Critics’ Picks

Zhao Yang, The Blue, 2015, oil and acrylic on canvas, 79 x 157".

Zhao Yang, The Blue, 2015, oil and acrylic on canvas, 79 x 157".


Zhao Yang

ShanghART Gallery | 香格纳画廊
50 Moganshan Rd., Bldg 16 and 18
March 18–May 3, 2016

Zhao Yang’s solo exhibition features more than thirty idiosyncratic but allegorical paintings of portraits and landscapes, many of which are inhabited by the distilled silhouettes of mysterious figures. Zhao’s subject matter seems lifted from mythology and Romantic literature, but the works’ unspoken allusions are known only by the artist himself. The leitmotifs of recursion, sometimes mirror images, reveal Zhao’s fascination with nuances in left-right symmetry as an expression of dual symbolic classification. This is emphasized in The Gap, 2015, Zhao’s close interpretation of the spiritual abyss in Caspar David Friedrich’s Chalk Cliffs On Rügen, 1818.

Each painting begins with Zhao waiting patiently in front of an empty canvas, sometimes for days, until a vision arrives. He then forays into the canvas, without preliminary sketches, and attempts to convey his immediate emotions and an experience of the sublime. In The Blue, 2015, for example, he first improvised the mountain with simple and swift lines before filling up the pictorial plane with the mermaid, the ocean, and the sky. His excited but fluid brushstrokes dance in all directions to create an unexpected tension that is further accentuated by counter-balancing straight lines with curved counterparts. He blends the crispness of acrylics with the softness of oil, demonstrating his curious aesthetic paradigm that favors the look of visual instability and the notion of sublimity. The ostensibly lineate and reductive quality of his compositions betray his training in Chinese ink painting, as do the thin layers of blue, green, brown, and rouge, colors that characterize Chinese blue-green landscape painting. Rather than rendering gradient shades in relation to a fixed source of light, Zhao employs color to hint at his own susceptibility and view of the world, as a literati ink painter might.