December 15th 2014: On my first visit to M50: Shanghai’s contemporary Art district, I spotted an intriguing developing collaboration. Moganshan Road, the main approach to M50 is home to a constantly evolving graffiti wall. The wall consists of layers upon layers of graffiti work that have built up over the years, sometimes with the work completely obliterating underlying layers, and sometimes consisting of integrated layers – resulting in intriguing collaborations.
On my first visit to M50 an area of the wall that immediately caught my eye was an evolving collaboration incorporating many different layers. The resulting image consisted of a Warhol-esque Campbell’s Soup Can stencil, juxtaposed with Joan Miro-esque red and blue expressive marks. The piece sits on a cyan semi transparent background very reminiscent of Miro’s 1961 ‘Bleu II’. An unlikely collaboration during either artists lifetime, the piece works surprisingly well possessing a balance and harmony of Pop Art and Surrealist Abstraction.
June 29th 2015: On returning to Shanghai and M50 earlier this month I saw part of the famous Moganshan Road graffiti wall that caught my eye on my previous visit last year. The work has developed in the same vein that originally intrigued me months earlier. The work still clearly demonstrates Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can stencilling juxtaposed against Miro’s Surrealist, Abstract marks sat upon Miro’s ‘Bleu II’ backdrop. The work has clearly developed through the addition of further stencilling, sprayed graffiti marks and tagging. A series of black circular stencils on the bottom right of the piece are enlarged and echoed on the left of the piece. The marks begin to dissipate as they pass through the transparent red form of a rabbit type creature using the black circular stencilled shapes as a space hopper. An unlikely collaboration but one that I look forward to seeing develop further.
January 12th 2017: I was full of anticipation on my return to M50 before Christmas to see how this most fabled and documented of collaborations had developed in the intervening 18 months since my last visit. Having seen how the collaboration had developed on my last visit I had a general expectation that the original Miro and Warhol-esque details that initially peaked my interest 2 years earlier may well have been reclaimed by the subsequent layering of signatures and tags. This expectation proved to be mostly correct as the cyan wash that acted as an abstract ocean of possibilities for a Miro sensibility of mark had been diminished over time, and the Campbell’s soup can so proudly sitting atop had been obliterated by the hand of many an artist since. However, on closer inspection echoes of its earlier guises are still visible through the layers. The top Right corner of the Campbell’s soup can still be seen peaking from behind scrawled calligraphy, and lower, at the foot of the piece, floating black orbs present on the second photograph are seen providing a backdrop to further veils of calligraphy and tags.
At first sight I must admit to a brief sense of disappointment at the loss of the piece that first caught my eye and peaked my imagination back on my first visit to M50 and indeed Shanghai. However, on remembering back to another area of the wall that equally captured my imagination, (which I dully photographed), made me re-consider my initial reaction. The following photograph I believe acts as a powerful metaphor for art. All art originates at some point from nature, and is a product of nature. John Cage once said; “The function of art is not to communicate one’s personal ideas or feelings, but rather to imitate nature in her manner of operations.”
Seeing this immediately changed my feeling towards the Miro – Warhol collaboration and reminded me of our seemingly innate preciousness over our art – a point I regularly preach to my students, in quest of encouraging them to ‘loosen up’. Art is fundamentally organic, and we have to treat it as such, and allow it to develop and grow. In this vein it is only right the Miro – Warhol collaboration has developed and evolved over time – as it should. It was myself projecting my ego onto the piece that for a fleeting moment allowed me to feel otherwise. So often when we are in the studio wrestling with a painting, one must destroy and sacrifice the very area we covet most in order to rescue, and bring the piece to some sort of resolve.
Next time I find myself becoming overly precious over a mark or a painting I shall think back and remember this own unique collaboration between nature and art, and remember that we are only the fleeting custodians of our art.
On my next visit to Shanghai I shall return to pay a visit to this particular evolving collaboration aswell as Joan Miro’s and Andy Warhol’s most unlikely of collaborations.