YU HONG (B.1966)

Lost in the Night

Lost in the Night
signed and dated 'Yu Hong 2013' (lower right)
acrylic on canvas, triptych (3 panels)
overall 190 x 330 cm. (74 3/4 x 129 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2013
Private Collection, Asia
Long March Space, Yu Hong Wondering Clouds, Beijing, China, 2013 (illustrated, p.93).
Beijing, China, Long March Space, Wondering Clouds – Yu Hong Solo Exhibition, 2013-2014.

Lot Essay

To Yu Hong, “individual” is a never-ending topic in her creative process. The question relates not just to her own life but to how individuals survive and grow within the larger environment of the society as a whole. Painting portraits, for Yu Hong, would be too simple; she is far more fascinated by portraying her subjects' inner worlds. For this reason, even as she remains steadfast in exploring the possibilities of realist painting, she continues to experiment, injecting deep expressions of the zeitgeist and personal psychology into her works. Never satisfied with merely portraying her impressions of a certain personality, she instead seeks a deeper, more conversational kind of experience with her subjects.

Yu Hong aspires to a better understanding of others’ happiness and anguish. Symbol and metaphor aid her in painting various individuals' stories, and her unique visual vocabulary develops from the realities of their lives. The subject of Lost in the Night , from her Wandering Clouds series, is a Shanghai jazz singer. In it, three windows, presented on the three canvases of a triptych, let us glimpse aspects of both his private and his performing life. Triptychs for narrative presentation purposes were once a common feature of religious altarpiece. In Rogier van der Weyden's Miraflores Altarpiece (Fig. 1), the artist creates three arches, segmenting the work to present crucial moments between Jesus and Virgin Mary. However, in Yu Hong’s painting, anxiety, expectations, desire, and worries derived from the larger environment of societal change were all presented in fragmented forms. She is more into creating the mood, implying the rich emotional complexes of her subjects, even if they only give viewers a vague impression.

Yu Hong excels at capturing the way in which moods derive from and evolve out of personal experience, while creating a virtual reality for the very real subjects in her paintings. Such virtual realities, transcending reality itself, convey metaphorical meanings. Dream and reality entangle and interweave, just as in Henri Rousseau's The Dream (Fig. 2), where the wild jungle scenery, objectified, represents the protagonist's mental state. During an interview between painter and the painted figure, when talking about the mood while growing up, the figure says, “it is like a tree; it will grow, blossom and drop its seeds to the ground to germinate a new tree.” In the composition of Lost in the Night, leaves and branches, brilliant as fireworks, meet floating jellyfish, a hidden python, and even a polka-dotted bedspread, all contributing to Yu Hong's surreal depiction. On the left side of the canvas, the young man lays back on his bed with his eyes half-closed, gazing into the distance in the murky night, or else perhaps immersed in his own inner world. Above him, a strange and captivating light illumines leaves and branches until they appear like fireworks. On the right, he stands beneath lights, holding a microphone while leaning against a table, holding a pose with downcast eyes before he begins performing. The wooden window frames painted on Yu's canvas seem to invite the viewers to glimpse through these windows and to observe the singer’s private life as well as his performance style, and the dazzling scenes leave viewers with momentarily uncertainty about whether he is indoors or outdoors. In both states in which viewers see him, jellyfish float around him and emit a kind of otherworldly light, perhaps as an externalized manifestation of the singer's apprehensive mental state. Yu Hong says, “He mentioned one thing he likes is jellyfish. For this singer, jellyfish are both gorgeously colored and unpredictably changing.” Given that the things we like are objectifications of our feelings, Yu Hong highlights them in her paintings. Since the singer also mentioned he likes pythons, Yu Hong paints a python lurking among the branches, injecting a hint of danger and wildness into the singer's private moments, his dreams and his reality.

“You only need to change your perspective to discover that this world is very unfamiliar.” With her brush and paints, Yu Hong expresses her concern for society as she analyzes her subjects. For her, human beings are the most complex amalgamation possible: their feelings, their good and evil, their lives and deaths, all wrapped up into one. That complexity, she feels, also makes them the most fitting subject for art.

More from 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)

View All
View All