The Art of Ding Yi is indissolubly bound to the city of Shanghai, which in itself bears witness to the existing tension between the old and the new China, between Chinese Culture and that of the West.
In 1980 Ding Yi was a student at the Shanghai Art Institute. Those were the years immediately after Mao’s “cultural Revolution”, when it was at last possible to study the modern art of the West. For the first time Ding Yi came in touch with the original works of the American Abstract Art, and this was a moment of fundamental importance to his growth and practice as an artist.
Ding Yi set out to find his won language, which is revealed in the choice of the character “+” (and its variant “X”) as synonyms of structure, of rationality, of the pictorial expression which expresses the essence of things. The “+” is the symbol of simplicity and self-discipline, a gesture which the artist meticulously and with constancy of heart repeats every day in his studio, as a real challenge to both body and mind.
The first phase of Ding Yi’s work is marked by an almost maniacal precision: the sign “+”, in black, is placed with great deliberation over the canvas. The artist used rulers, sticky tape and ruling pens. But very soon this very precision became an impediment to the expression of the essence of things, and Ding Yi abandoned the rules and rulers and began to draw freehand. Slanting lines, a wealth of increasingly brilliant colors and free play of the brush-strokes became the distinctive features of this new phase.
In te course of the years in which he practiced the “+” symbol, he started to experiment with new materials. Linen, embroidered fabrics, drawing paper, chalks, water-colors oils and acrylics: the use of new materials and the mere way of painting make the pictures of this period resemble ancient fabrics, and the wish to preserve traces of the ancient Chinese tradition is self-evident.
The works succeeding the year 1997 may be seen as displaying Ding Yi’s departure from his exclusively inner world and the beginning of his close observation of the world around him. He looks at every smallest facet of Shanghai, the city he loves, and records on canvas all the sudden changes in the life of that metropolis. His works display fluorescent and metallic colors, expressions of all that is excessive, the noise, the chaos, the turmoil, but also the incentives and new way of life in the new city.
In his paintings Ding Yi tells us of the story of Shanghai, but also of his memories and feelings regarding own life. The sign “+” and that city are from a conceptual point of view the same thing: neither has changed, yet they are totally different from what they once were.
Ding Yi was born in 1962 in Shanghai, China. Lives and works in Shanghai.