An interview with Pan Jian.
Pan Jian is an emotional and spiritual contemporary artist residing in Beijing, China. His views and multi-faucets of creation have evolved from dark, raw landscapes in deep greys and velvet blues to bright abstractions of yellow and orange. It was at the turn of 2020 that the abstract artist shifted his mood and practice. Read on as we get to know the mind, psychology, and inner workings of a Chinese Contemporary artist.
This is the uncut conversation from our feature on ‘An Artists View of The World’ coming out this Fall in print.
Paradigm Haus: Where does your drive for art come from?
Pan Jian: To me, the biggest drive for creation is my love of art and also my own need to express myself. My parents were not related to this industry but they really support me, they understand me. And I’ve always had this ‘big idea’ of being an artist since I was very young.
I have a continuous love of art and I need a way to share it with more people.
PH: What kind of struggles have you faced? What have been your major difficulties and how did you overcome them?
PJ: Through my 20 years of creation, the biggest challenge is actually to challenge myself to seek a balance between the changeable and unchangeable things.
It is always very difficult to make something new but to keep [being] yourself. You have to have the core values of your artistic language and expressions but at the same time, you always struggle to find new ideas or new ways to interact with audiences and to interact with yourself. So that's always a challenge and a difficulty because you have to think differently all the time, but you also have to keep your practice very consistent throughout the years.
The only way to overcome the problem is to keep trying, to experiment through time. But of course, it all happens in a range. You can never break the balance too much. You are always expanding your new approaches but at the same time, you really have to keep the balance.
PH: How do you balance this with outside forces? How does the world around you impact your work?
PJ: The way is quite simple. For me, I try to live a very simple life.
This simple life helps me to cut off most of the information and too much noise from the outer world. So I try to seek my own voice in my art pieces through my simply life. It helps me to keep a distance from marketing, from materialism and everything. So that’s my way to keep the balance and be distant from the outer world.
PH: With that in mind, how do your emotions play into the different pieces you have created and continue to create?
PJ: I am living in my own world. To me, it's very important to view this world from my personal perspective and from a distance. Like I said before, I try to disconnect with the world a little bit. Actually, I kind of view this world from a distance through an objective lens.
To me, the emotions that I have are personal but also very complex. It is difficult to categorize it as happiness, as sadness, and as melancholy. It's not that simple. So it is mixed and temporary. I always try to express my temporary emotions and feelings into painting in different years and from different times.
PH: Can you describe your inner mind.
PJ: Actually, I am a poet. So to me, if I have some feelings or emotions, I will write them down into poems first. After I finish the poems, I will think about how to paint, how to visualise the poems onto the canvas. That is my way of dealing with all the emotions and feelings and all the things. I write down the poem first and then paint.
PH: Is that your normal creative process?
PJ: Yes that's my normal creative process, poems come first, and painting later.
PH: Are there any other ways your paintings come to life as well? Any other creative processes?
PJ: Before the pandemic, I also did photography. I would just go out and take some photos as my daily inspiration for paintings. But now thanks to the pandemic, I have no chance to go out. So now I’ll just write poems and paint.
PH: In your poems, what do you write about? Is it your experiences, or is it mostly your livid emotions and feelings?
PJ: Yes actually. In my latest solo exhibition, Lightening's Edge [at 10 Chancery Lane from 5 March - 10 April 2021], I wrote the poems first, and then I painted this series. As a Chinese poem, it is always very simple, like 20-40 words. It’s like a song, it's something very visualised, vivid.
PH: Considering this year has been difficult for everyone. How did you turn the constant turmoil and unsettled feelings into painting, poetry and art?
PJ: The paintings here were painted in 2019, just before the pandemic [pictured in the background Pan Jian’s studio and works from his practice in bright blue shades and abstract landscapes of nature in Acrylic, Oil on Canvas]. After I finished this painting in 2019, I was taking a review of my previous creations and thinking about what I can do for the next.
And then at the beginning of 2020 COVID-19 just broke out. Everything just stopped. That gave me ideas to think about humans and about how insignificant we are sometimes. We have zero idea how to tackle these problems. So at that time, I felt like we were facing the darkest moments in human history. Basically, I want to bring some light to my previous creations, to bring hope and happiness to people. This is my first time to use bright colours to bring the contrast visually to clients and to more people.
I want to encourage people to have the faith and confidence to conquer the virus but at the same time, to look at themselves to think, what are we looking for in this moment?
"We are looking for help, we are looking for light, we are looking for change. That is how the pandemic shaped things differently."
PH: What would your ideal world look like?
PJ: As a human, my ideal world is where everybody has equal opportunities. But at the same time as an artist, I think the current era is actually the best era.
Artist life is still beyond life. Because nowadays so many things are changing and happening, it gives me a lot of resources to create and reflect, to think through.
"To me, there is actually no ideal world. Every moment is ideal for me to create."
PH: In your mind, do you think there is a different world for artists and a different world for normal people?
PJ: I think it is different. The ideal world in the eyes of artists is different from the normal people’s eyes.
To normal people, they are looking for a world that's more equal, kinder. That’s what normal people are seeking.
But to me, if the world is too perfect, then there are no reflections and there are no ideas that I can get from that. The imperfect world brings me lots of ideas and experiences, thoughts. I can even say the sufferings and pain inspired me to create something new. But if we live in an ideal world, I probably can think of nothing.
PH: What do you hope or what do you love about art’s impact on the world?
PJ: I want to use my painting and art to help people to keep some distance from the real world. So, more people can enrich themselves, to explore imaginations, to explore their inner world, to try to calm down, and to find exactly what they are looking for.
Art is so important to everybody. I hope my art can provide people with this emotional perspective, channels and opportunities for people to get away from reality and seek inner connection or emotions through painting and the arts.
PH: What motivates you to keep creating? Is it from the act of painting or from the power to bring something to people?
PJ: I asked myself this question 10 years ago. At that time, why I tried to do art is because I wanted to try. I want to try and keep trying to see what will be at the end. But now, after 20 years of creation, I realised that I want to create an absolute spiritual world, for me and for more people.
That’s higher than painting, it is from painting, to create a spiritual world to let people become closer to themselves. Something that’s totally spiritual and anti-realistic about who we are.
PH: How has this spirituality helped you find yourselves, from when you were younger to now? How has your personality and identity changed over time?
PJ: Emotion is a source of creation. It is sometimes even more important than creativity. I am an artist who has very rich emotions. I am sensitive and sometimes even a little melancholic. But an artist needs a lot of emotions and the resources of emotions.
PH: How do you think emotions affect the world around us or in our daily life?
PJ: As an artist, I tried everything to transform my emotions into paintings, into art.
Of course, I want my creations to connect to more people, but I don't feel like my art is that important or powerful enough to really change the world or really make an impact on this world because what we can do is quite limited. But what I can do is try very hard to make art and talk to people and interact with people through art and that is what I am doing.
If you ask how emotions and art can change the world, then I am not very sure about that.
Find Pan Jian on Instagram at @PanJian001231.
An inside view of Pan Jian's Studio in Beijing (2020)
For those in London, visit Pan Jian’s latest group exhibition ‘Mindscapes’ at The House of Fine Art (July 1st to July 15th 2021). The Chinese contemporary artist set alongside a line up curated by Dagmar Carnevale Lavezzoli capturing a zeitgeist of emerging and established artists from China.
All images courtesy of 10 Chancery Lane.