Chihung Yang: Paintings and Works on Paper 1983-1986

Born and raised in Taiwan, and a recent emigrant to America, Chihung Yang has chosen to affirm, among other things, the interconnectedness of history and the present, ancient cultures and modern civilization, East and West, and Chinese calligraphic stylizations and various modes of pictorial depiction. To enter his art is to discover a densely layered field of simultaneity. This simultaneity is the result of the act of remembering. It is not only erotic, but it also reveals the kinds of distances the artist’s imagination is capable of traversing.

For Yang, both history and the present are mulch. His paintings and drawings evolve out of a probing of this confluence. Typically, each composition brings together naturalistic, schematic, and abstract images. Their deployment ranges from a seemingly haphazard, impulsive placement to a more deliberately orchestrated interpenetration of Eastern and Western painting styles and images.

This interpenetration should clue the viewer in to one of the ways Yang’s work stands apart from most recent art. Rather than appropriating images without regard to their sources or meaning, he finds ways to let them speak for themselves.

The compositions can be divided into two groups. In one, the images are imbedded in an abstract ground, while in the other the images are placed within and against a Chinese calligraphic landscape consisting of mountains, trees, and waterfalls. In the former, the artist discovers relationships, while in the latter he posits imaginative reconciliations. In both groups, a feeling of wonder and a sense of humor are used to discover connections.

In the more abstract compositions, sinuous contours grip sensuous, scumbled grounds with a delicate tenacity. Here and there, patches of light emanate from the depths. Sometimes, it is the cool light of thoughtful reflection, while other times it is the warm light of revery and desire. The scumbled grounds, their earthen colors, bring to mid the cave walls where ancient man left his images. Yang’s art is about origins and beginnings, the cyclical path of history.

Although these abstract works are palimpsests, they remain highly legible ones. The images can be lined up, like old friends greeting you at a party, each of whom is waiting to tell you the latest news. They can be arranged in a circle or oval, as if they are conferring over which story they will tell collectively. Or, they can overlap, like notes in a symphonic passage.

Whatever the arrangement, the underlying order is the result of the artist’s recognition of formal relationships, as well as his manipulations of a deeply associative memory. At the same time, the psychological violence conveyed by the fragmented images is offset by both the presence o flight and the caressive movement of the hand.

Whether they are artifacts of ancient cultures or things seen in mass media magazines, each image is depicted with immediacy and sensuality. The current connecting them together, and the reason behind their inclusion, is erotic. There is the seashell, which once protected, and the pot, which once held. There are columns, masks, nudes, and animals. Both the remoteness of history and the present are transformed into images of Eros. In Greek mythology, Eros is the god of love. In psychoanalysis, it is the sum of all our self-preserving instincts.

The mood of these works ranges from cooly reflective to erotic heat. They are suffused with irony, desire, and mystery. They are lush yet stark, personal yet expansive, and expressive yet restrained. If Chihung Yang doesn’t resort to lapel grabbing devices, it’s because he doesn’t have to. His work speaks frankly of the flesh, and of the necessary embrace of culture and the individual. The work glows with emotion and intellect.

~John Yau

        All rights reserved. © Chihung Yang 2008