Art Radar has a look at Mao Yan’s recent solo exhibition presented at Pace in Hong Kong.
The exhibition presented 10 new works of by the Chinese contemporary artist, showcasing landscape, still life and portrait paintings.
Pace Gallery recently presented “By The Edge”, Mao Yan’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Chinese artist Mao Yan’s works have been shown in previous exhibitions in Beijing and New York. This time, in Hong Kong, ten new works in addition to a continuation of the artist’s “Thomas” series, including still life and landscape paintings, were showcased. The exhibition provided a glimpse into the broader development of Mao Yan’s practice throughout his creative endeavour.
Mao Yan (b. 1968) graduated from the Oil Painting Department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing in 1991. Widely considered as a preeminent contemporary artist in China, Mao Yan was named as the representative of Chinese Neo-realism by the renowned art critic Li Xianting. Mao Yan’s works have been showcased in many Chinese and international exhibitions, such as “Ho Duo 7& Mao Yan” at Nanjing Art Institute Art Museum (2014), “Ethos: Mao Yan Works, Art & Public” in Geneva (2012), and “30 Years of Chinese Contemporary Art” at the Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai (2010). Mao Yan’s works have also been collected by important institutional collections, including the Yuz Foundation, Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum of Art, Shanghai’s Long Museum and Hong Kong’s M+.
The artist’s signature aesthetic of gray and ashen tones is easily recognisable in the works in “By the Edge”. Utilising fine and delicate brushstrokes with great control, Mao Yan translates the often concrete and explicit subjects in his portraits and still life pieces into abstract forms and analogy. The result is a space for the audience to have a sense of meditation and tranquility as well as interacting and interpreting his works spiritually.
In a 2015 interview, Mao Yan explained why he kept going back to Thomas as the subject matter:
There are, of course, many interesting, wonderful qualities about Thomas, but that’s not the main reason why I keep going back. During that time in the ‘90s, many Chinese artists were ardently searching for symbols, concepts and gestures to announce themselves as “Chinese artists”. That was their primary preoccupation, but that was not the case for me. I’m not concerned with that. I deliberately chose a figure who was not clearly linked to the mainstream Chinese art scene. This allowed me to fully focus on the pure language of art and painting for myself…
Landscape and Still Life Works
Also showed in the exhibition “By The Edge” are still life and landscape paintings by Mao Yan. The “City of Haze” series depicts the buildings and landscape in darker shades of gray as compared to other pieces. The cool tones, greys and blues accompanied by few touches of highlights represent the subject as the title “City of Haze” describes. While it may be hard to tell whether the landscape piece is depicting a scene during the day or night, the soft light further conveys a gravitational and dense feeling to the space in the landscape paintings, accentuating the emotional impression of the city rather than giving weight to the context of the city.
The artist’s playfulness with the spectrum of grey colour can be seen from two of the works displayed in the exhibition, from the series “Ink Bottle on a Sofa”. Each piece has taken a different perspective to portray the object. One with a spectrum of lighter grays and blues, and the other with the darker shade on the spectrum, almost extending to black for the close-up on the ink in the bottle. In this way, the audience may interpret different possibilities from the works. Perhaps the artist’s shadow produces that contrast in the colour spectrum or they represent the state of mind of the artist at the time of creation. By placing a restriction of colour, Mao Yan uses simple brushstrokes to give essence and temperament to the subjects, while allowing the audience to imagine the subjects and contexts unrestrictedly.
“By the Edge” by Mao Yan was on show from 8 June to 12 July 2018 at Pace Gallery, 12/F, H Queen’s, 80 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong.
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