Re­al­ity and fan­tasy

Beauty of the gar­den in­spires artist to paint

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Contact the writer at linqi@chi­

Sev­eral years ago, artist Yu Hong came across an aban­doned gar­den in a Beijing sub­urb. She walked through it and saw many nearly com­plete con­crete pav­il­ions built in tra­di­tional Chi­nese style and lo­tus bloom­ing in a pool.

“It was a sunny day, and the blue sky and white clouds were re­flected in the wa­ter. The flour­ish­ing lo­tus formed a sharp con­trast with the pav­il­ions that were in bad shape. The scene looked so beau­ti­ful,” re­calls the 50-year-old painter, who is also a pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tral Acad­emy of Fine Arts.

The beauty of the gar­den in­spired Yu to paint A Gar­den of Dreams last year, an oil work on can­vas in which she re­pro­duced the scene in the gar­den: blue sky, a pavil­ion, the pool and the lo­tus bloom. And she jux­ta­posed with the scene in­ci­dents and sto­ries from the past and present, East and West, in­clud­ing plane crashes, ex­plo­sions, child refugees and an­cient Chi­nese fa­bles, through which view­ers can feel a mix­ture of re­al­ity and fan­tasy.

The huge paint­ing, al­most 10 me­ters in width, is now the cen­ter­piece of her ex­hi­bi­tion of the same ti­tle.

The dis­play at CAFA’s Art Mu­seum in­cludes 19 oil paint­ings and three glass sculp­tures.

The ti­tle, A Gar­den of Dreams, or Youyuan Jing­meng in Chi­nese, is bor­rowed from the Chi­nese Kunqu Opera clas­sic The Peony Pavil­ion, or Mu­dan Ting, which is based on the work of Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) play­wright Tang Xianzu.

The orig­i­nal play is based on a ro­man­tic en­counter be­tween an of­fi­cial’s daugh­ter, Du Lini­ang, and a young scholar, Liu Meng­mei.

But what Yu com­mu­ni­cates through her paint­ing is un­re­lated to the plot.

She says the phrase “youyuan jing­meng (walk­ing in the gar­den and hav­ing an in­ter­rupted dream)” is to show that when one takes a stroll, one is bound to en­counter un­ex­pected, sur­pris­ing things.

In the paint­ing, she por­trays the well­known Chi­nese fa­ble “man­gren mox­i­ang”, or blind peo­ple touch­ing an ele­phant.

The story is about how a group of blind peo­ple try to vi­su­al­ize what an ele­phant looks like by touch­ing it and how they have ar­gu­ments about their con­clu­sions as their per­cep­tions dif­fer.

Her por­trayal sat­i­rizes those who be­lieve that they can see the whole is­sue in a given sit­u­a­tion when they are aware only about a part of the is­sue.

Yu rein­ter­prets the fa­ble in a mod­ern con­text, say­ing: “Every­body be­lieves they are smart enough to get the whole idea. How­ever, we really know very lit­tle about what is go­ing on, and it is likely that we of­ten mis­judge the sit­u­a­tion.”

In her work, she also al­ludes to the global refugee cri­sis by paint­ing ba­bies placed in basins in grass, and among them is a refugee child ly­ing on his back on a beach. This is a ref­er­ence to the death of Turk­ish refugee child Alan Kurdi, who was found on a Turk­ish beach last Septem­ber, which brought the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis to the at­ten­tion of the world.

Speak­ing about her work, Yu, who grad­u­ated from CAFA, says: “Liv­ing in to­day’s world means we usu­ally know what is hap­pen­ing far away through the me­dia. The events may not seem di­rectly rel­e­vant to us but they af­fect ev­ery­one. I hope to be able to por­tray this.”

Since the 1990s Yu has been fo­cus­ing on the men­tal well­be­ing of young artists.

“I’ve dis­cov­ered a lot of heart­break among this group. Be­ing sen­si­tive, frag­ile, help­less and hon­est, they want re­spect and love but they are of­ten mis­un­der­stood. These feel­ings be­come the sub­jects ofmy cre­ations,” she says.

In the paint­ing Shouzhu Daitu (Wait­ing for gain with­out pain), a young­woman squats on the top of a clus­ter of traf­fic lights that are fac­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, show­ing how peo­ple get lost in the pur­suit of gain.

But Yu soft­ens the scene with a po­etic touch: She adds sev­eral wil­low twigs that stroke the woman’s body.

In her other paint­ings, she por­trays girls who strike gym­nas­tic poses against back­grounds like sheer cliffs. Through this, she tries to show the ten­sion and feel­ings of cri­sis that these char­ac­ters face.

Zhan Jian­jun, an oil painter and Yu’s men­tor when she was a stu­dent at CAFA, says her work re­veals her keen, del­i­cate ob­ser­va­tions and deep con­cerns for so­ci­ety, even as her skilled, ex­pres­sive brush­work de­lights fans.

Yu says that both the op­ti­mistic and pes­simistic sides of so­ci­ety are re­flected in her work. “The core of cre­ation can’t be taught. It is some­thing one is born with or learns from life.

“The world has changed fast. But if one is de­tached from the changes your work lacks depth,” she says.


Artist Yu Hong’s (above) on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at the Art Mu­seum of the Cen­tral Acad­emy of Fine Arts in­cludes the show’s cen­ter­piece, AGar­de­nofDreams (top), paint­ings that por­tray girls who strike gym­nas­tic poses against back­grounds of sheer cliffs, and a glass sculp­ture.

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