One of China’s leading artists, and a pioneer in the field of contemporary ink paintings, has her one woman show opening October 30 in London with China specialist Michael Goedhuis. Yang Yanping’s exhibition, entitled Lotus Heaven, comes in the wake of her 2013 major retrospective exhibition at The Art Museum of Beijing Fine Art Academy. There are 20 paintings in the exhibition opening October 30 and closing November 8 at 66 St. James’ Place.
Michael Sullivan, the late authority on modern Chinese art, recounted how Yang Yanping one beautiful day in the fall of 1978, free at last from the humiliating excesses of the Cultural Revolution, came upon a farm with a long neglected lotus pond in which the plants were fast fading but still alive. With her primitive pen she drew them on a sheet of a coarse yellow paper. This chance encounter ignited a life-long immersion in the subject matter, symbolism and pictorial language of the lotus flower. Into the theme she has poured her thoughts, feelings and memories. ‘The twists and turns of every stem’, she later wrote, ‘were a testimony of a stubborn fight against the passage of nature’.
The theme of the lotus flower is the dominant subject of this exhibition and has been an enduring, as well as sustaining source of inspiration for Yang over many years. But it serves not as a subject in itself, but a convenient catalyst for her to express her weltanschaung – her reading, her experience in life, her knowledge, and her complete intellectual hinterland.
In the early years after Mao’s death, Yang painted a series of lotus as its glory ebbs away in autumn and winter. This was a way to express the deep melancholy and frustration of the intellectual class witnessing the precariousness of man’s freedom of spirit during the trauma of the past quarter century. In her words, the sight of the flower ‘set in the glowing light of an autumn sun seemed to reveal the lotus as a representation of all living things, with all its different destinies, some weaker, some stronger’.
Since then Yang has become a pivotal international figure in the dialectic emanating from cultural life in China for a century or more. In essence, the story is one in which artists or intellectuals grapple with how to revitalize Chinese culture. Are they to jettison the rich but burdensome legacy of China’s glorious past and adopt Western ideas? Or should they dig into the fertile sub-soil of their own culture for guidance and meaning? Or even better, incorporate some of the invigorating currents from the assertive West and link them into their own vision, conditioned as it was by a rigid but sophisticated orthodoxy on the one hand and an intelligent awareness of their world absorbing momentous changes on the other?
As Godehuis point out, ‘these are implacable issues and are still in doubt although the battle lines have been more clearly delineated. Broadly speaking there are four main tendencies in Chinese art today. First is the strenuously conservative backlash adhering ever more tenaciously to the great classical traditions, with just the occasional meaningless nod in the direction of modernism. Then there is the vast factory of artists trained in Western social-realist oil-painting in the Maoist era who left a legacy of technically accomplished painting that can be seen all over China. Thirdly there is an avant-garde movement, which has annexed much of the more provocative work of the Western cutting-edge, without often having truly assimilated the conditions in which it is being produced. And finally there is a minority of artists, of whom Yang is one of the most successful, who see themselves as re-animating those elements of Chinese painting that, together with a multiplicity of other influences can now best convey contemporary reality in all its accelerating and confusing complexity.’
Michael Goedhuis has dealt in Asian art for around 30 years and is currently focusing on contemporary Chinese ink works. This present exhibition coincides with and is part of the wider event, Asian Art in London.
Exhibition: 30th October – 8th November 2014
Michael Goedhuis, 66 St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NE