Art Review of Antonio(By QIU Xiaolin)

Go with the flow
do not ask why

Away from the clamor of the city, at the Blue Roof Youth Artists Village, in the sparsely inhabited countryside, AntonioWehrli, a strong man, a gentle Swiss painter and his quiet Chinese wife are having a lot of fun in a gaudy colorful world. When I start to write this text, I have this imagery in my mind: a childlike innocence and enthusiasm that perhaps you have also felt from his paintings. In my opinion, this innocence and enthusiasm are not only true for his paintings, but also for his attitude of life. Because of this, in order to evaluate his paintings, I do not intend to speak too complex, I will not, so to say, use the history of painting to contrast his art, using predicament to explain it in the grand context of contemporary art. What I want to say is that this is his personal style of art and yes, this alone is enough. 

Perhaps you have seen the exhibition of his paintings. That is why you started reading these words. You want to find an answer to your expectations. Because you might be very confused: what are those paintings all about? Although you have used your best imagination, you have seen hot lava, flickering flames, colorful curtains, mysterious spaces, profound oceans, vast lands... ...various kinds of illusions, lots of them. But every time you „recognize“ and have the satisfaction to say „I see it“, it will be this in your opinion only. However, some might only see a picture created of a smear of „Pigments“. Your brain cannot choose what to think and like - and if this is the case, you will feel stuck in your craw.

Why are you more concerned about issues: those of you who „see“ the image and those of you who cannot „see“ what the „paint“ is about: do you really want to know what it expresses? Unfortunately, I do not have the answer to your question. Maybe even a lot of those who „see“ the image, still want to know more. While I personally have asked this question the painter himself, the artist also had to dig his heart and lungs to explain it to me, but I do not intend to explain what he revealed, because honestly, my first feeling did not see the significance of what he told me. And I believe that if I would tell you what his explanation was, you might not see it this same way neither and this would only limit your true feelings and give your already troubled mind more chaos and confusion. 

I also asked him what he thinks of this problem: He was very calm and said that this does not matter, that he believes that there will be a common feeling that both you and he experience. Is there really? I am not sure, but in my opinion, even this „you“ is not so important. 

Antonio said that the paintings inhabit a common sense, like an esoteric feeling, or using the words of philosopher Kant: „beauty has universal validity“. But we often say “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes”. What reason does Kant have to claim this? Kant says that it is because your feelings have been blocked by many things, such as interests, concepts, intents and so on, but real aesthetics are not related to them. Now, you might as well think, why do you not “understand” those artworks? And did Kant say that these factors have a relationship? Perhaps if you examine this in your mind, you will realize that you really have been shielded by those things. And because of these factors, it is most likely that now you will have a new concept of understanding art. 

So, what is art? In painting, for example, perhaps in your opinion, at least two conditions need to be met, first that it has to resemble something and second that it has to express something. It is a pity, that in the paintings of today, you will not find consolation in these two points. And therefore, you will feel confused, maybe even angry. But you should think, why do you have such a concept of painting? Why should a painting be like this? Think, has there been a time, when you sketched on a paper arbitrary, or even took a stick an played in mud or air, however, you did not want to recreate something, you did not want to express what was in your mind, you just followed your feelings? Then, why can you not look at these paintings in this mentality? I mean, you do not have to think what those artworks portray, what they want to express, just truly observe what feelings they provoke in you. Years later, perhaps you will not remember what they looked like exactly, but the gorgeous colors, strangely flowing down might still linger in your mind. They volley flow down from the top of the canvas, or spread from the middle out towards both sides of the screen, as if without reason, again and again, like a stubbornly staged dream.

Yes, I said a dream, maybe this is the key to „understand“ Antonio’s paintings. Like Antonio himself said, it was a lucky coincidence that he fell in love with painting. At a time when he was studying precision engineering in micromechanics at a world famous Swiss university, maybe orchestrated by fate, he saw a special painting in an exhibition, a thickly coated painting. Somehow, he was intrigued by this technique at first sight, and thus was born the idea to be a painter. Maybe this is just a feeling of preference, but in my opinion, this preference contains a very special thing, it explains why he puts more value on the texture instead of the paintings content. It is under the guidance of this preference, that Antonio formed his own label like painting style, that consists of very „thick“ paint. Thick to what extent? Up to six or seven centimeters at the thickest part - this is why one cannot stack his paintings because otherwise the texture of the artwork would be damaged. Because of this thickness, a wooden board has to reinforce the regular frame of the canvas, that otherwise would not bear the weight. I do not know if there are „thicker“ paintings in this world, but at least as far as I can see, he most probably paints the „thickest“ of them all. 

Today, we do not see Antonio’s „thickest“ artworks, but in my opinion, using the words of Antonio, the most important is not the former „thickness“ but this gut feeling of „thickness“. 

Following this feeling, he did no longer want to do the decent work of a micromechanics engineer, but take on the “worthless occupation” of an artist. Following this feeling, he went to work on cruise ships as a photographer. Following this feeling, he went to Russia and then to China. Following this feeling, he went to Wudang Mountain to retreat for several months. Following this feeling, he came to Chengdu and settled here and became officially a professional painter. 

Elsewhere, I saw someone write that Antonio’s paintings are between the conscious and the unconscious, meaning that his painting method is the following: when he has an idea for a painting, he will go to sleep. This idea will ferment in the dream and after waking up, an ode will have shaped according to the dream. I do not know if Antonio really can create like perceived in the dream, but I think this would be a praiseworthy pursuit. This is like in the dream state of the Surrealists, where it says that we can get rid of rational imprisonment to meet with great mystery. 

Maybe even Antonio himself has notyet reallyunderstood what he is pursuing. Perhaps he thinks that through his painting he can “express” to people what has significance. In my opinion, important is not the so-called meaning, but that he has found a form to “express” meaning. This form is the feeling of his life at this stage, as to why there is this form to this feeling, we do not know, maybe he himself has no way of knowing. All he can do is to tirelessly put passion into the creation of these forms, and settle his presence in the stream of these gorgeous colors.

The important point is, we want to admit mystery in a way we cannot ignore the existence of dreams. Antonio is lucky: he has the courage to chase mystery, and by his pursue, he even brings mystery into his life.

Xiaolin QIU