New York

Marlene Tseng Yu

Marlene Tseng Yu has deftly avoided the common pitfalls besetting many late-20th-century painters interested in natural beauty; she has managed to avoid the trite and tired, the conventional and formulaic depiction, and has stayed amazingly free of clichéd sentimentality. What she puts forth, instead, is a thoroughly contemporary image of nature that combines painterly and graphic values with objective and fantastic overtures. That is to say, Tseng Yu has forged an original style that conveys the spirit of nature, by working on the borderline between representation and abstraction. With her background both in traditional Chinese brush painting and Minimalism, she has pushed aside the usual obstacles separating Eastern and Western pictorial systems, synthesizing the two in powerful and enchanting expressions of a nature far removed from the ravages of industrialization.

The term “Concave Veils,” the title of one of Tseng Yu’s series, refers to the curving structures revealed in aerial views of nature, when various strata glimpsed at great distances produce ambiguous spatial tensions. In Purple Veil, 1989, for instance, it seems as if the sky, sea, and land have melded together in sweeping layers of patterns and textures, creating exhilarating sensations of movement and enveloping the viewer with cascading, fluently plastic rhythms.

Tseng Yu’s mastery of acrylic—her method of applying it wet and thin—has allowed her to produce a repertory of dazzling effects combining the ephemeral intimacy of watercolor and the substantial quality and glow of oil. Drawing on her own experiences as well as her imagination, she captures the appearance of life beneath the sea with poetic delicacy. The vibrating quality of forms seen underwater is convincingly portrayed in Dancing Coral, 1991. A true gem, this composition, with its lacelike floating structures, shifting depth, and subtle colors enhanced by a shower of refracted light, has a magical vitality.

Ronny Cohen