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)

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)

Monster Hand (2013) by Mayuka Yamamoto;
Mayuka Yamamoto; Monster Hand 2013; Oil on canvas; Affordable Art Fair HK 2016 (Art Projects Gallery)

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 website Widewalls.
 

Chisato Tanaka (田中千智, たなかちさと)

Lying Child (2015) by Chisato Tanaka
Chisato Tanaka; Lying Child (2015); Oil and acrylic on canvas; Art Central 2016 (Kobayashi Gallery)
Lying Child (2015) by Chisato Tanaka
Lying Child (detail view)

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 (now offline) 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.

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

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

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

More work by Chisato Tanak

More Artwork by Chisato Tanaka
I came across more of the artist’s work recently. The painting Journey of Memory is especially beautiful. You can see the photos on this page: artjouer.wordpress.com/artists/chisato-tanaka/
 

Duan Jianwei (段建伟)

Young Person (2014) by Duan Jianwei;
Duan Jianwei; Young Person (2014); Oil on canvas; Art Basel Hong Kong 2016 (Gallery: Hive Center for Contemporary Art)

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;
Duan Jianwei; The Kid (2012); Oil on canvas; Art Basel Hong Kong 2016 (Gallery: Platform China Contemporary Art Institute)

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;
Duan Jianwei; Deep Fried Dough Cake (2014); Oil on canvas; Art Basel Hong Kong 2016 (Gallery: Hive Center for Contemporary Art)

Go Further

This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries.

Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Three Questions

  1. Which of the paintings on this page do you like best? Why?
  2. How would you interpret the painting entitled What Remains at the End of the World? What is going on in that scene? What is the overall effect of the painting?
  3. Most of the children on this page have very flat, almost emotionless expressions? What feeling does this give you.

Art Challenge

Draw, sketch or paint a picture representing the negative side of childhood innocence.


~ text and photos by longzijun

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Paintings by Sun Ying: The Unbearable Sweetness of Being

Painting by Sun Ying (detail)
Painting (detail view) by Sun Ying (孙莹); Art Central 2016 (Line Gallery)

Sun Ying is a young artist from Qinhuangdao in Hebei Province, China. Her paintings tend to feature animals (quite often a rabbit) and (as is the case with the two paintings featured here) a girl—the same girl. Each painting is meant to tell its own story—a part of the girl’s life distilled into a single moment and frozen in time—but taken together, the paintings form a larger narrative. Sun Ying states:

The story of the girl is ongoing, she tells her own story in her own world, all the happiness and the growing pain remain in the painting passing through the time tunnel.

Painter Sun Ying’s Exhibition Opens in Beijing
Painting by Sun Ying
Painting by Sun Ying; Art Central 2016 (Line Gallery)

In this portrait, the girl stands in front of rose bush, her hair dusted with a sprinkling of freshly fallen snow.

A Interpretation of the Painting

While writing this post, I started wondering about winter and roses. Exactly how hardy are these plants? The trick to protecting rose bushes in cold climates is to encourage the plants to follow their natural habit of hardening off (a process in which their cell walls thicken) and then going dormant before winter (www.dummies.com/home-garden/gardening/protecting-roses-from-winter-damage). One danger is that rose bushes may react to unseasonable fluctuations in temperature by breaking this natural pattern of growth and dormancy. If a rose bush starts growing too soon because of a warm spell, it can be severely damaged or killed when the cold weather returns.

Has the rose bush in the painting blossomed too soon and or has it forgotten to go dormant? In either case, it is a vulnerable, doomed beauty caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Of course, maybe I am being too pragmatic and pessimistic (as is my nature). I asked another person how she viewed the winter blossom and she suggested that it represented hope.

In another picture, we only see the girl’s torso, her right arm and a single rose (perhaps the same one as in the first painting) in her hand.

Painting by Sun Ying
Painting by Sun Ying; Art Central 2016 (Gallery: Line Gallery)

Go Further

This section includes links to online photo galleries, discussion questions and an art challenge.

Artist Website

You can visit SunYing’s page at the Line Gallery website for more information about her work: www.line-gallery.com/ArtistResume_en.aspx?aid=26.

Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Three Questions

  1. What do you think the rose in the painting represents?
  2. What do you think the snow in the painting represents? Of course, it could just represent “now it’s winter”. but could it also have other meanings?
  3. If you were to paint a male/or female representing yourself at this point in time, what would he/she be doing?

Art Challenge

Imagine a person, someone completely original and fictional. Think of a point in their ongoing story. Draw, sketch, paint or sculpt a figure that represents that person at that point in their ongoing story.


~ text and photos by longzijun

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