Shell, like the wings of a cicada

Leng Guangmin 

Feb 10 (Fri.) - Mar 18 (Sat.), 2023

MAHO KUBOTA GALLERY is proud to present its second exhibition by promising young Chinese painter Leng Guangmin. Titled “壳,仅如蝉翼一般,” which in English means “Shell, like the wings of a cicada,” this solo exhibition features eleven newly created paintings.

While they appear simple at first glance, Leng’s paintings are created in a complex way. Beginning with a linen canvas, the artist first applies a base layer with solid acrylic paint, on top of which he pastes a paper sheet. Upon the paper surface he then applies another layer of acrylic, this time of quite a fluid quality, sometimes using an airbrush. Following this process, he peels away the top layer in parts, and sometimes the second layer of paper as well, cutting with a sharp knife to reveal delicate nuances of the hidden layers, enabling them to resonate with those above. Painterly layers are linked in multifaceted relationships, acting in concert with one another within one canvas. A feature of his work is the way that subtle wavering and randomness somehow find their way into sharply arranged images. It abounds with experimental and contemplative processes, and the overall effect is visually stimulating.

Leng has dealt with the act of ‘cutting’ as a theme in his painting from the very beginning of his artistic career. As a general rule, painters consider that all subjects are covered by an outer shell, or an outer layer of skin, and that each subject can be portrayed superficially by portraying its outer shell. Leng’s practice is built upon the breakthrough that he found in an intervention that involves putting a knife into the subject and understanding what lies within, enabling him to capture the subject and the surrounding world as well as the balance of power and flow of energy between the subject, the world, and himself. He has continued to develop and refine this technique over the years.

In Leng’s words, “This exhibition portrays the ‘shell,’ how art should be.” The ‘shell’ indicated by Leng seems to signify the artist’s own proving ground for expression—the outer shell is a simple object, but his practice transcends it, subjecting it to intervention and decomposition, and linking it to new value. Leng Guangmin is a young painter who is actively exploring new avenues, pushing forward with an approach that involves deep contemplation of the subject, stemming from his methodical nature. Through this, he is opening up new potential for painting. The exhibition presents eleven works, mainly new paintings that demonstrate the evolution of Leng’s work.

Artist statement

‘Cutting’ has been a longtime theme in my art, and the ‘shell’ can be seen as the outer shell of the subject that is cut. The act of ‘cutting’ takes the form of exploring, opening the subject up and looking inside as if performing an anatomical dissection. At the same time, it is an intervention that changes the shape of the subject, as if pruning a plant, and it is also a means of expressing emotions, as if engaging in aimless destruction. Different objects express different directions of thought, and combining them with the act of cutting results in the diffusion of different emotions.

The title of my first exhibition was “See the Appearance.” I wanted to use the show to convey the fact that what’s inside isn’t always more valuable, and that the outward appearance isn’t necessarily superficial. There is objectivity in the external appearance, providing infinite possibilities, so I want to start from the outward appearance, and not be swayed by my emotions every time I engage in exploration.

This exhibition portrays the ‘shell,’ how art should be. When we have something in front of us and destroy the original order with a knife, what do we feel in that instant? Does a new order come into being when the original one is destroyed? What is inside the shell? Does it contain something precious? Or is it empty? And, if it is empty, could that also provide a kind of benefit or bounty?