Born in a remote part of China’s southwestern Yunnan province, Ye is part of the first generation of Chinese artists to be exposed to Western modernism, one of many influences that he has brought together to create his unique style. As a young man, he studied painting from books and learned from the decorative styles of the older artists of the region. In 1978, he became part of the second class after the Cultural Revolution to be admitted to the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where he’s now a professor.
There, he and his fellow students eagerly absorbed the colors and compositions of artists like Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin, copying their works in gouache one page at a time from publically displayed books. Deeply curious, Ye has looked beyond this early influence, finding inspiration from a global range of sources as diverse as Australian bark painting and African woodcuts.
But the history of art is not the only influence that has been important in Ye’s work. Nature also plays a starring role, as the world around him offers what the artists calls “another kind of realism.” He is perhaps best known for his images of birds, a recurring theme both in complex works and as the single subject of large paintings.
He often uses a “slow scribble” technique of drawing with ink, creating dense thickets of marks that make up his lines. Ye has said that “scribble usually gives an impression of fast and simple. But if I sketch something childish in a mature way and with slow process, people might miss-recognize it as a child’s drawing at first, then suddenly discovering the meaning in it.” To Ye, “this is an interesting process that I am like a trap setter, making a joke to visitors just for a harmless fun.”