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余友涵:展现新风格,是我的使命 | Mingyuan Museum
2022-01-11 14:23

The current exhibition Psychedelic Ⅱ- Urban Landscape and Abstraction, in Shanghai Mingyuan Museum, transforms the fragmented, diverse, complex and changeable feelings of urban life into various abstract art creations, including artworks from 20 artists. Focusing on the theme of this exhibtion, we launched exclusive interviews to show more viewpoints about "Shanghai Abstract".


Mingyuan Museum (hereinafter "M"): How did you get into abstract art and persist to this day?

Yu Youhan (hereinafter "Yu"): In my opinion, Combining the skills of Western modern painting with China's profound cultural traditions to show the new style of modern Chinese painting is the mission of modern Chinese artists.

Modern Western art is a world art trend with huge influence. The expressions of modern Western art thoughts are diverse. For a period, I mainly studied Cézanne. I tried to deal with objects with the rules of composition. The overall composition and color power were strengthened, and the relationship between the parts became more coordinated. For a later period, I studied the surrealist abstract painter Miró. I used his abstract composition method to create some works. In sharps, I used images from some materials' microscopic photos; in conception, I strive to be beautiful, gentle, and sometimes mysterious.
Later, I was inspired by the American color field painting, which is simple but bold, and fully expressed the positive spirit of a young nation. It reminded me the artistic creations of the Chinese nation during the Qin and Han Dynasties, which were also simple and powerful. They could be artistic representatives of our nation's spirit. Using the composition and color of a Han mural that moved me deeply, and blending with the composition method of Mondrian, I began to express the "Han Dynasty mural painting through circles or straight lines.


M: Since then, you have tried a variety of painting languages and forms. The "circle"  is your longest and most varied form of expression. Why?

Yu: From learning modern Western painting techniques to trying to express the national spirit, I began to be dissatisfied with the formal "combination of Chinese and Western". Chinese nation's wisdom, simplicity and subtlety; as well as Chinese art's beauty, elegance, nature and high generality, emphasizes "Joyous but not indecent; mournful but not distressing" rather than naturalism, poses, excessive or show-off of techniques, so as to fully reflect our national characteristics. I am especially interested in the naive dialecticism philosophy of Taoism represented by Laozi in ancient China. Laozi’s dialectical viewpoint of "movement and development" is very wise. His propositions of being natural and inaction as well as watching calmly and waiting for the change are in line with my personality, so I conceived and created a kind of static but dynamic painting that can blend myself and my understanding of national culture. I removed the strong colors and used black and white as the main tone, with slight changes of cold and warm; I used ink and wash techniques; I removed straight lines instead of curves; I used some accidental effects more consciously. My painting comes from composition, but at this stage the grammar of composition has been invisible, and the emotional element of the picture has been strengthened. Also, the "foreign flavor" has almost disappeared. Is it possible to suppose that they are Chinese modern paintings?

Inner needs urged me to do new explorations. I think that modern paintings must seek an image that can combine highly generalized emotions with highly generalized concepts. In repeated thinking and practice, I chose a simple image - circle, as the main image of the picture. The circle can express the "beginning" or "end" of everything, and thus implies "an instant" and "eternity"; the circle symbolizes the movement of circulation, and also implies the movement of contraction and expansion, so it expresses a broad, inclusive and harmonious; the circle can be seen as a point or as an infinite surface, that represents both micro-particles and the macro-summary; the closedness of circle has the meaning of emptiness and connotation.

I hope that my circle is not only a symbol of the universe, but also a manifestation of the spirit of the universe, or a confession of my personal ideals. I hope the audience can be spiritually infected while seeing the images.


M: Your work has gradually changed from the concrete content such as color and structure to the interpretation of Taoist philosophy such as "qi" and "artistic conception". Even the circle transformed from black and white to color. Where did this change come from?

Yu: When I first started painting black and white circles in the early 1980s, it was a calm reaction to the political noise of the Cultural Revolution and the excitement of the "Western" passion after the sudden opening of the country. My choice of circle was the expression of returning to the original and pursuing the tranquility of the soul. Therefore, the artistic conception of the painting coincides with the "qi" of traditional literati painting.

Although the early circle has a strong cultural connotation, the specific handling of using simple black strokes and paying attention to painting skills are the results of my rational attention.

This kind of rational element gradually occupied a central position in my artistic practice. I no longer need the cultural meaning of "black and white circle" to support my painting, and more fascinated by the purer feeling through the professional language of painting. I found that I seem to have a misunderstanding. The Taoism meaning of circle is just a way to interpret its connotation. The process of turning my circle from black and white to color is my cleanup for non-painting. With the brush strokes of circle, I tried "+" shape, "x" shape, full frame and even random structure arrangement. What I care about is the logic of the painting language, not the cultural meaning of circle. From the black and white image with a strong sense of "qi" to the dangerous color circle with meretricious artistic conception, maybe it is because I'm more confident. It is not a pity or even it is necessary for me to sacrifice artistic conception and culture in order to the research of color. As for the frequent circle" shape still in recent works, it is only a purely technical consideration. In the composition of the image, the graphic arrangement always makes audience more visually comfortable.


M: Regarding the theme of our exhibition "City and Abstraction", what do you think is the relationship between abstract art and urban life?

Yu: It is impossible for abstract paintings to directly portray urban life. To some extent, keeping a distance from the object can help you express emotions. Matisse said that the most important thing in art is real. For Chinese, real is that you draw a hand exactly in proportion. However, they are talking about emotion and inner real. If your hands are moving all the time, then your real is the feeling of moving.

I think no matter when, the function of art is the similar. One is downward, which is to comfort and rest souls. The other is upward. If you have emotions you want to express but cannot tell, the artists may help you express them. Not only the art form of painting, but also music and literature have this function. In addition, I think art can also improve people's aesthetics. Of course, this is not absolute. I think art shouldn't be dogmatic.


The basic criterion for evaluating apainting is the relationship between the parts of the picture, i.e. thetotality. I have been painting in my room at home for many years, and in orderto see the whole picture in a relatively small space, I have had this oldSoviet-made telescope from very early on, which is used in reverse as ashrinking mirror, so that I can observe the overall effect of the picture. _Yu Youhan

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Related Artists: YU YOUHAN 余友涵

Related Exhibitions:

Psychedelic 03.20, 2021


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