Hubert Burda Media

Yu Yang: At Home with Chinese Ink Painting

A contemporary ink painter from China explains his works, which are paired with modern Italian designer furniture in a new exhibition in Hong Kong.

Beijing-based contemporary ink artist Yu Yang, a co-founder of forward-thinking Cold Ink Art Group in China, established in 2013, is on show in an unlikely setting in Hong Kong. The Inner Mongolian native’s often minimalist strip-like works that use both ink and paper, but not in the conventionally applied way, went on display last week in the showroom of B&B Italia’s flagship Hong Kong store in Wan Chai. The exhibition lasts until June 25 and marks the first in a series of Art in Residence collaborations between B&B Italia and locally based 3812 Gallery.

Yu Yang, who has previously exhibited domestically, in Japan, Korea and Monaco, was present for the launch and took the time to explain his experimental ink works – and some thoughts on this show.

It seems you have a fascination with geometrical paintings – notably stripes or strips of colour, against contrasting white paper. How do you describe this distinct style yourself, and what drives it?

My paintings are mostly about the usual ink painting materials: rice paper and ink. Not all the paper I use is white. I’ll often dye paper with ink before starting a piece. This colouring of paper has been going on since the Ming dynasty [1368-1644] but I use it in some different ways, sometimes, deliberately, with more obvious texture on the surface.

I try to bring some traditional aspects of ink painting into works that are more about the modern world. Rational shapes and forms are what I’m interested in, not emotional ones. A sense of industrialisation and urbanisation is what I try to bring with my images.

Are you a solo painter entirely now or are you still very linked with the Cold Ink art group?

I’m an individual painter. Artists in the Cold Ink group have very different styles, and there are now only four of us left [from seven at its height]. The group always tried to take [and reinterpret] the most beautiful elements of traditional Chinese ink painting but today those of us left are trying to apply this images reflecting the modern world.

We all have done this in different ways. I try to focus just on the paper and the ink sometimes – the materials themselves, some of my pieces are quite three-dimensional, and I can show them together to make something that’s a bit like an installation.

Which Chinese and non-Chinese artists have most influenced you and why and how?

Xu Bing and Bada Shanren [in the Ming and early Qing – 1644-1911 – dynasties] were forerunners of modern Chinese ink painting – without them, the development of contemporary art would not have happened – a bit like [Western artists] Marcel Duchamp and Anselm Kiefer. All of these artists reached academic heights and they examined questions, searching for answers through their artwork – so they’re all very important in art history.

How do you see the relationship between an interior environment and art?

It’s not just about the visual experience, it’s about how the artist’s spirit is perceived through their work in an environment; then, secondly, it’s about how the artworks affect a setting.

What are your opinions of how your work looks in this space, with the furniture and do you have any favourite pairings of furniture and paintings in this show?

The way my red piece, Ink Object – Animal Year [2015], blends with this furniture [he gestures at the Anthracite – that’s charcoal-grey – matte leather Terminal 1 chaise longue] is perfect. Visually it’s a very comfortable mix, because the red of the painting which can be overpowering has been well harmonised by dimming the lighting – it’s a very sexy combination.

How important is lighting on artworks generally in an interior?

It’s important in any setting, not just with artworks. Lighting can define the mood and make a completely different experience. Lighting itself is an art. But when I create an artwork I don’t consider how it will be lit at all.

Is your artwork heading in any new direction any time soon?

[He calls up some images on his phone to show as he talks] I’m working on some paintings that are in the shape of fans at the moment. [He flicks through images of colour gradations that stretch across enlarged forms based on fully opened traditional Chinese fans]. And I’m thinking about other forms, colour and spaces all the time.