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Yang Shu - snake brain mask

In the wide range of contemporary Chinese artists Yang Shu seems to be an exception. While most of them work as painters with high elaborated recognizable motifs, be it in a photographic realistic manner or in a more painterly way, Yang Shu operates with an abstraction of drawn signs as known from Graffiti art and in his newer works with very painterly, startling allusions to the body and its erotic desires. But In quite all of his paintings it seems to be a quick process of imaginative associations, often letting parts of the unprepared canvas free, as it is usual when doing drawings on paper or when drawing short alert notes on walls as Grafitti artists do, who normally have to leave in a hurry their spontaneous chosen but not authorized working places on public or private walls. Since about 100 years Chinese art was preoccupied with those so called realistic modes of representation, which came from Western countries, where they were mostly a heritage from the century and its official bourgeois art, whereas the avantgarde art circulated only in small groups and was not understoud or accepted by the official art world. In China the style of Mao’s Pop Art with its advertising political illusionism was first questioned when in the Eighties of the last century some artists, working as teachers at Chinese artschools, were allowed to aquire for its libraries books on modern Western art, which was until then totally out of focus of Chinese considerations. For sure, these books were not to hand over to art students, but were reserved for the professors who should filter the informations on this disturbing modern art with its erotic licences, its abstractions, its provocations and aggressions, its formalisms, expressionisms or surrealisms, in short: with all its chaotic, unnatural behaviour which was often hard to understand . The teaching programs at Chinese art schools continued to rely on a thoroughfull accademic education, but a lot of intelligent and talented students were not too shy to find ways to the books with the reproductions of Western modern and contemporary art. This prepared a big change in the Chinese young art scene, which came out in the National exhibition in Beijing in 1989 with a lot of installation and performance work. The exhibition was closed only one day after the opening and after a young Chinese woman artist had shot from a real military gun on her very own civil art installation. From these events in the Chinese capital Yang Shu was far away in the then still remote Chongqing, but nevertheless he had since 1987/8, only 23 years old and after his graduation from Sichuan Fine Art School developed a way of doing paintings which were so unusual, that they would have been a major and unique contribution to the changing Chinese art scene. In the last year, Yang Shu – a rebel, concerned with an art independent from the predominant representational art of most of his contemporary Chinese painter colleagues – did a marvellous jump beyond all his till now developed modes of painting. First, there is a new sense for the colour. The paintings are no more the same variation of one specific choice of colours, with a leading pink violet for the erotic evocation of the body’s promises. This colour and its link to the female body you still find in quite every canvas; but nevertheless, each canvas has now its own colour and light. And these individual tonalities do no more transport mostly sentiments with a slight melancholic longing, but now are playing on a more extraverted, attractive scale, sometimes wilful and jokey, hilarious or funny, sometimes even flashy, shrill and strident, and anyway - sexy. Second, this ability is supported by the new interplay of brushed areas with acrylic paint and of energetic lines with heavy oil sticks, often in luminous neon colours, and also parts of the raw or tinted canvas. The former opposition between modelled zones and flat ones has given way to a fluid continuity of modelling, an interaction between surface and depth, where a new energy of all gestures of the paint and equally the not painted or startling flat painted areas of the canvas contribute. So, by the interaction of the forms, even large black and white areas become part of the colour, contribute to the structure. It’s a new dynamic and a very rich articulated drive, streaming over the canvas with dramatic tension or lyric flow, constructing on every canvas an individual – and every time surprising – event. Third, body parts or whole bodies, in general all motifs are no more isolating themselves, they build up transitions to the surroundings. Thus, they don’t interrupt the flow, but are part of it, submerged to the extent, that abstraction and representation become one in the music of the paint. Fourth, scale and shape of the paintings are new. There are large, flowing longitudinal and huge vertical formats, as in traditional Chinese roll paintings; and the complexity of each painting is in a new way dependent from its scale. Finally, the new paintings are an endless song of love. Song, insofar as the abstract vocabulary of these paintings, its forms and colours build up a language freed from a meaning able to be translated in terms of distance, as music can be free from making a rationalising sense. Of love, insofar as it not only refers by allusions to the desired object, but also how it transposes erotic energy in the practice of painting as an art. Ursula Panhans-Bühler (art critic and teacher at Kunsthochschule Kassel) Excerpts from Yang Shu, Unknown pleasures, catalog, Z-art Center, Shanghai, 2008