presently 2023.03.04 - 2023.04.28
Written by Star Zhang
Life is impermanent, the only certainty is right now…
Sitting on a sofa two meters from his canvas smoking a cigarette, he gazed at the brushstrokes he had made, waiting for the next stroke to emerge… color, line, touch, and Dasein- the sense of being present- merge in these works. If you visit the studio of artist Huang Yuanqing, this is the scene you’re likely to find. His works aren’t characterized by emotional explosion or exaggerated gestures; painting is a not a means of expression for him, more of a technique for learning about his place in the world. As the artist waits for the creative impulse, he remains vigilant against the cunning of experience, preserving the innocence of a beginner- every stroke fresh and childish- in the production of his ‘serious’ works. Rather than expressing himself, he wants to express the traction and depth of calligraphy, becoming the medium through which the tradition is realized.
It is human nature to link objects with our memories. The origin of Chinese characters is related to the creation of memories; our ancestors simplified what they saw into shapes and carved them into characters, repositories of memory. Language is an imperfect medium for expression, but it’s the only one we have; our ancestors have long understood that the charm of language lies in its gaps and imperfections, leaving people to imagine what is inexpressible. A Chinese character is an ideograph, not a detailed explanation; if I can understand it, it is because I am linking my own memories to the experiences that are encoded in the word. Although the concept of abstraction originated in the West, the history of Chinese characters does not contain the logic of abstraction; they are representational, corresponding to physical objects and experiences. For Huang Yuanqing, who has studied Chinese calligraphy since childhood, formalistic discussion of his work is necessarily incomplete- the collaboration of the viewer supports and completes the artwork. The essence of Chinese characters has already become a kind of intellectual self-awareness in his work; the logic of the Chinese language underpins his abstractions.
Let us focus on the painterliness of his works. His abbreviated lines capture the rhythm of emptiness and weight, slowness and haste, austerity and density, just like breathing in and out. Although the repetition and arrangements aren’t visible- his lines and colors seem so ‘random’- you can still feel the hidden harmonies underneath, the checks and balances brought about by the logic of calligraphy. I like to call this relationship the implicit order lurking behind his work. This does not mean that the artist sticks to a constant set of principles visible to the naked eye, but describes the truth that behind the seemingly relaxed appearance of his works, there is a hidden set of guiding principles, an order which functions best when it is undetectable and natural. This characteristic is the law of calligraphy; the so-called law of the impossible. Breaking through the established law is the only way to truly understand the law. Therefore, Huang Yuanqing’s abstractions transform testimonials into inner understanding, and at the same time discard the pursuit of technical proficiency in favor of simplicity and freedom.
Of course, the artist never denies the immediacy of creation; every stroke reacts to the previous stroke, leading to the theme of this exhibition- the present. But these reactions are not based on emotions, actions, or any definite plan, but emerge from instinct - an intellectual instinct which uses the artist as medium. This instinct is not a biological instinct, but rather is the painter who consciously avoids emotion, action, and skilled empirical methods to pre-plan his work. Accumulated experience and impression is internalized into a dynamic understanding of the changing nature of the self, captured in the brushstrokes which are driven by immediate reactions. The experience of selfhood is indescribable; understanding it can only be by analogy.
Regarding history and the future, Huang Yuanqing does not favor the past over the present, nor does he have the ambition to "transcend". Facing his canvas two meters away, he just accepts his own context and the unknown possibilities immanent in the future, courageous and faithful. The past is the past, the future is unknown, at this moment there is only now... because every stroke is "now"...