ZHIYUAN CONG — THE BRIDGE
Six years removed from Mao’s triumphant proclamation of the new “Peoples Republic of China,” Zhiyuan Cong was born to loving parents in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, located on the northern bank of the great Yangtze River — the third largest river in the world. The city has traditional roots in industry and agriculture producing cotton, rice and wheat in addition to the manufacture of salt. On that same day [of his birth], in Wayne New Jersey where he currently resides, it was a balmy sixty degrees with zero precipitation, and as with most years after the second World War, the events of 1955 were a heavy mix of all things beautiful and terrible exploding around a world bulging with the activities of human advancement, which sometimes included progress. Like the soon to be famous gyrating hips of Elvis Presley, filmed for the first time, or Bo-Diddley’s debut on Ed Sulllivan’s “Toast of the Town CBS show, then there was the launch of the Mickey Mouse Club (Mousketeers et al) — and General Motors’ milestone and ode to the merits of marketing and capitalism as the first American company to exceed one billion dollars in profits.
Yes…in the minds of many, it was mostly a good year, notwithstanding the beginning of the Vietnam war, the birth and struggle of the Civil Rights Movement to gain traction on the national level, ICBM’s with nuclear warheads, armed-and-at-the-cold-war ready — the Beat generation, and the tragic meeting of James Dean, US Highway Route 466, and the driver of the Ford Tudor he collided with on September 30th of that year. The world Zhiyuan entered was and remains in dire need of the beauty that is his visual arts language. A language steeped in the tradition of the Chinese Master Painters the likes of Qi Baishi and Xu Wei, strong shoulders that were the platforms from which he has ascended along with other influences, providing the foundation central to his development as an artist and currently evidenced in this exhibition in the great halls of the National Museum of China, documented in this catalogue.
Zhiyuan is a seeker of many truths as an artist — truths not only of our existence, but also truths of our importance to each other — as depicted in his imagery through the line, color and the brush strokes of his visual language, defined by profound experiences that transcend two continents and cultures. His journey infuses traditional methodologies of Chinese painting and drawing with emerging processes in printmaking in the creation of visual “dreamscapes” rooted in the duality of human existence — spiritual and physical. He is by virtue of that journey our precious bridge, like those first structures formed by nature through falling trees and the stones we traverse navigating the many streams of life — to the grand made-made structures of today — strong with the vitality and essence of all who venture across them. Viewing, experiencing the work of Zhiyuan Cong provides those open to the pathways he has given us, the experiences of the roads he continues to travel. He provides us with many paths to many truths sacrosanct to the human experience spoken of here. The visual arts language of Zhiyuan Cong moves from the mysteries and compassion of the Buddha’s hand and the beauty of the lotus flower — to basketball and the smoldering remains of towers forever etched in our hearts and minds. Beauty, terror, sensuality, and life — these are the pigments, fragments and visions Zhiyuan has beckoned us to see as we move through his vision/bridge to all things human and juxtaposed to the natural order of life. In this he is astutely focused on life’s interactions, connecting the experiences of his motherland with those he has embraced during the last three decades he has lived in the United States. His is the bridge to somewhere — longed for and never forgotten, although sometimes hidden in plain sight, sometimes dark with the muted likeness of fear, the skeletal remains of an edifice once vital and full of life — and sometimes celebrated like the fruit of the fishermen’s labor after a full day at sea, or in the gentile folds of the lotus flowers that move us through his art.
This exhibition is the culmination and celebration of artistic growth, exploration and expression spanning three decades and is thoughtfully curated by Chen Lusheng, Artist, Author and Assistant Director of the National Museum of China. It is a testament to his wisdom and recognition of Zhiyuan Cong’s relevance to the land of his birth and the bridge that represents his transcendent journey between American and the amazing five thousand year-old culture of China. His place in the canon of contemporary artists who’s ambition and drive moved them beyond the familiar confines of the Middle Kingdom, experiencing success on both continents is secure — validating his leadership in the advancement of the arts and to China’s crucial place in that advancement. That leadership is manifest in his position as Founding Director of the Center for Chinese Art at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, the first Center of its kind on a state university campus in the United States. Additionally he has achieved the rank of full Professor and is the Coordinator of the Printmaking area in the College of the Arts and Communication’s Visual Arts department, admired by his peers and a sought after teacher in our progressive academic programs.
Zhiyuan revels in his service to both his current and former homelands through the creation and advancement of a visual arts language unique to who he is, and to the ongoing journey that has led him to this specific place and time. His is the visual arts language and journey of a true creative Budhisattva — in his desire to be the bridge for the many who walk beside him as well as those who follow in his footsteps — creating new worlds for all to experience. I am unhesitatingly one of the many who walk willingly across the bridges he has given us. As colleague, friend, and fellow traveler I am most proud to call him Brother and I join in the celebration that this exhibition represents in my capacity as Dean of the College of the Arts and Communication representing William Paterson University — a privilege that I embrace wholeheartedly. Zhiyuan Cong’s generosity of spirit, his love for the cultures that shaped the man and artist he has become, continues to fuel his evolution as an artist in full-bloom. It is the foundation that supports the bridge linking all that is true — a bridge that leads to the very best of our shared humanity through the language of the visual arts, as can only be imparted through the mind, heart, spirit and hand of a master and seeker of truth.
Daryl Joseph Moore, MFA FRSA
April 21st, 2015
ABOUT DARYL JOSEPH MOORE
Daryl Joseph Moore is the Dean of the College of the Arts and Communication, William Paterson University, New Jersey.