In the early 1990s, Yue Minjun began painting a satirized version of his own likeness in absurdist and surrealist scenarios as an ironic commentary on the futility of contemporary existence. The irony and the cynicism inherent in these works is evident in Yue's handling of his self-image. The figure superficially resembles Yue, but in its multiplication and exaggeration, the figure defies the notion of an autonomous individual identity and instead represents a collective consciousness, manipulated and deformed by a reality that has become untenable. Their eyes clenched tight against the world around them, and in apparent hysterics, Yue has commented that laughter is the only reasonable response to a world gone mad.
Yue developed this impulse into various discrete themes, expanding in depth and sophistication. Handgun from 2002 is from Yue's on-going Battle series. Here his figures play at war in a thigh-high body of water. The smooth, sensual handling of the water recalls David Hockney's stylized swimming pools, while the figures' poses seem drawn from commercial advertising, not a scene of war. Compared to his earliest canvases, Yue diminishes the environment and extraneous details to communicate more immediately, a technique also drawn from mass marketing and advertising. Here the figures are isolated, abandoned, seemingly compelled by unseen forces into a battle with an unnamed enemy, posing in complete indifference to the situation's seriousness. The disjuncture and nihilistic aura is the heart of Yue's practice. He has said: "I paint people laughing, whether it is a big laugh, a restrained laugh, a crazy-laugh, a near-death laugh or simply laughter about our society: laughter can be about anything. Laughter is a moment when our mind refuses to reason. When we are puzzled by certain things, our mind simply doesn't want to struggle, or perhaps we don't know how to think, therefore we just want to forget it. The 90's is the time when everyone should laugh." (Yue Minjun, quoted in M. Schoeni, Faces Behind the Bamboo Curtain, Hong Kong, 1994, p. 11).