A leading contemporary Chinese artist and citizen of the world, Yang Jiechang is enjoying two overlapping solo exhibitions in Hong Kong this summer. Presented by Alisan Fine Arts, “Early Works by Yang Jiechang: 100 Layers of Ink” features his gorgeously textured, early ink-on-paper paintings. “Yang Jiechang: Good Morning Hong Kong,” which the gallery is presenting in partnership with the French Consulate, will fill the Hong Kong Central Library with a lively selection of the artist’s recent works.
All of Yang Jiechang’s works reflect his own life path, which took him through China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–76), the emergence and growth of modern China, and, ultimately, to France and Germany, where he has lived since 1989. His early ink paintings on view at the gallery—studies of the links between Eastern and Western approaches to painting—reward long, lingering viewing. To make these large-scale compositions, he applied successive layers of black ink to the same piece of paper, day after day. The ink eventually over-saturated the paper, yet the artist continued to apply it. As a result, Yang’s surfaces are wrinkled and puckered—with alternating matte and shiny patches—and appear almost sculptural. In them, the traditions and materials of classical Chinese ink painting meet the aesthetics of such Western artistic movements as Color Field Painting and Minimalism.
The works on view at the Hong Kong Central Library reflect Yang Jiechang’s erudite, multidisciplinary approach, and include a video installation and a monumental, 14-panel painting series, titled Tale of the 11th Day. For the latter work, the artist took inspiration from Giovanni Boccaccio’s canonical novel The Decameron. Referencing the book’s tales of love and life, which play out during the terrifying backdrop of the Black Death plague (c. 1346-53), the painting features scenes of harmony and interaction among human and animal figures. This sensual, utopian vision could be said to stand in sharp contrast to the world outside its edges, but Yang presents it in a spirit of optimism. Through it, he hopes to counteract what he describes as “a time of conflict and unpredictable change, where feelings of insecurity and disorientation prevail,” and bring some levity to life in Hong Kong.