In her own lyrical words, artist Faye Wei Wei describes the thinking behind her new exhibition of paintings, I’ve Always Been a Weeper at the Cinema, created over the course of a summer in Berlin
When British-Chinese painter Faye Wei Wei moved from her hometown of London to Berlin, it gave her a feeling of “lightness and energy”. A graduate of Slade whose second solo show has just opened at London’s Cob Gallery, Wei Wei is celebrated for her large-scale paintings, full of romantic figures, as well as elements of myth and symbolism. With a palette of earthy greens, reds, pale pinks and blues, Wei Wei’s paintings allow you to feel like you’re getting lost in the artist’s imagination. “I would like if possible for people to feel as if they are being individually told a secret story by the picture plane,” she says.
Writing to AnOther over email during the first week of her exhibition, I’ve Always Been a Weeper at the Cinema, Wei Wei describes finding inspiration in poetry – Allen Ginsberg is a longtime favourite, as well as Edward Storer and Emily Berry more recently – and cinema, and especially enjoying a summer of falling in love and “floating in the ocean in Patmos, and floating in the lakes in Berlin. And eating zucchini boiled and sea urchins!”
There is a hint of melancholy to Wei Wei’s looming works, whether in images of snakes coiling across the surface or references to artists like Ana Mendieta in some works’ titles (the artist loves the late Mendieta’s use of red “like a rose wilting”). Here, in her own lyrical words, Wei Wei explains the story behind I’ve Always Been a Weeper at the Cinema.
“I feel that the work contains within it a sense of nostalgia already, and that comes from being in a place that you know isn’t permanent. I went to Berlin in search of a new feeling of sunlight and a new feeling of space – new atmospheres to conjure paintings within. The paintings will serve as a memory of my time in Berlin, a beautiful sweet time of summer and cobbled streets and dancing late into the night and drinking wine on the studio floor with my new friends and, above all, of falling in love.
“This body of work was fuelled by this new lightness and energy I was feeling. The work to me has shifted a lot from my first solo show: the figures melt into each other more, the colours are light in palette and I introduced my abstracted flower portraits for the first time. I felt a real intensity of love and the work reflects that.
“I write a lot in these beautiful little Venetian paper notebooks I’ve had since I was 14 – my sister would buy them for me as souvenirs. Mainly one-liners like a lyric fragment from a song or an overheard line in a movie, they are often the entanglements of words that I use in combination with poetry that eventually become the titles to my works. ‘I’ve Always Been A Weeper At The Cinema’ came from one of these scraps and it just sang out to me. I wanted the title of the show to evoke this feeling of something very intimate and personal, an escape. I love going to the cinema on my own, the ritual of the popcorn and maybe a Diet Coke in a glass bottle and just being taken away by this glowing ride; following dialogue because it pierces you and reminds you of the beauty of life, or the complex velvetine colour of sadness. I would like for people to have that same experience in front of my paintings, to feel as if they are being individually told a secret story by the picture plane.
“The first time I engaged with Ana Mendieta’s work in the flesh was at Martin-Gropius-Bau – there was a huge exhibition of her films and they were set up on these large screens like soft duvets that engulfed you in her beautiful mind. There was a film called On Giving Life (1975) and I was so moved by it, her whole body conveyed a type of poetry that felt like it was singing into my eyes. I felt myself blushing before her monumental works; the power of her work is so immense. The painting in the show For Ana Mendieta (How much can a flower break your heart) was painted whilst thinking about her work.
“I always loved Ginsberg growing up. I read an interview with him once in which he describes the rhythms of poetry like one long breath of a human’s lung, a line of poetry like the blown out trumpet horn of a jazz musician, a singular long sad ringing line of a beautiful song. I feel that when I’m painting it is almost like a trace of this performance: I perform for no one but the picture plane, the image is stained with the memory of my movement. There is rhythm in your body when you make paintings, like that of someone dancing or like a line of poetry.”
Faye Wei Wei: I’ve Always Been a Weeper at the Cinema is at Cob Gallery, London, until November 2, 2019.