What does the color blue evoke? Serenity, coolness, depth, sadness, otherworldliness? The sea and sky? This article introduces ten mostly monochromatic blue works by eight artists. Let’s dive into blue!
1. Chun Kwang Young: Aggregation
Here are two works from Korean artist Chun Kwan Young’s Aggegation series. The works in this series are abstract three-dimensional mixed-media pieces created from Korean mulberry paper (also know as hanji).
Mulberry paper is strongly associated with Korean culture. Besides being used as writing paper, it has also been used as wrapping paper for food and as a kind of insulating material. As mulberry paper is made from indigenous plants, one can say that Chun Kwan Young’s artwork is literally made from part of the Korean landscape.
The process of creating the artworks is outlined below:
- Mulberry paper is sourced from discarded books. Consequently, some Korean words—mainly in Hanja characters—are still visible on the artwork.
- Some of the mulberry paper is cut and twisted to form strings.
- Stryfoam is cut into small triangular prism shapes.
- The paper is wrapped around the styrofoam prisms and tied with the string to form what look like little packages. The inspiration for this package design came from Chun Kwang Young’s memories of a childhood visit to a TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) doctor where he saw packs of wrapped medicine hanging from the ceiling. For a more detailed description of the artist’s inspirations and thought processes, you can check out this highly-informative page: www.chunkwangyoung.com/html/03_Biography.php
- These packages are then colored (usually with natural dyes).
- The colored packages are then assembled in tight clusters to form patterns.
The end result is that from a distance the artwork looks very modern and abstract, while up close there are many reminders of traditional Korean culture—in the paper, the texts and the wrapping techniques.
Mini-bio: Chun Kwang Young was born in 1944 in Hongchun, South Korea and studied at Hong-Ik University and the Philadelphia College of Art. He is best known for his paper-based artwork.
2. Mao Lizi: Ambiguous Flower
These two abstract oil paintings are from Mao Lizi’s Ambiguous Flower series. At first, I thought they were ink paintings because of the soft stain-like flow of the paint.
Mao Lizi is deeply inspired by traditional ink painting, especially those works that express a minimalist sense of beauty. In an interview with Denise Tsui, he states:
When I was young, I visited the Palace Museum near the Forbidden City [in Beijing]. It was there that I saw Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) painter Xu Wei’s ink painting Grapes. I felt like the ink was just dropped randomly on the painting. It had a simplicity that was beautiful. The experience left a great impact on me. Throughout my career in painting I have always strived to achieve the same spirit as what is captured in Grapes.artasiapacific.com/Blog/InConversationWithMaoLizi
Mao Lizi’s aim as an artist is straightforward: he strives to create happiness and beauty via art.
What I like about his paintings is his attention to shading, space and texture. In the Ambiguous Flower paintings, the shading seems to give the paintings a sense of movement, and the focus on texture brings out the intricate patterns of veins that carry nutrients and water through the leaves and petals of the flower. To me, these two things—the sense of movement, and the intricate patterns of the veins—give the paintings a strong feeling of vitality and life. At the same time, the empty white space creates a good balance between form and space while the use of the color blue adds a feeling of serenity to the work.
Mini-bio: Beijing-based artist Mao Lizi (毛栗子) was born in 1950 in Shanxi province. In 1979, he co-founded the Stars Group, an influential collective of experimental artists in China. Earlier in his career, he specialized in photorealistic paintings. He studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1987 and worked as a visiting professor in France in 1990. Since the early 2000s, he has focused on abstract oil painting (though he has stated he will likely change styles again in the future).
3. Yan Wei: Unpredictable Distance
Although some of Yan Wei’s imagery can be quite disturbing (like in her ink paintings of children: surreal-art.tumblr.com/post/119119786476/artisafeeling-yan-wei-aka-kokomoo), the scene in Unpredictable Distance is touching; two human-faced, giraffe-bodied creatures look like they are about to nuzzle one another affectionately. As the creatures are alien, we have no reference point as to their sex (or if the species even has different sexes) or age. They could be lovers or they could simply be parent and child. The relationship is uncertain; what is certain is the sense of affection and feeling of serenity.
At the same exhibition, the painting Unpredictable Distance was paired with the painting shown below (However, I didn’t record the title of that one).
Mini-bio: Beijing-based artist Yan Wei (闫威), also known as kokomoo, studied at Tsinghua University’s Academy of Art and Design and worked as an illustrator in the advertising field before choosing to concentrate on her career as an artist. She uses ink, acrylic and watercolor to create vibrantly-colored surreal scenes.
4. Tetsuya Ishiyama: Human Fungus
When doing research for this article, I came across another Human Fungus figurine by Tetsuya Ishiyama. That one is of a baby contentedly sucking his/her thumb and is entirely white (It can be viewed here: www.asiacontemporaryart.com/artists/artist/Tetsuya_Ishiyama/WhiteBaby/en/). The all-white figurine seems cute and peaceful, while this one, due to the color and pose of the child, seems melancholy. To me, the outgrowth spiraling up from the head represents a kind of spiritual energy, and in this case, the child’s spiritual energy is tinged with sadness.
Fungus grows by decomposing and absorbing nutrients from organisms. Perhaps the ‘human fungus’ shown here grows by decomposing and absorbing emotions. That is my interpretation, anyway 🙂
The figurine is made form stoneware. Stoneware is similar to porcelain but is made from a different kind of clay, often involves a simpler firing (i.e., baking) process, tends to be fired at slightly lower (but still very high) temperatures, is more opaque in appearance and can come in different colors (like the blue in this figurine).
Mini-bio: Japanese artist Tetsuya Ishiyama (石山哲也) was born Saitama Prefecture in 1973. As a young child he developed an interest in rocks and stones. When he was 18, he began excavating archaeological sites and two years later decided to become a potter and moved to Shigaraki, a town famous for its pottery traditions. Early in his career, he worked as an artist and technical assistant at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.
5. Cecilia Avendaño: e.5 E.MERGE
Cecilia Avendaño is best known for her composite digital portraits such as the one shown above. She has people pose for photos, and from these photos she creates a database of images of individual physical features (e.g., eyes, ears, noses, mouths, etc.). She then mixes and matches features from different photos to create portraits of weird-looking people who never existed. The title of her series—E.MERGE— can carry three meanings:
- The E in E.MERGE can refer to the use of graphics editing software.
- The MERGE and can refer to the process of joining together the features of different people.
- The whole word EMERGE can refer to the new identity that emerges from the process.
A few years ago, she traveled to Asia so that she could add different kinds of features to her database. The above portrait was likely influenced by that trip. The heavy use of blue in the painting seems to add to the otherworldly feeling of the portrait.
Her artwork is also feature in my article: Cecilia Avendaño: Digital Composite Portraits.
Mini-bio: Chiliean artist Cecilia Avendaño Bobillier was born in Santiago in 1980 and studied photography at the University of Chile.
6. Zhou Lian Hua: Without the Pitch Tubes
The title of this painting—Without the Pitch Tubes—refers to comments by Mencius (孟子), an influential philosopher who lived during China’s Warring States period. Pitch tubes seem to have been an ancient equivalent of today’s electronic tuners (which musicians use to ensure they are in tune).
Mencius said, ‘The power of vision of Li Lou, and skill of hand of Gong Shu, without the compass and square, could not form squares and circles. The acute ear of the music-master Kuang, without the pitch-tubes, could not determine correctly the five notes. The principles of Yao and Shun, without a benevolent government, could not secure the tranquil order of the kingdom. There are now princes who have benevolent hearts and a reputation for benevolence, while yet the people do not receive any benefits from them, nor will they leave any example to future ages – all because they do not put into practice the ways of the ancient kings.
Hence we have the saying: “Virtue alone is not sufficient for the exercise of government; laws alone cannot carry themselves into practice.”en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Works_of_Mencius/chapter07
In the above passage, Mencius notes that just as how skilled mathematicians and musicians need to use the proper tools to produce the correct shapes and notes, governments and rulers also need to use the proper systems and practices so that their policies can be properly implemented.
In an interview with Sara Zilienski, the artist comments on the inspiration behind the series of paintings—A Dialogue with Mencius— to which this painting belongs:
Although I live in Suzhou which is a relatively peaceful and quiet city, I am deeply concerned about many social issues that our modern society is facing today – environmental pollution, ecological destruction, disappearance of heritage and cultural traditions…to name just a few. When I read the teachings on humanism by our ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius, I am inspired by his emphasis on the innate goodness nature of human and people’s ability to do what is right. So in this new collection, I captured my impression of modern cities using my distinctive style of bold and vigorous brushwork. I want viewers to reflect on the damage we have done to our society and environment and yet to realize the inherent goodness and power we possess to change the world for the better.www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/sara-zielinski-interviews-zhou-lian-hua_us_58c9d7e0e4b0537abd956dd6
An unusual mini-bio: Chinese artist Zhou Lian Hua (周蓮華) was born in 1967 in Henan province. Her path to becoming an artist started when she was 28, when her husband and mother-in-law died on the same day. To support her three children, she moved to Shanghai to look for work. She ended up working in an art gallery and started to create her own paintings. She continued painting and eventually became a full-time artist. She is now based in Suzhou.
7. Chae Sung Pil: Terre Anonyme (historie de bleu 180302)
Chae Sung Pil creates landscapes in the most literal sense of the word; his abstract works are comprised mainly of…land. He collects soil from around the world, which he then filters, dilutes and mixes with glue to create natural pigments (he makes it a point to never use artificial materials in his work). The artist then uses a large brush to apply the mixture onto a mulberry-paper canvas that is laid flat on the floor. He adds highlights and shadows by dropping silver dust and ink onto the pigments and then tilting the canvas.
Chae Sung Pil’s paintings embody the artist’s love for Earth (the planet) and earth (the surface of the land). He states:
It all began over 20 years ago – I started working with earth….Every time I touch earth, I feel again like a boy playing in earth. When drawing with earth, I feel so good – as if embraced by my mother….I love earth, because it never changes, even when everything in this world does. God used clay to create the first man – soil has always been there. Of the five elements everything began with, it is earth that is in the center. Water, plants, fire, iron are all around it.www.galleryshchukin.com/artist/chae-sung-pil/bio
South Korean artist Chae Sung Pil (채성필) was born in 1972 on Jindo Island and studied at Seoul National University and Université Rennes. He is now living and working in Paris while working on his PhD at Université Paris.
8. Studio 30: Hug Me
Studio 30, the Russian artist duo of Lily Balasanova and Sergei Kolevatykh, is best known for large and complex collages of cityscapes (which I will introduce in another article), but they also create more intimate works like this painting of two rabbit-headed figures embracing one another.
Besides being associated with fertility and procreation, Rabbits can also symbolize fear and vulnerability. In this painting, the main figures are surrounded by dragonflies, which are often said to symbolize things like change (because they transform from water-living nymphs to flying adult dragonflies) and the ability to endure hardships (as they have been around for hundreds of millions of years). Therefore, the painting could represent the importance of mutual support when facing frightening hardships and changes.
The artists in Studio 30 tend to combine collage techniques (involving digital printouts and fabrics) and more traditional acrylic painting techniques to create their works.
Bonus Round & Coming Soon
I had been planning on introducing more artworks on this page, but I think the article is quite long already, so I will stop here and do a second Blue Art page in the future. The next page in the color series will be devoted to red artworks.
If you want a little more blueness, however, you can drop by my post on Vancouver street art, where you can see two blue pieces by indigenous graffiti artist Larissa Healey (one of a bear, and one of a sun and whales): artjouer.wordpress.com/2018/04/12/vancouver-street-art/
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.
Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:
- Chun Kwang Young (artist’s website): www.chunkwangyoung.com/html/main.php
- Mao Lizi (artist’s page at Parkview Art HK, which includes an interesting video about his background): www.parkviewarthk.com/artists/mao-lizi/
- Yan Wei (artist’s photoblog): www.behance.net/kokomoo
- Tetsuya Ishiyama (artist’s website): www.tetsuya-ishiyama.com/
- Cecilia Avendaño (interview with the artist): disinfo.com/2015/04/chilean-artist-cecilia-avendanos-strange-evocative-portraits/
- Zhou Lian Hua (interview with the artist): www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/sara-zielinski-interviews-zhou-lian-hua_us_58c9d7e0e4b0537abd956dd6
- Chae Sung Pil (artist’s page at Gallery Shchukin): www.galleryshchukin.com/artist/chae-sung-pil/bio
- Studio 30 (artist’s website): studio30art.net
- Which of the above artworks do you like best? Why?
- Choose one of the above works. Why do you think the artist chose to use mainly blue for that work?
- What are the benefits of an artist putting a limitation or restriction on the creative process (e.g., painting only in one color, writing a novel without the letter ‘e’, using only five notes to write a song, etc)?
Using any medium (e.g., ink, paint, photography, sculpture, mixed media, etc.), create an artwork that uses only blue, black and white.
~ text and photos by longzijun, with two photos by Maggie Lai Man-yee
Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists