Weimin He, co-curator for the China Print Festival in Qijiang, is having a solo show when the Ashmolean museum reopens next month. His brush drawings are beautiful, delicate and bold portraits of the many workers who were involved in the restoration project. Here is a short introduction that I have written for the show.
This exhibition shows Weimin He’s depiction of the recent restoration of the Ashmolean museum from 2007-2009. The majority of the art includes paintings that portray, in a sensitive and humorous way, more than 300 academics, curators, tradespeople, builders and craftsmen who were involved in the process. In addition there are drawings of the space as it evolved throughout the building work, and some woodblock prints that summarise the construction in He’s unique printmaking style.
The staff in the offices pause from their work temporarily for these portraits, fingers still hovering near keyboards, and perching on their revolving chairs. The delicate detail of face and keen observation of posture and clothing expresses a measured exploration of each person, which is kept from becoming too formal with a slightly exaggerated focus on the head and hands.
In contrast the portraits of the builders are made with energetic brushstrokes, conveying an engaging and immediate presence. The bodies are slightly elongated; head, hands and feet included as if viewed through a wide angle lens; and they pose singly and in groups, often with a broad smile and a relaxed stance. The names of each individual are written on the page next to the drawing, which, by their variety, hints at an interesting mix of languages and cultures.
The Chinese brush, used with traditional black ink on Chinese paper, creates an Eastern aesthetic, but here the subject matter is a Western workforce within a British institution. This fascinating combination of style and subject matter, allied with a throwaway accuracy, is a lovely snapshot of the spirit of the Oxford Ashmolean Museum.