Chinese artist’s paintings evoke a sense of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs
Ma Mingze’s oil paintings remind you of works by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004). Though both work with different mediums, they both depict day-to-day scenes in a way that give viewers an unreal feeling.
Bresson focused on people struggling at the bottom of society and produced works that look like classic snapshots of eternity.
Similarly, Ma, 34, creates cinematic scenes in her paintings with a simple palette. She dwells on the embarrassments, confusions and imperfections of daily life in an urban setting.
Dozens of the Beijing-based artist’s oils are now on show at her solo exhibition Freeze A Moment, being held at the Parkview Green Art gallery in Beijing’s 798 art district through Aug 20.
“Ma captures details that are overlooked by people when they are busy with work and family affairs. Things like hair on a pillow, flying curtains, women’s ankles and a wardrobe which is slightly open,” says Kim Mi-young the exhibition’s academic director.
“A sensitive and a keen observer, Ma paints these ordinary unavoidable everyday moments on canvas. She reveals the anxieties of people living a seemingly peaceful life.”
A frequent moviegoer, Ma says that when she paints she imagines herself as a film director visualizing an episode from the script.
She searches for material in her memory and puts it together with her brush.
“When I read a book, I picture a lot of scenarios and keep them in my mind. When I am touched by certain scenes in a film, I remember them,” she says.
“And sometimes some things or some people in real life will awaken these memories, based on which I re-create and produce paintings.”
Secret, a painting on show, is inspired by the 2001 Chinese movie In the Mood for Love.
Ma says she was captivated by a scene in which the protagonist speaks softly to a hole on a tree.
She says the man views the tree as an old friend to whom he can confide his worries, and she remembers that after he finishes, he stuffs the hole with grass and mud as a way to seal his deepest secrets.
“His act is meaningless but it enthralls me.”
She says that one day when she was anxious she recalled the scene. So, she created a similar situation in Secret: She painted a wall at a street cor- ner and one of its bricks had a small hole.
“When I painted it, I imagined a scene in which a man slowly passes an alley and stops before the wall. There, he lights a cigarette and speaks to the hole as he smokes, and in the end, he fills the hole with the cigarette stub.”
She says that sometimes people need to seal their pains and forget their past so that they can move on.
Ma, a native of northeastern Liaoning province, failed in English at her college entrance exams when she was seeking to enter the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang. So, she studied for another year to get into the academy’s oil painting department.
She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the department.
She then taught at a middle school in Beijing, before she quit to pursue a career as a professional painter.
Among her other works is a painting called Magpie, which reflects her early experiences.
The work shows a girl who gazes at the sea and a magpie standing on its head.
“The magpie is seen as an auspicious bird in Chinese culture, a symbol of good wishes.
“In the painting, I have it looking in a different direction, meaning that reality is often not as perfect as one anticipates. Sometimes it leads to embarrassing situations.”
Still, Ma embraces hope in her works.
In Silver Linings, a work done after she saw the 2012 American romance Silver Lin
Playbook, she is impressed by the title derived from the idiom, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”
The painting shows a dark room in which sunlight sneaks in through the narrow gap between the door and the floor.
She says viewers can imagine themselves being someone who returns to an apartment after a hard day’s work.
“The head is lowered because of fatigue, but then you see light and feel relieved.
“In the darkness around us, there is the light of hope.”
focuses on urban life in her oil paintings now on show in Beijing.
Nina Zimmer (second right), director of Bern Museum of Fine Arts, speaks at a news conference after the arrival of the first artworks.