by Ellen Manning
Yang Moyin’s unique style is wonderfully refreshing and experimental. Although she obtained her art degree in oil painting, she has always had a strong interest in the composition of ink paintings. This curiosity ignited a vast exploration of different media. After much experimentation, Yang has created a new artistic language, masterfully combining Chinese ink painting techniques with oil and acrylic methods and media on canvas. Her delicate, fluid brush strokes may resemble that of a traditional Chinese ink painting, but her technique is revolutionary and her subject matter is contemporary, abstract and mysterious, which highlights her originality as one of China’s most important emerging artists.
Yang Moyin employs a soft aesthetic by using light hues of grey, pink, blue and green. She contrasts a gentle colour-palette with accents of orange and red to evoke emotion within her work. The artist’s pieces have an ethereal quality, giving her subject matter a semi-transparent impression similar to watercolour paintings. It is impressive, and it shows the artist’s skill and mastery. Yang has managed to use oil and acrylic to create a similar effect to spreading watered-down ink or watercolour paint onto a sheet of paper. Her colours look as though they have been splashed onto the canvas and dispersed with her paintbrush, fading as the water and paint combination gradually becomes less potent. This is a nearly impossible, yet somehow accomplished, oil and acrylic technique of the artist. The pairing of soft colors with such a graceful technique evokes a soothing atmosphere. Yang’s wonderful painting methods work especially well for her series of figures in the water. The twists and turns of the flowing water appear fantastic and surreal under her half-submerged subjects. Indeed, Yang Moyin’s paintings with water are semi-abstract. There is something beautiful and poetic in the way that the tender, cream-like and yet strangely powerful water engulfs all that comes into contact with it. The patches of colour composing the faces seem to blend into the flowing, tangled up water. In one piece, a figure has liquid pouring out of its mouth, delicately intertwining with the water. Given the potency of her seamless brush strokes, Yang Moyin could just as well have been a very accomplished abstract artist.
Yang Moyin does not use outlines to paint her subjects and when this method is combined with the patches of blank space (a technique much more common with ink paintings) and a clear background, the paintings can appear to be semi-abstract. One might be fooled into thinking that Yang’s technique is unskilled and unclear. In fact, it is the opposite. Not only is the young artist able to combine ink, oil and acrylic techniques, but she is also able to boldly and finely control the negative space within each piece so that controlled order appears from seeming chaos. From almost messy-looking patches of colour, the viewers of Yang’s works are masterfully led to use their own imagination to “fill in the blanks” and clearly see the figures that have been laid out. In a sense, the viewer’s own mind composes the building blocks of colour laid out by the artist to form delicate and ethereal figures and objects.
Apart from painting portraits, Yang Moyin also applies her innovative techniques to fantastic scenes. The artist has painted ink-wash looking objects, such as the earth, flowers and fire, animating them to life with intricate tangles of colour. In one piece, a cup of overflowing coffee has a tower of cream rising up to the heavens, while miniature figures of girls with pigtails revel in the lavish topping: climbing it, drinking it in a straw, hiding behind it and playing music on top of it. Yang’s exceptional technique gives the whipped cream a delicate, twisted and fluffy impression. While below the textured white cream, the artist has employed stronger colours of orange and brown, with much more apparent and stronger lines, to imply that the boiling coffee is gradually absorbing the soft and gentle cream and spilling over the coffee cup onto the saucer below. The juxtaposition of opposing subject matter destabilizes the seemingly ‘calm’ within Yang’s work and evokes viewers to reflect upon her meaning.
As Yang Moyin wants to “explore the living status of her generation in modern China”, the figures in her paintings are young people. In some depictions however, her characters are floating in water or fixated on fire. In one particular piece, there is a figure holding a cane and a hoop wearing a jester-like outfit; from the shirt a flame is burning bright. The way Yang Moyin paints the hair – two thin pigtails pointing upwards – closely resembles a pair of antennae or twisted horns. This carnival imagery creates a sense of playfulness and a strange wonder. Perhaps the artist herself is attempting to make sense of a world of rapid change. The overall effect is slightly eerie yet endearing.
Given her masterful and unique technique and her artistry of expression, Yang Moyin is undoubtedly a major talent and contributor to the contemporary art scene in China. With the appearance of ink-washed patches of colour intertwining with blank space and twisted colours of other subjects within each piece, one can see the relation of Yang’s subjects with the space and objects around them. Thus, Yang Moyin’s paintings ironically point out one of the main laws of physics: we, and everything around us, whether dead or alive, are made up of the same building blocks. Yang’s fluid technique combines the living and the inanimate, the background and the foreground, fire, water, earth and air, and ink, watercolour, oil and ink techniques. The result is a unique artistic language that makes us question our own preconceived ideas of what is possible and what is impossible on canvas.