Chihung Yang: Introduction

Memory is a rich vein of ore waiting to be struck, a mine field waiting to be detonated. It's the glint of a hammer on a moonlit evening. The act of remembering is erotic, and yet memories are dangerous. They pull us back to the source, but they don't quench our thirst. The longing remains, stubborn and undeniable. Chihung Yang's drawings are erotic. They convey an atmosphere of longing, yet they recognize the danger. His sinuous lines grip sensuously scumbled surfaces with a delicate tenacity. Plants, seashells, horses, goats, and tools are among his recurrent images. Together, they weave a rich, suggestive texture in which a story is imbedded.

Sometimes these images are lined up, like old friends waiting to greet you at a party. Other times they form a circle, as if the real story still eluded them. Whatever the arrangement, the underlying order is the result of Yang's deeply associative memory. In Figure Without Head (Mixed Media on Paper, 1983), the curve of a leaf fits into the negative space defined by a woman's back. To the left of this conjunction Yang has graphically depicted an axe blade imbedded in a tree stump. The connections between the three are both obvious and subliminal. It's as if an electrical current passes through them, igniting their latent power. The psychological violence conveyed by the fragmented images is offset by the drawing, the caressive, healing presence of the hand.

In Associations of Ancient Culture (Mixed Media on Paper, 1983), Yang has depicted the profile of an Ancient Egyptian figure, the base of a Greek column, a hand holding a Stone Age tool, a seashell, and the fragment of a pot. Everything coexists, or more importantly, nothing is assigned a higher value. History is mulch.

Whether it existed in the Stone Age or Ancient Greece, the past is remote. Its remoteness still exerts and enormous tug, like the moon. This power is something Yang is fully aware of. It is why the other connection Yang brings to the surface is erotic. There is the seashell, which once protected, and the pot, which once held. There is the masculine grandeur of the column and the incised, female grace of the pot.

Yang transforms both immediate and remote memories into images of Eros. In Greek mythology Eros is the god of love. In psycho-analysis it is the sum of all our self preservative instincts. Despite the violence implied by the axe, pliers, or falling horse, Yang knows that what will save him is his recognition of the power of memory. Born in Taiwan and living in New York, he has been blessed and cursed with living in two, vastly different yet subtly linked worlds. If they are to survive and maintain their identity, the ancient and modern must be made to coexist. Yang doesn't want to deny any part of himself. He embraces the past, he hugs the present.

If the images are fragments of something larger, then one must remember that all of us live in a compartmentalized world. What Yang elicits is the current of feeling, the respect and affection he has for what has influenced him. He was born in Taiwan in 1947, and emigrated to New York in 1979. He has lived in two cultures that are more different than they are alike. One respects tradition, for example, while the other emphasizes the new. He will always have to live in both places at once.

Manhattan and Taipei are energy fields of relentless bombardment. Pulsing neon, blaring radios, traffic, smog, and unpredictable crowds vie for attention. The urban dweller lives in a world of signs. There are the obvious public warnings and the hidden secret messages. There is the never ending solitude. To pay attention is to remain vulnerable. To transform what's around you is to survive.

The images can be schematic, naturalistic, or abstract. The mood can be cool and somewhat detached or simmering with heat. The confidence of the hand, its natural ability, is undeniable. Yang's drawings are suffused with solitude, humor, and mystery. They are lush yet stark, personal yet lucid, expressive yet restrained. If he doesn't ask for our attention with lapel grabbing devices, it's because he doesn't need to.

~John Yau

        All rights reserved. © Chihung Yang 2008