Rimi Yang’s Painterly Meditations on Figuration and Abstraction, East and West

Beginning in the 1940s, the Abstract Expressionists broke with formalist art conventions, departing from a cerebral approach to pursue more dynamic, spontaneous compositions. While she frequently incorporates figures, artist Rimi Yang approaches art-making with a similar intuition, evident through the quick, expressive brushstrokes that activate her canvases. The clash between abstraction and figuration is just one duality that serves as an entryway into her works. “We live in this confusing world with a lot of dual elements: female and male, happiness and sadness, love and hate, black and white, light and dark, high and low, East and West” she notes. Her paintings linger in the balance of these antitheses, driven by the tension and power that stark visual and conceptual juxtapositions emit.

Her new works, now on view in “Cosmic Dance,” at Joanne Artman Gallery, further this dialogue, in portraits, still lifes, and abstractions, rendered in her lively technique, prompting questions of process, figuration, and art historical referents. Prominent in Yang’s works is the dialogue between East and West—reflected in the way she represents females of Eastern origin in a style that resonates with Western art—which is informed by her own background: she identifies as Korean-American, grew up in Japan, and attended school in the United States. A range of appropriated imagery, including flora from Henri Fantin-Latour, geishas from Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, and regal ladies from portraits by master painters Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Diego Velázquez, deepen the conversation, while expressing her inspirations and influences.

Even her technique, a methodical process of building up and breaking down passages of paint, reflects dual tendencies. Lively, staccato brushstrokes enliven the picture plane in each of her works, be it a true abstraction, like Source of Life, or a full-length portrait, like Madam’s New Dance. The latter, where the soft features of a pensive young woman emerge from a complex network of brushstrokes, is a prime example of her unique skill, and the poignancy she achieves through melding artistic and cultural traditions.

“Cosmic Dance” is on view at Joanne Artman Gallery, Laguna Beach, Apr.1st through May 15th, 2014.

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