right.” He paints many times, and the final effect of the picture plane results from the process where time and the material overlap and wear one another down. He searches for the visible point between the transparent and the opaque—nothing more, nothing less. “In addition, paintings should not be too vitrified. They should offer viewers the same resistance to space and time as stones, jade and ceramics do.” Yan Bo clearly knows how different materials correspond to different psychological attributes, such as the natural texture on stones and superior ceramic bodies. “To enrich the painting by repeating scraping and polishing, polishing retains the essence of all your previous work and reveals colors of the underlying layers. This is the technique called color overlay. Another way is to mix colors spatially, namely painting spots in different colors in the same space, just like stippling. Consequently, light refraction and reflection will create rich visual effects.”
Yan Bo is from Beijing and his father is also an oil painter. They often talk about painting, but they also know that paintings should be created alone. He uses the lines “never abandon, never give up” from the TV drama Soldiers Sortie (directed by Wang Baoqiang) to encourage himself. This is the image of the artist in our familiar imagination: alone in the studio, surrounded by pigments, tools, and canvases, struggling for long in search of that rarest encounter with what “works”. Yan Bo said he employs all kinds of tools, from dentistry, sculpture, food processing, fabric and so on. In contrast with the aforementioned complexity and precision of his experimentation, the production of shapes on the picture plane is for me relatively casual. Yan Bo’s canvases are made by workers and their shapes are always freestyle. The canvases are jokingly referred to by Yan Bo as opponents.
If the above experiments require more manual dexterity, then painting is more about spiritual dexterity. A painting can only be completed by a high coordination of the manual and the mental. “A painting mixes a number of very contradictory things together…I want to combine the simplicity of nature with that of people. I want to harmonize the ethereal with the sturdy.” Since Yan Bo strives to express that which imparts viewers with the sensation of the relatively eternal, the content and form in his paintings are at one. This is not because he attempts to render the fleeting eternal, but rather because he believes people want to allow themselves to produce things with the sense of the eternal. His pursuit of the textural effect of painting just so happens to be the search to fashion a visual impression of such a sense of the eternal. Thus his paintings become “corporeal” and “fleshy”, with sheen and scars, with acuity and full of allure, while the artist derives a “small pleasure arising from experiencing painting a creature.”