Ma Dongmin: Artist Leading the Contemporary Chinese Art Scene
“Go with the flow naturally with everything that you do.”
Chinese contemporary artist Ma Dongmin was born in 1968, just two years after the start of the Cultural Revolution in China. The years after the sociopolitical movement heralded a period where new information and knowledge on art flowed into China from the outside world. Art styles from the West quickly influenced the way Chinese people appreciate art and it also introduced a new vernacular to the highly insulated art community.
Ma enjoyed painting from a tender age, and was even awarded first prize at an art exhibition when he was just nine-years-old. That experience spurred Ma on to continue painting and eventually admit himself to the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). Contemporary Chinese artists like Xu Bing, Qiu Zijie, and Liu Xiaodong were all alumni of this elite school.
It was at CAFA that Ma grew to admire master painters such as Lucian Freud and contemporary artist Gerhard Richter, who till this day remain his greatest inspirations as he continues on his artistic journey. “To follow their footsteps was my dream” and so Ma did, he began paving his career as a professional artist upon graduation.
After years of hard work, Ma became a highly sought-after artist in international fairs and has fans from different countries. A notable collector of the artist is the esteemed philanthropist, Steven Rockefeller. Ma’s artworks, “Benedict XVI” and “Blue Horse”, even won the Gold award during the 2019 Venice Biennale. The artist’s three most recent auction sales commanded spectacular results, where all have been over S$500K and one lot was sold for more than S$700K. Ma’s artworks have definitely appreciated over the years as people got to know him and his body of works through the various exhibitions.
Receiving awards both locally and internationally, to Ma, is the best return he can get from his supporters. And this becomes the drive for him to continue creating more masterpieces in the many years to come.
His last solo exhibition in Singapore was titled “Philosophy of Blue” and it featured Ma’s works for the first time in the country. The colour blue was dominant throughout the show and has since become one of his signature elements. Sharing more about this choice of colour, Ma says that “Blue evokes a dreamy-like and melancholy emotion. Blue is also contemporary and timeless — very fitting for the concept of blue smoky cloud series I have created.”
Inspiration for Ma comes from the mountainous terrains in China and its deeply rooted traditions. Through his paintings, Ma interprets this majestic landscape “through the language of painting” and “Eastern artistic concept”. Those who are keen collectors of Ma’s artworks would often describe his art pieces to be charged with emotions and sentimentality.
Ma does so through his painting techniques like the misty façade that envelopes his subjects within the artworks. One could say that the misty elements help give an air of mystery to the paintings as the subjects are shrouded behind a veil. Another message that the artist wishes to convey through the fogginess is the transient nature of events as time passes, where the subjects in the painting slowly fade into the background.
Art pieces from Ma would usually need a second or even a third look because there are multiple layers of interpretation. Depending on which school of thought a viewer is more apt in (Eastern or Western), the message that one gets will differ. His ability to blend expressive, conceptual figurative and surrealistic painting styles into a single artwork is a testament to Ma’s status as a master painter.
Another recurring motif in many of Ma’s artworks is the horse. The artist explains that the “horse has always been a friend to us since ancient times. The animal’s loyalty and gentle kindness awes me.” Animal symbolism in Chinese culture is not uncommon and the horse is often regarded as swift, courageous, diligent and faithful. He further shares that “Through the painting of horses as my main subject matter, I am able to express my feelings towards the social and human nature.”
Ma’s paintings of horses caught the attention of German car manufacturer Audi, which the latter said the artist’s “Blue Horse” series evoked a “’ Fast and Furious’ feel”. He was invited by the brand to create an artwork for the launch of the new A7 and after that Ma was chosen to be Audi’s spokesperson in China.
To Ma, an artist is like an explorer, always searching for breakthroughs and innovations. When a piece is sold, that becomes the motivation for creating artworks that surpass the previous collections. Hence, a relationship is forged between an artist and the society, where the constant back-and-forth is akin to a co-dependency between the two.
The ability to reach a wider audience is key for artists to attain progress in their careers. Exposure is what artists crave as that allows them to gain a different perspective and source of inspiration. With Ma’s partnership with Art Works, he can broaden his reach to an even greater composition of audience. The Singapore-based art consultancy firm is a window to the international art market and artists like Ma appreciate opportunities provided by Art Works.
Given Art Works’ strong connections in the Southeast Asian market, Ma and other artists represented by the firm can tap on this network for much-needed exposure. Furthermore, with the increasing spending power of the Asian markets, the growth potential is unparalleled — both creatively and monetary.
While artists like Ma continues to create stunning pieces, the art industry still needs new blood. And Ma’s advice to budding artists is to “practice patience, and keep a calm mind”. “Be bold to innovate and create breakthroughs, only then can one discover his/her unique artistic language and style.”