Wang Yin: Monther and Son

Wang Yin

Text/ Chang Xuyang

I would like to compare the entire exhibition, where the works of art look at each other on equal footing, to crystals. The geometric color blocks of various shapes on the human body seem to deflect light waves independently and in concert. At the same time, the six paintings form respective facets of the same crystal, and the dialogue between the paintings reaches for complete construction. More intriguingly, tracing Wang Yin’s painterly practice is akin to crystallization, a process of precipitating excess ooze out of the body, only preserving what he cherishes and pursues.


Two Mother and Son

These two works, sharing the same title, are similar compositions created one year apart. The artist’s repetition of the same subject matter allows us to observe the ways he explores various expressive channels in synonyms.

For example, the black background in the upper right of Mother and Son 1 still seems to suggest spatial depth, while the pink in the same position in Mother and Son 2 appears to be more in the foreground than the mother’s face, asserting a sense of collage. In Mother and Son 1, the mother’s hands still appear slightly three-dimensional, while in Mother and Son 2, they are treated as flat forms. In Mother and Son 1, the color contrast between the mother and child’s faces gives the impression that the mother is tightly enwrapping the child’s face between her arms. In contrast, in Mother and Son 2, the two faces and two hands are connected into a patch of unevenly applied colors, enhancing the connection between mother and child. At this moment, a few strands of the mother’s hair on her forehead jump out amusingly.


Basic Propositions

Wang Yin’s work often begins with his collection of photographs from old magazines, images that carry the artist’s memories and emotions, and the figure’s simple actions in the portraits become the artist’s starting point. Ultimately, these figures are entirely removed from their original contexts, and the colors he uses overflow with a vague sense of age, whose composition allows the spectator to explore new interests in the uncanny.

Bewildering the object as a starting point has always been part of Wang Yin’s work, examining and rethinking some of the experiences and concepts that are taken for granted. Wang Yin has taken a committed approach to bewilderment in his works by only employing compositional means while extricating ideas, events, stories, etc., that were once involved in his works that relied on a narrative for interpretation. Instead, he’s kept a few basic propositions: how to represent objects through forms, lines, and colors, how to render complexity in direct relationships, and how to invoke emotions through forms. His inclination for geometric shapes and abstraction is shown through colors rather than light and shadow. He uses lines to delineate contours that compress three-dimensional space, etc. These modernist painting languages overlap with certain forms of traditional Chinese art (such as Dunhuang frescoes), and Wang Yin, who is familiar with both Western art experience and traditional Chinese culture, has the ambition to explore this converging path.


Two portraits of youths

A young girl in pink sits on her knees against an empty background so that the overall structure of the upper vertical and lower horizontal and the slightly bent shape of her body stand out from the picture. The hair is depicted with a few dark blocks lacking thickness. Her features are ambiguous, with a slightly open mouth and slit eyes, similar to a slit open clay pot. The narrow, dark shape below the face characterizes the three-dimensional nature of the chin in collage. The folds on the shirt and pants are made apparent through color blocks, either dark (under the waist and sleeves of the dress) or light (at the knee area). The white circles on the clothing are outlined with traditional ink and brushwork aesthetics. Interestingly, the two hands here are like thinly folded paper and fit into the right leg flowingly. Notice the prominent dark pink triangle under the left shoulder, which implicitly indicates the thickness of the body, and the strange yellowish semicircle on the side of the left leg, which does not represent any specific part of the body but serves as a necessary component to balance the pictorial structure.

A nude portrait of a man in a standing salute has his left arm wrapped around the back of his body. His fingers poke out in the shape of small geometric blocks along the side of his thighs. The torso and thighs are each depicted in several very close shades of earthy or apricot red, with the body’s shadow also rendered in geometric blocks of dark colors. The lower legs are filled with alternating warm and cold colors to generate an echoing relationship. The white triangle bulging from the teenager’s left shoulder seems somewhat abrupt, but if one were to block this detail and look at the picture as a whole, one would notice that the tilted pose would look unstable. Like the seated posture in The Girl in Pink, the standing posture of the young man seems commonplace but not a simple form, perhaps only seen in the body movements of traditional operas, imbuing depth in simplicity. The curved color blocks in the background remind one of the stage curtains; coherently interlaced lines and pastel color blocks are laid into them.

If we compare The Girl in Pink and A Young Man with Harmony and Willow, made in 2021, we get a sense of Wang Yin’s further developed painting language. The lines that depict the human body straighten rather than curving, inclined for the “skeletal” style in traditional Chinese art. These details, treated straightforwardly, such as the sharp edge of the feet, give the sense of knife carving rather than painting. The human body is more like a set of colored “parts” assembled; the shape of these parts is highly generalized and is precisely and densely administered through the artist’s hands.

From a distance, the color blocks appear flat, but upon closer examination, the texture is complex and dense. Within the relatively simplified shapes, the thick texture is built up with more energy from applying layers of thin and pigmented chafing and painting.


Two more “Mother and Son.”

Unlike the close-up depictions in the two small-dimension Mother and Son paintings mentioned above, Wang Yin places the figures in a more open setting in these two new works, especially in Mother and Son 3, where the large blue and tan colors seem to divide the sky and earth, the colors are clear and crisp, neither gaudy nor dull.

If we removed the human faces from the paintings, we could claim them as abstract paintings comprised of color blocks of varying sizes and shapes, with the human figures only to define the boundaries of these elements. The arms enclose the shape of the human body, and between the legs below, forming two echoing triangles, partially resembling the structure of the Chinese character “yao” or “wen.” The layout does not seek completeness between the real and the opaque, as if the artist aims for the risqué and sparse calligraphic momentum. The spectators can focus their eyes on any area and appreciate the richness of lines, colors, and textures.

The children in Mother and Son 3 and Mother and Son 4 seem to have grown up, covering their mothers in front of them or sitting on their sides in very similar poses. Instead of portraying the figures’ facial expressions, the physical relationship between them becomes the artist’s carrier, as they either blend into one or cling to each other. The child looks at the audience with crossed fingers as if he is thinking and wanting to say something, while the mother’s posture with her arms holding her legs and head resting on one shoulder exhibits calmness and ease.

Comparing the overall sense of these two “Mother and Son,” one is gentler and apparent, while the other is coarse as if it is on the way to completion, but both are full of intriguing details.

From these paintings, we get the sense of Wang Yin’s elegant pictures that do not necessarily strive for perfection in the way he renders the lines, colors, or shapes; they are thoughtful without seeking fluidity and meticulous and thorough without aiming for clarity.

At this moment, Wang Yin is on a narrow, secluded road devoid of charming sceneries, moving legends, and impassioned rhetoric on the roadside. He has treasured those experiences and feelings about the language of art in his travel bag along the way, just like millions of streams singing in harmony. How is that not a broader and more accessible road?


Wang Yin

Born in 1964 in Ji’nan, Shandong Province, Wang Yin grew up in Qingdao. He graduated from the Department of Stage Design, the Central Academy of Drama in 1988. He lives and works in Beijing.

Painting for Wang Yin is very much a vehicle for his long term research into issues of history and ideology, and central to this process is his strong affinity with Chinese art history, especially the modern history of Chinese oil painting. The cultural and ideological tension in Wang Yin’s canvases don’t spring from his compositions per se, but from their apparent lack of contemporaneity. Their intricately subdued tones and ostensibly quiet subject matter convey issues at the very heart of – but often hidden by – contemporary life. The subjects of Wang Yin’s paintings are always anonymous people, anonymous things, anonymous places. The more anonymous they appear, the more they seem to approach the primal state of our encounter with the world.

Wang Yin’s recent solo exhibitions include: Wang Yin 2021, A07 Building, 798 Art Zone, Beijing; Friendship, Mirrored Gardens, Guangzhou, 2017; The Gift, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing, 2016.

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