Asian Beauty: Portraits by Yu Kawashima, Nugroho Wijayatmo, Zhang Xiangming, Li Guijun, Phuong Quoc Tri & Kwok Wan-hei

Fantasise (2016, detail view) by Nugroho Wijayatmo
Fantasise (2016, Detail view, Acrylic on canvas) by Nugroho Wijayatmo (Affinity for Art, Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong, 2016)

The paintings on this page, created by artists from Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Hong Kong, exemplify different ways of expressing female beauty. Many of the paintings tie tradition—whether it is in the use of traditional materials and techniques, depictions of traditional hair styles and clothing or references to traditional ways of representing women in art—to more modern sensibilities.

– Click on each image to see a higher resolution
version (2048 x 1365) on Flickr –

Yu Kawashima (川島優展), Japan

Déjà Vu by Yu Kawashima
Déjà Vu by Yu Kawashima (Whitestone Gallery, Art Central Hong Kong 2016)

With their large eyes, light irises, pale complexion, delicate features, thin eyebrows, wavy hair and long bangs, the twins in Yu Kawashima’s Deja Vu present an ethereal, modern and highly stylized version of beauty. Their dainty beauty is well-suited to the artist’s ‘soft’ painting style. Yu Kawashima’s artwork extends from Nihonga—Japanese painting using traditional conventions, techniques and materials (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihonga)—but embraces the more modern style of his subjects. He uses ink and traditional pigments on Japanese paper (View the artist’s page at Whitestone Gallery: whitestone.hk/artists/d/?id=23).

Déjà Vu (detail view) by Yu Kawashima (Art Basel Hong Kong, 2016)
Déjà Vu (detail view) by Yu Kawashima

 

Nugroho Wijayatmo, Indonesia

Oriental No. 8 (2015) by Nugroho Wijayatmo
Oriental No. 8 (2015, Acrylic on canvas) by Nugroho Wijayatmo (Affinity for Art, Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong 2016)

The women in these two portraits by Nugroho Wijayama have a contemporary high-fashion look, as if they had just stepped out of the pages of a glossy magazine. Overlaid over the portraits are gold outlines of women as they were depicted in Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints—full faces, tiny features and elaborate hairstyles full of pins and combs (You can read the article The Representation of Women in Edo Period Nikuhitsu Ukiyo-e Paintings for more information and examples). The modern women in Nugroho Wijayama’s acrylic on canvas paintings— with their casual hairstyles and bare shoulders—certainly appear less constrained than their Edo-era counterparts, but women nowadays still face subtle pressure to meet what can be very selective standards of beauty (See the artist’s page at the Affinity for Art website: www.affinityforart.com/wijayatmo-nugroho).

Fantasise (2016) by Nugroho Wijayatmo
Fantasise (2016, Acrylic on canvas) by Nugroho Wijayatmo (Affinity for Art, Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong, 2016)

 

Li Guijin (李貴君), China

Like This (2017, Oil on canvas) by Li Guijun (Line Art, Art Central, Hong Kong, 2017)

Beijing-based artist Li Guijin specializes in painting adolescent girls, idealistically focusing on the purity and simplicity of this transitional period between childhood and adulthood. The girls in his painting are relaxed and elegantly posed and and appear to living in a kind of self-contained dreamlike world, untroubled by the harsh realities of the world. In his paintings, Li focuses on composition and technique and pays a great deal of attention to skin tones, using “a finely rendered mix of brown, red, blue, green, turquoise blue and white tones inspired by the artist Rembrandt” (Artist’s page at Schoeni Art Gallery).

Rain Alley (2017, Oil on canvas) by Li Guijun (Line Art, Art Central, Hong Kong, 2017)

Rain Alley: Detail (2017, Oil on canvas) by Li Guijun (Line Art, Art Central, Hong Kong, 2017)

 

Zhang Xiangming (張向明), China

Beijing Girl 2016 No. 1 by Zhang Xiangming
Beijing Girl 2016 No. 1 (Oil on canvas) by Zhang Xiangming (Soemo Fine Arts, Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong, 2016)

The subjects in these two oil paintings have a very ambiguous kind of beauty. Are they girls, teens or young women? In the oil on canvas painting above, is the purplish area around one eye a hint of a bruise or simply the result of inexpertly applied makeup? There is a kind of strength and resolve in the subjects’ expressions, but also a kind of vulnerability and innocence (See the artist’s page at the Soemo Fine Arts website: www.soemo-fine-arts.com/artist?id=866).
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Beijing Girl 2015-09-02 by Zhang Xiangming
Beijing Girl 2015-09-02 (Oil on canvas) by Zhang Xiangming (Soemo Fine Arts, Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong, 2016)

 

Phuong Quoc Tri, Vietnam

Portrait by Phuong Quoc Tri
Portrait (Oil on canvas) mby Phuong Quoc Tri (ArtBlue Studio, Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong, 2016)

Self-taught Vietnamese artist Phoung Quoc Tri focuses on figurative painting with women being a favorite subject. His portraits tend to have a soft and warm feel and the women in his paintings often appear to be in a wistful, reflective mood (See the artist’s page at ArtBlue Studio: artbluestudio.com/phuong-quoc-tri).

Portrait by Phuong Quoc Tri
Portrait (Oil on canvas) by Phuong Quoc Tri (ArtBlue Studio, Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong, 2016)

 

Kwok Wan-hei, Hong Hong

Insularity by Kwok Wan-hei, Klio
Insularity (2015, Acrylic on canvas) by Kwok Wan-hei, Klio (Wi1 Wang4 Wang4 exhibition, Hong Kong 2015)

Kwok Wan-hei’s painting, Insularity, was shown at an exhibition of Bachelor of Fine Arts graduates from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Featured in the article Where do the New Batch of CUHK Fine Arts Graduates from here?). A main theme of the work is the coexistence of loneliness and sociability.

Insularity (detail view) by Kwok Wan-hei, Klio
Insularity (2015, Detail view, Acrylic on canvas) by Kwok Wan-hei, Klio (Wi1 Wang4 Wang4 exhibition, Hong Kong 2015)

Interestingly, she portrays the young women using a style that seems to be a cross between her subjects’ modern sensibilities and the Edo-era Japanese way of depicting women that was also referenced in Nugroho Wijayatmo’s paintings—with full white faces (but not quite so full, not quite so white), tiny red lips (but not quite so tiny, not quite so red), calm expressions, and small (but not quite so small) eyes.
 


In the portraits by these five artists, there is a sense of tradition and an emphasis on femininity, but the subjects in the paintings also embody elements of modernity. The portraits present a form of beauty that is delicate yet strong, a beauty that looks gently back to the past yet confidently embraces the present.


~by (longzijun)

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The Other Side of Innocence: Paintings by Chisato Tanaka, Mayuka Yamamoto & Duan Jianwei

What Remains at the End of the World (detail view) by Chisato Tanaka
Artist: Chisato Tanaka; Title: What Remains at the End of the World (detail view); Oil and acrylic on canvas; Art Central (Kobayashi Gallery). Photo by longzijun.

Looking back, adults tend to view childhood as a time of joy and innocence, and we can forget that it can also be a time of uncertainty, doubt, fear and vulnerability. The artwork on this page captures this ambivalent nature of childhood.

Mayuka Yamamoto (山本麻友香)

– Click on each image to see a higher resolution
version (2048 x 1365) on Flickr –

Monster Hand (2013) by Mayuka Yamamoto;
Artist: Mayuka Yamamoto; Title: Monster Hand 2013; Oil on canvas; Affordable Art Fair (Art Projects Gallery). Photo by longzijun.

Japanese artist Mayuka Yamamoto often paints portraits of young boys with calm, serious and emotionally ambiguous expressions. In many of her paintings, the boys wear animal costumes or sport animal features such as antlers or rabbit ears. In Monster Hand, a small and thin boy, dressed in red shorts and a pale blue flowery tank top, sports a reptilian arm. It is not clear whether this monster arm is a costume or his actual arm. Is he merely playing make-believe, pretending to have a power that belies his tender appearance, or is the danger and wildness represented by the monster arm an inherent and irremovable part of him? You can see more of Mayuka Yamamoto’s work at the websites Widewalls and Canvas Art.

Chisato Tanaka (田中千智, たなかちさと)

Lying Child (2015) by Chisato Tanaka
Artist: Chisato Tanaka; Title: Lying Child (2015); Oil and acrylic on canvas; Art Central (Kobayashi Gallery). Photo by longzijun.
Lying Child (2015) by Chisato Tanaka
Artist: Chisato Tanaka; Title: Lying Child (detail view); Oil and acrylic on canvas; Art Central (Kobayashi Gallery). Photo by longzijun.

Chisato Tanaka’s paintings also feature children with serious and emotionally ambiguous expressions. In her painting Lying Child, a lone adolescent girl glances sideways as she trudges across a barren landscape of white snow and black sky. The child’s gender is ambiguous, but looks to be female. She wears, or is covered by, a grinning white wolf. With her red boots and colorful sweater and with the wolf atop her head, she looks like something out of a fairy tale. Her figure is slight and she slouches as she walks, perhaps burdened by the weight of the wolf. The wolf can represent the lie of the title—a kind of mask worn to trick others. A lie (even to oneself) can be a form of protection, but at the same time it can be a burden.

The dark sky and white ground are characteristic of Chisato Tanaka’s work. In her artist’s statement she writes:

Earth is shrouded by space, night is shrouded in darkness. My works are always shrouded in blackness, yet they are not just expressions of the night, but express the state of mind and the circumstances of what is painted. I weave my tales with the kinds of images you find in storybooks, of landscapes, places and other people that we all share memories with, and whom every one of us has memories of…. I reclaim the images, approaching those objects from memory, and draw near to them that way. I am always conscious of the presence of people in whatever landscape I am in. The white earth, the black sky, and the horizon that is the boundary between earth and sky going on and on and on. You can find light in the darkness that you wouldn’t see during the brightness of the day. Ideas and stories keep on being born while people go on to die. Darkness and light are symbols of death and life, endings and beginnings, the various backdrops against which people live their lives, and the thereon after.” (http://dandans.jp/dandans_archive/c_tanaka/statement.html.)

What Remains at the End of the World by Chisato Tanaka
Artist: Chisato Tanaka; Title: What Remains at the End of the World (2016); Oil and acrylic on canvas; Art Central (Kobayashi Gallery). Photo by longzijun.
What Remains at the End of the World (detail view) by Chisato Tanaka
Artist: Chisato Tanaka; Title: What Remains at the End of the World (detail view); Oil and acrylic on canvas; Art Central (Kobayashi Gallery). Photo by longzijun.

The following video shows Chisato Tanaka at work in her studio:

You can find out more about this artist at her website (mainly in Japanese): www.tanakachisato.com

Duan Jianwei (段建伟)

Young Person (2014) by Duan Jianwei;
Artist: Duan Jianwei; Title: Young Person (2014); Oil on canvas; Art Basel Hong Kong (Gallery: Hive Center for Contemporary Art). Photo by longzijun.

In the painting Young Person, a young boy with a solemn expression holds his wrist while staring at something out of the frame. Like Chisato Tanako, Chinese artist Duan Jianwei tends to strip away any detail from the background, drawing the viewer’s attention the the central figure of the painting. It appears that the boy is nursing his wrist, perhaps because he has fallen or perhaps because he has been pulled. As no other visual information is given, it is not clear exactly what is happening. As in the other paintings shown on this page so far, the subjects in Duan Jianwei’s paintings have ambiguous facial expressions—leaving it up to the viewer to consider what emotions the subjects might be feeling.

The Kid by Duan Jianwei;
Artist: Duan Jianwei; Title: The Kid (2012); Oil on canvas; Art Basel Hong Kong (Gallery: Platform China Contemporary Art Institute). Photo by longzijun.

Let’s end the page with a slightly more upbeat painting. At least this girl holding a deep fried dough cake has a hint of a smile on her face.

Deep Fried Dough Cake (2014) by Duan Jianwei;
Artist: Duan Jianwei; Title: Deep Fried Dough Cake (2014); Oil on canvas; Art Basel Hong Kong (Gallery: Hive Center for Contemporary Art). Photo by longzijun.

~by (longzijun)

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Irina Nakhova: The Green Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2015)

Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
The Pilot; Artist: Irina Nakhova; Title: The Green Pavilion; Installation (The Russian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015). Photo by longzijun.

Irina Nakhova’s three-part installation The Green Pavilion, which represented Russia at the Venice Biennale (2015) is a thought-provoking, but disjointed look at our relationship with history and the future.

The first part of the installation, a giant head of a helmeted man whose features subtly change, is visually stunning, but it is not immediately clear how it is related to the installation as a whole. The artist explains her concept in the following video:

“When you walk into the first room, all the sizes are different, and who greets you there is the pilot. The pilot is your navigator through time. So when you are here, there is dark. The skies are closed, but you are in the cockpit of the flight. When you come closer to the pilot, his eyes open, he looks at you and he also looks at the sky, and you can see that the sky are opening [via a skylight]. Then you really see what’s going on, but it’s also like in a dream because there is no verbal communication.”

The second part of the installation occupies two rooms. In the lower room, images and videos from the old USSR are projected onto the walls. Blue ‘X’s and red circles start to appear on some of the people shown in the photographs; then the photos and videos fade and are replaced by new images. As the people in the photo are crossed out and their images fade, it seems like they are being ‘disappeared’ from history, a fate suffered by many victims of totalitarian regimes over the years.

Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
In the room of images; Artist: Irina Nakhova; Title: The Green Pavilion; Installation (The Russian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015). Photo by longzijun.
Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
In the room of images; Artist: Irina Nakhova; Title: The Green Pavilion; Installation (The Russian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015). Photo by longzijun.

This visual representation of the practice of ‘disappearing’ people is a little obvious, but what makes the installation work is the way the viewers become part of the work. Above the room of disappearing photos is an empty grey room. In this observation room, visitors can look down through a transparent plastic window on the floor and see the people observing the fading photographs and videos.

Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
In the room above; Artist: Irina Nakhova; Title: The Green Pavilion; Installation (The Russian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015). Photo by longzijun.

Light pours down through a skylight in the ceiling, through the plastic panel on the floor and into the room below. If the people in that room look up, they will see they are being observed by the people in the room above.

Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
Visitors as observers in the room above; Artist: Irina Nakhova; Title: The Green Pavilion; Installation (The Russian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015). Photo by longzijun.

From time to time, the skylight closes and the room of images goes dark. When the skylight opens and the light returns, some of the people below will have moved on—they will have disappeared. Similarly, sometimes the observation room goes dark and when the light returns, some of the observers will have disappeared as well.

Living under an oppressive authoritarian regime, innocent bystanders can end up as observers—silent witnesses to the turmoil around them. This creates a horrible dilemma. By remaining silent and not doing anything, are these silent witnesses complicit in the horrors that are perpetrated? However, if the silent witnesses speak up or take action, won’t they become the next victims? In such a cruel environment, anyone can be ‘crossed out’ and made to disappear.

In the above video, when Irina Nakhova describes this second zone in the Green Pavilion, the artist does not mention the people being crossed out of the photos, but instead focuses on the effect when the room goes dark:

“It’s the place where you can really come to yourself and see what’s going on around you with acute awareness. When it’s all dark, you have just the sky and the past. For me it’s soothing because it was before us, it will be after us and we are a part of the history, so there is no fear, there is no joy, but it is the nature taking over us and going through us.”

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The third part of the installation is an empty room painted with an abstract green and red pattern. Describing this, the artist states

“It’s a foreboding dream; it’s a nightmare that should not happen. It’s a warning for (from?) me; it’s a foreboding dream of the apocalypses”.

You can see see this room in the photos and videos in this article about Ukrainian activists staging a protest in the pavilion: Ukrainian Activists Occupy Russia’s Venice Biennale Pavilion.

I am not sure how well the three part of the installation worked together. At the time, I thought they were three separate works by different artists. Based on the artist’s statements and my own interpretation, what I get out of the whole installation can be summed up as:

We exist as a part of history. We may be buffeted by forces beyond our control and our observable contributions may fade away. History is what it is and the future is uncertain and foreboding, but we were and we are a part of the whole story.

Find Out More
The Green Pavilion: This PDF booklet includes preliminary designs and sketches, a statement by the artist and various essays on her work


~by (longzijun)

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