There is a particular moment in which the painter, unintentionally unrespectful to God, breathes life into the portrait. This moment is when the pupil of the eye is painted. It’s here, in this precise dot of time, that a series of brushstrokes comes alive. The paint becomes person, the oil sublimates into soul. The Greeks knew this passage too well, and that’s why in their sculptures the eye is often a bulb without pupil, looking inwardly rather than at the world. They were afraid a living sculpture was an act of hubris against the Gods. Lu Cong disagrees: he’s an emerging artist from Shanghai who moved to Iowa and quitted biology to concentrate on paintings but kept his biological approach to art. You discover a particular βίος in his portraits, a breathtaking breath that leaves you unsettled. Why that young woman is looking at you so intensely? You begin to think there might be a point when you swap roles: you become the painting and the painted becomes the observer.
Lu Cong’s eyes are slightly reddish, liquid, liberated, as if they just finished shedding tears. They look at you with sadness and dignity. They do not ask for your compassion; they are beautifully independent, and powerful in front of your weakness. His subjects pose in front of a limbo, a wallpaper, a countryside, but the most striking ones are those in front of the city. Here you see the painful clash between concrete and flesh. The naked body and the naked soul, exposed to the spinal verticality of the buildings, feel like a fragile animal lost amid a jungle of beehives. In this case individual beauty becomes universal. We are not looking at a young woman anymore, but at the beauty of 6 billion human beings. Lu Cong, more than anything, captures the sour poetry of contemporary apathy. And this is truly extraordinary.