Yuan Yuan is drawn to the derelict, the ruined, and the abandoned. Describing his attraction to the spaces that he paints, Yuan has stated that, “Ruins give us a sense of security, they are living spaces without a sense of pressure so you can do whatever you want. Abandoned places are also public, meaning that you may enter and visit. This is similar to the process of a viewer who is looking at an artwork. I am trying my best to identify the residual traces left behind – not so much what the place has now, but rather what this place used to be for a long time, which no one can take away and cannot be seen.”
The “backyard” that Yuan has chosen to depict in this piece certainly exudes a strong sense of abandonment. The twisting staircases and skillful manipulation of perspective recalls the etchings of M.C. Escher, who lured his viewers into similarly confounding architectural spaces. Here, though the space appears logical at first, upon closer examination it is discovered that stairways seem to end in mid-air and walls intersect at odd angles that defy rational design. Natural light falls from above and also appears to illuminate an underground space, suggesting depth that extends far beyond what is visible from the vantage point of the work. There is a profound feeling of absence, of the lack of people. As the viewer, you cannot help but feel perched on the edge of a precipice, uncertain of the stability of Yuan’s world.
In Yuan Yuan’s recent works, every detail of the world he depicts can be perceived with absolute clarity. The vertiginous brickwork is painted with an extraordinary sensitivity to detail, almost rivaling what the human eye can actually perceive in real life. The scene seems frozen in time, allowing Yuan to capture the “invisible things” that he considers most important to his work, and the reason he selects these empty spaces as his subjects. According to Yuan, “What I mean by invisible things is time. People are afraid of it.” By rendering these ruins with meticulous detail, Yuan draws us in and forces us to confront time as both a factor in the creation of the works, and a presence in our own lives.