¡¡¡¡A good work of art should be like an iceberg, told me Duan Jianju in conversation we had in 1998. She referred to the ¡¯unsaid¡¯ which in her opinion makes up the most substantial - and most intriguing - part of a painting.
Painting is a medium which faces several restrains: not on1ly the flat and limited dimensions of the canvas, but also its legacy from ancient traditions, both Chinese and foreign. Therefore it needs a great origi11aIity aI1d expressible ffp9dom in order to convey individual feelings and thoughts. When it: is trapped within rigid scl1emes and repetitive frames, like in many academic art bodies, painting risks having nothing new to say.
¡¡¡¡But Duan Jianyu succeeds in producing works which are always fresh and amusing, in their ironic subversion of proportions and roles, and the choice of unpredictable subjects. Chickens (Art chickens, transformed into 99 life-size sculptures, were shown at the Venice Biennale in 2003) are a subject very seldom used in painting, but they invade Jianyu¡¯s canvasses as protagonists and/or observer, freed from, the stupidity they are famous for, and re-invented in a sensuous and/or irreverent key.
¡¡¡¡Other animals, be they birds, pandas or pigs ,appear on the canvas, either as corpses or, on the contrary, as subjects equal to human beings, and are often painted in frontal group images.
¡¡¡¡The quotations from famous painting of the history of art-especially western-are here subverted and transformed into amusing ¡¯¡¯revisions¡¯¡¯ with faunal intonation. The juxtaposition of various elements, which contrast in their total diversity-just think of the art stewardesses, surrounded by chickens-causes a displacement which reaches the grotesque.
¡¡¡¡The most successful works are ,in my opinion, those where beyond the declared irreverence, painting frees itself, spontaneously, from a too strong concept. When this happens, the result is made of true geniality, of a poetry which is fully original in its non-conformity.