Monday, March 20, 2017

From the Lyrical to the Epic - Three Paintings by Meiyu Chen

All artists strive to evolve as their career progresses, be it stylistically, philosophically, or spiritually. Dramatic changes are usually a conscious effort, triggered by life events and creative experience, but sometimes more subtle transformations are subconscious. Here, in as few words as possible, I will try to bring attention to, what I consider an interesting formal progression in three of the central paintings of Meiyu’s career, namely White Camellia and Green Birds, The Cranes, and A Solemn Pledge. What caused these stylistic changes have already been outlined in the pages of this book.

In Camellia and Green Birds, a single form, the camellia bush, dominates the surface. The branches gently reach for the edge of the painting, thus limiting the sense of spatial depth. As we explore the shallow interior of the camellia, it becomes clear all the details have equal visual value. Every leaf, branch, and bird is painted with the same care. The color range of the palette is measured and perfectly accentuates the blissful lyrical atmosphere of the scene.

The subject matter of The Cranes vary from Camellia and Green Birds where the animals among the branches were incidental to the overall dominance of the plant. Attention has shifted from flora to fauna, but that is not the only difference. The composition includes two separate forms, with the two adult cranes constituting the primary shape. The composition is more open, and, although the golden background remains primarily abstract, the sense of spatial depth is strengthened. The color scheme, no longer naturalistic, has been restricted to white, black, gold, and red. The marvelously rendered feathers, taut skin, and beaks are defined textures rather than a world of separate details. Our interest is directed to the movement of the cranes. Their gentle interaction creates a graceful atmosphere of tenderness and affection.    

With A Solemn Pledge the artist developed these stylistic concepts even further. The separation of form has now evolved to a grouping of multiple forms. The internal dynamics of the shapes remain very lively, but the details no longer capture the repetitious multiplication of leaves, flowers, birds, or texture. Instead the human figure, although rendered in its divine guise, has become the object of attention. The composition has opened up, allowing the background to occupy more than half of the painting. The relationship between the shapes has shifted, too. Depth has been achieved with the figures of the heavenly host diminishing in size as they recede into the background. The coloration has been reduced to a bare minimum, and, except for the celestial, white glow of the abstract background, every shape and volume has been created by black lines.

These three stages describe a complex stylistic journey: From single dominant form, via separation of form, to grouping of form. From volume of form to volume of group. From naturalistic color to en grisaille. From surface dynamic to spatial depth. From plant and animals, to the human figure. From lyrical beauty and profane scenery to epic and divine narrative. The consistent progression of these stylistic changes bear witness to Meiyu’s acute artistic power. A rare thing in our day and age.

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