Born in a Shanghai Buddhist monastery, Yan Pei-Ming famously left China for France after he failed to pass the entrance examination to the Shanghai Academy of Arts, and instead Yan furthered his art education at the Dijon Academy of Arts. Over the next two decades, Yan made a name for himself as one of China's most accomplished painters, appearing in such venues as the Venice Biennale (in 1995 and 2003) and as the subject of solo exhibitions in major museums throughout Europe and Asia.
His monumental, monochromatic portraits are instantly recognizable; his works achieve a balance between minimalism and maximalism, violence and serenity, and between the eternal and the ephemeral. Working primarily with a severely reduced palette, Yan uses a wide brush to create dramatic yet fluid brushstrokes, a practice that has its roots in traditional Chinese calligraphy. In his stunning Guanyin Buddha from 2003, the overall effect achieved is a vibrant representation of one of Chinese Buddhist's most popular figures. Floating at the center of a pool of placid life-giving Chinese red is a dynamic, full bodied image of the bodhisattva of compassion. The dripping paint and accents of white highlight various parts of the figure as well as subtly delineating its outline, while at the same time giving the figure a robust vitality, contrasting with the bodhisattva's more conventional representations.
Similar to his famous portraits of Mao, Yan's depiction of the bodhisattva contains cross cultural references in which he manages to encompass qualities from both Eastern and Western fronts. The portraiture genre and his expressive style is characteristically a Western attribute while the controlled palette and subject matter is clearly an Eastern sensibility. By appropriating a classic Buddhist icon into a Western art practice, Yan produces a uniquely devotional work, one that powerfully parallels Yan's own path as an artist bridging two distinct cultural and aesthetic worlds.