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Yu Youhan and His Mountains

Author: Zhao Chuan 2004

In my eyes, one thing particular about Yu Youhan, who already achieved a lot in Chinese contemporary art history, is that Yu still endeavors to find the most appropriate expression mode to face the vicissitudes around the world.

This is a kind of a struggle. If fate is like a play of chess, then Yu's involvement carries some intellectual aura mixed with an unbinding character. I call it something particular because the young artists who followed him, either lack such confrontation or convey a more vague meaning, some even go to cynicism under the name of art. But Yu remains faithful to his artistic sensitivity with a serious attitude.

In today's China, or Shanghai, where information and material desire swept, the surroundings have become dramatically more materialized. A place where everybody hungers for what he or she wants. From "85 New Wave Movement" of the last century to the political pop trend in the 1990s, Yu stood as a pioneer in influencing the Chinese contemporary art history. His series of abstract round shapes or the canvas about Chairman Mao revealed his personal view towards China's cultural history of the past century via his distinctive visual images. Now when approaching sixty, the artist who pursued the realistic meanings to voice his attitudes of the society in his canvas made a switch to landscapes. What is calling him back to the natural surroundings? His newly created Yimengshan series give some aloof and satisfied emotions in a world that the artist has conjured up.

It was at Yu's studio that I first encountered these paintings. Actually, Yu's studio is part of his home. As his studio is not so big that these works could easily stand out. When standing in front of the canvas, I seemed to be drawn in it. At that moment, I felt a rush of something mysterious wafted over the canvas. This is not the familiar countryside nostalgia. But something that deeply moved Yu and enabled him to "plant" the emotions under his veteran brushwork, and later "nurtured" it on canvas. Sometimes the landscapes are sweet or profound, and the weather also echoed from bright to obscure. The scattered perspective hints something complicated and unknown melted with the inevitable portrait of young females and the blurred face of a boy.

The nearly 60-year-old artist has a profound life experience. Is he lost in his memories of the by gone childhood, youth and lust? Or is he aware that no matter if the memories are gone or destroyed with the erosion of time, they still vividly exist in some distant place? Or maybe I am just too poetic. But as far as I am concerned, these are illusionary images filled with psychological movements. Some stalwart primitive power comes out in the creation process. The artist raised his questions and later answered them in these paintings. These landscapes featuring the artist himself in it is a kind of spiritual return and matured nostalgia.

I can fully understand that from such a decisive moment, Yu Youhan freed himself from the hustle and bustle of a city life. He returned to his spiritual garden with the invariant land and emotions. It was when he realized that everytime something was destroyed, something still remained.

When these paintings are moved out from a private space to confront the public, it's hard to expect the result. Yu said " Duchamp used urinal to challenge art eighty years ago, I know what he objected as narrowness in art. But today a new narrowness in art has formed. The precious thing about art is its freedom, and I have the right to make my own choices." Yu's sensitivity announced his initiative in creating these paintings. He obviously wanted to balance something unbalanced with a close access to tradition. However in these paintings, Yu encountered himself and this unquenched vitality, which is the most exciting part of his work.

With a rush of real emotions, these landscapes didn't turn into conceptual symbols or images. In the landscapes with Yu himself in it, his counterpart becomes himself. We peered a serene thinker who struggles against himself. At this peaking moment, his technique culminates perfectly so every step he chooses is stunning.

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