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YOUHAN YU: Art is My Best Life

陈溪 Cecilia Chan 2018-04-08 13:58

Yu's latest works and some of his earlier works were first seen in his solo exhibition “The Representational and the Abstract" in the ShanghART Gallery at West Bund. It is well known that representational elements and abstract elements blend into each other in Yu's works and are very distinct characteristics in his painting language. It is the distinctive feature of his painting language and style. How did the style of his creation start? Well, that dates back to the 1970s.


In the 1970s, when many of his peers went to the mountainous areas and the countryside, Youhan Yu was recovering from an illness in Shanghai. He drew in his spare time. After recovering, he was assigned to Shanghai Art & Design Academy as a teacher. During the teaching period, Youhan Yu taught students while strengthening his own painting ability. Although the conditions back then were limited, Yu was optimistic. He said with a smile, “My creative conditions were not too difficult at that time. Although there was a slight shortage of goods, there was always a way to solve the problem.”

So, relying on the convenience of being a teacher, Youhan Yu was exposed to more western art information, and doing research on all kinds of traditional Chinese art and the western modernist art genre. At this period, Yu had already started the creation with the theme of a representational landscape and still life. Because where he taught was far away from downtown, he only went back home once a week. Instead, he used time to teach, work on his creations and discuss art with a group of like-minded friends. That was his day to day life.


The ten-year self-study helped Youhan Yu to summarize the aesthetic commonalities of Chinese and western art - the generalization of the subjective refinement of a representational object is an abstraction. Soon, instead of simply imitating and learning, he began to explore his own art language. 

Youhan Yu's earliest abstract works, "The Circle" series, was born at this time point. At that time, China was in the midst of rapid modernization and construction, and many new structural forms of ideological and cultural activities emerged in China. Youhan Yu immediately had an idea about the creation with the theme of Modern Chinese Painting. After years of immersion in the art environment, he decided to use abstraction as his main style. “In order to reflect China's modernity at that time, I want to use the brushwork to reflect the artistic calligraphy feature of Chinese painting, with relatively onefold hue to reflect China's aesthetic idea. And the basic shape ‘circle’ can reflect the spirit of nature”. In 1985, Youhan Yu established the most well-known classic works "The Circle" series in his early stage, and this also marked the formation of his abstract work style. Simple units were combined in different directions, which resulted in thousands of changes. 

The creations of Youhan Yu are both linear and cyclical. In the early 90s, a group of famous Pop series leaders’ portraits were born under his brush. In the late 1990s, he created the “Ah! We” series, which were representational works with the theme of the Chinese nation. He expressed his affection for his own people and then turned to the scenery and resumed his exploration on the abstraction. For this, the artist said with a faint smile, “Art is not about how new your ideas are, but how far you can go in this concept, and what is unique to you. The art that blindly pursues new stuff has more ideas and strangeness but also lacks internal value.” 


Entering the millennium, the cities developed rapidly. Almost everyone in the city was under pressure from the rapid changes, presenting a state of extreme tension and depression. In the summer of 2002, the school organized an activity to travel to the Yimeng Mountain of Shandong province. This sketching experience made Yu feel a completely different atmosphere from the city. “I like the natural scenery and the simple people there, it’s much more intimate than the urban environment,” Yu said with a smile on his face. It is not hard to see that the Yimeng Mountain series is not only the ideal pursuit of Youhan Yu, but also reflects his concerns about reality. 


Everything today is as quick as a flash, even faster than “A Thousand Li a Day” back then. Everything goes so fast, and so many people are still holding the deep cultural foundation in their hands. Yu has always distanced himself from any "social circle" and rarely socialized, but he has a clear view of the creative environment of Chinese contemporary art. “In the world of art, you should not try to make a difference with the amount of your works”. Therefore, he always advocated to break the narrow part of art, and intersect different artistic languages on the painting. Using the spirit of innovation, he creates. Whether the Terracotta Army which showed under the sky because it interlaced with modern time and space, or the newly completed Moonlight with great richness, they all reflect the creative way that Youhan Yu’s art is closely connected with life. 

“So I drew. I can only draw. Because I like it, just like Duchamp likes to play chess. Duchamp said that his life is his best art. But I say my art is my best life.” Yu said painting is the most basic need of his life. Even though he is now over 70, he still holds a brush and paints on the canvas, dedicated to the pursuit of artistic creation. 

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