Yu Youhan: The Representational and The Abstract
The famous English contemporary art historian Edward Lucie-Smith once said: “Yu Youhan is one of the first painters [of the post-socialist era] in China to turn Western style into his own artistic language. For this reason, he is likely to have an important place in histories of Chinese art.” Yu Youhan is a significant groundbreaking maker of Chinese contemporary abstract painting and “Political Pop”(Zhengzhi bopu), and he represented China attend the Venice Biennale and the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1993 and in 1994 respectively for the first time. This exhibition is another important retrospective exhibition held after his solo exhibition at the Long Museum (West Bund) in 2016, which features all his representative and contemporary works from different periods and different series throughout his 50-year course of creation, demonstrating his creative context through the examination of sociality and aesthetics in his works and the milestones of his career.
Yu is a simple-minded person, and his world outlook is shaped during the idealistic years. Therefore, he considers himself as a person who believes in truth, should help to transform his nation and be beneficial to people. Yu always claims that he is only an “amateur” artist, and keep distance from any academy systems intentionally or not. Yu was born in the 1940s, so his art creations coincide with the Chinese history in the past 50 years; and he has been express his reflections on the social changes during these years by means of painting.
From Yu’s point of view, abstract aesthetic is an important similarity between traditional Chinese art and some Western art schools such as the Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne’s works. Abstract is a subjective conceptualizing from objective things, and Yu has been showed his unique expression skills of abstraction in a picture from very early on. His abstract paintings are with very strong abstractness, while the figurative elements are often integrated into the paintings. In his eyes, abstract dots, lines, and surfaces, as well as representational figures and landscapes are all components of composition. Constituting these components into a unity with a sense of order has always been the crux of his creation. Due to the special history and time, Yu learnt painting through self-study without academic training. The plain style in his paintings may seemingly “clumsy”, as the “honesty” and “simplicity” are the vivid personal characteristics of him.
In the 1980s, Yu’s original intention to create the “Circle” series is to seek Chinese modern art; but the mode of thinking and ways of expression in the following paintings are actually beyond the Modernism. By imitating and appropriating, his “Pop” series create an art which seemingly ambiguous and looks like jokes. Yu said that art connects tradition on one end with the future on the other. He views all things by means of dialectics; thus they all contain both positive and negative, active and passive, and praise and criticism. If the audience would like to spend some time to figure the subtleties out, they may be inspired.
Looking from a timeline, Yu’s paintings consist of different stages including early landscape works, early abstract works, early Pop works, later Pop works, Yimeng Mountain landscape works, later abstract works and so on, which all overlapping on the time of creation, and interpenetrating one another in artistic languages and themes. These changes on creation are influenced by the constantly changing of social environment on one hand; and Yu himself is always seeking for new ways of expression to avoid new “narrow-minded” on the other hand. Thus, the viewers who are familiar with Yu’s old works often be “shocked” by the changes of his artistic forms. An impressive diversity is still demonstrated by the themes and forms in Yu’s recent works, revealing the way that art deeply connects to his life; such as Disassembled Hexahedron, which is a set of paintings inspired by packing boxes, and the realistic work that depicting the surface of the moon. As he once said, “Marcel Duchamp said the best art is his life. I say my best life is my art. ”
Ticket Price: Free