Is it a cloud - those white, grey, and blue patches of colour that appear as visual volume and seem to mount up on the canvas - and does the shape resulting from different curves, shades, and nuances of colour represent a picture of smoke? These kinds of questions help to look behind the seemingly weightless surface of Tian Tian Wang`s figuratively minimalist painting. Yet, asking simple questions does not automatically result in simple answers. Sometimes a basic question like "What are things?" may lead to an openness that does not require any answers anymore. Thus there is no simple, single answer to the question whether Tian Tian Wang`s pictures show clouds of steam or other flexible shapes. Asking what is in Tian Tian Wang`s pictures or what might be in them directly leads to this mental openness where no answers are necessary.
A cloud becomes a picture of A cloud if the shape painted on the canvass resembles one's own notion of a cloud. But if you forget the word cloud for a moment, put it aside, you will see an amorphous versatile shape. This shape resembles characteristics of a cloud that might appear light and fluffy, swirling up and closed or swelled up. The shape on the canvass can be interpreted by thinking about clouds or smoke and their characteristic attributes like their constant movability and flexibility. Interpreting things means reading and understanding the symbols and imagery of things: a cloud or smoke are pictorial symbols, poetic symbols of movability and changeability, symbols of simplicity in a figuratively, meditatively appearing painting depicting the cloud or the smoke in relation to space and sky. The perception of the shape depends on the viewer's notions and concepts thus the shape may become the picture of a cloud or there is no concrete interpretation and the shape merely resembles the entirety of imageries.
Tian Tian Wang paints things figuratively and symbolically - whether so called clouds, wads of smoke, houses, flames or mountains - her style is right on the edge of pictographic painting and detachment from pictographic depiction. While looking at her pictures longer - when words and pictures almost lose their meaning, when the burning house is not more and not less than shape and material that is dissolving, is transforming and thus announcing the beginning of a process of change - the pictorial way of thinking loses its pictures. The pictures and words in the viewer's mind are led to other areas because of the symbolic meaning - into areas of seriousness and irony, absurdity or peculiarity, poetry and melancholy, and especially in a state of mental vastness. Tian Tian Wang depicts the shift that takes place when a cloud is no cloud and is a cloud as a pictorial tautology. Wang's reduced pictographic, naive style that causes detachment of meaning from pictures and words and starts patterns of thinking, individual associations or poetic pictures, thus opens new areas. Tian Tian Wang's painting is simple and thrilling in style but at the same time offers room for free associations.
A burning house signals first and foremost danger, and then the threat of loosing one's individual habitat. Tian Tian Wang's 'Burning Houses' (2008) are painted in a simple way: two narrow but tall walls and a skewed roof; smoke and flames welling forth from the burning house, transforming into a different materiality, a different state of existence. The picture of danger is slowly educed from the picture of the burning house. The playful and sensual depiction of the element smoke transfers the picture into absurdity. The ambivalence between the depiction of the burning house and the visible pleasure of the actual painting of the flames creates a peculiar atmosphere that invites the viewer to contemplate. The sketchy implied colourful grounds and surfaces, the fringy clouds and wads of smoke dissociate from their frames within the picture and at the same time from their catchwords the longer one tries to contain them in the picture and limit them by words. What remains is tension between weightlessness and peculiarity.
In this space between pictographic style and pictorial gesture Wang's pictures, as for example the pictures with chimney and smoke (2006), unfold an almost factual, sober poesy. The greyish white smoke merges into the white of the canvas, due to their difference in size the two chimneys create a slight perspective within the pictorial space. The dark brown ground on which the chimneys seem to be based is merely suggested - a dissolving surface. The shapes, pictures, words become more and more transparent and empty the longer one looks at them. The painting, the dynamic among shape, colour and thing within the picture is all the more articulate. The more often one looks at the picture the less one sees a chimney and since it seems to be so clearly a chimney one's thoughts wander off because of its definiteness. Thus being distracted one can perceive the white of the canvass by sensing the pictorial resonance between the brown colour of the soil and the white colour of the smoke, between the painted and the fringy spots. All this is equally depicted and at the same time present in the picture. Underneath those different views on the picture, in the changing possibilities, the emptiness and perceived pictorial style of the painting shimmers a poetic transparency.
In the pictures with mountains (2003 and 2005) the mountains' silhouettes are hardly solidly depicted but rounded thus they appear rather vividly. These mountains have no actual counterparts, they have very individual features. The mountains in Wang's pictures juxtaposed to a natural world in which the viewer can find various moods and desires. Wang depicts a personal view of the phenomenon mountain by painting the mountains in green and blue colours, with purple shadow-like traces, green grass-like valleys, parts of mountain chains and a brow. Is it a close-up view on a mountain or a view into the distance where a landscape with mountains is visible? - These varying views on the mountains are correlated with different moods. Tian Tian Wang's pictures with mountains mirror these views and vary them and internal and external imageries of the phenomenon mountain at the same time. The pictorial composition and intensity of colour appear especially vivid and intensive.
Whether mountains, clouds, fire, houses, plains, surfaces, volumes - to Tian Tian Wang pictorial materials such as shapes and colours have got different dynamic values. From contrasts and differing structures of movement, which result from the depicted materiality and images of pictures, emerge new pictorial proportions. Wang re-formulates proportions of things in her pictures, which are constantly flowing, thus the view on the paintings is floating and moving. Between pictorial abundance and emptiness on the canvass, between pictorial things and different figurative meanings space exists for unbiased interpretation. This openness in her paintings does not require any labelling since it emerges when meaning vanishes, it arises through the coincidence of things being present and absent amidst Wang's dense and unpretentious painting.
Text by Birgit Szepanski (originally in German)
Translation: Anne Zetsche