Treasure Island

Treasure Island
signed and dated ‘HUANG YUXING 2015’ (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
145 x 230 cm. (57 1/8 x 90 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2015
Private Collection, Asia

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Kimmy Lau

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Lot Essay

The relationship between humans and their world is a consistent thematic thread running through Huang Yuxing’s oeuvre. From his early work based on personal experiences to later expressionistic drawings on found images, and in his recent abstract pieces exploring themes of life and time, Huang has maintained a focus on the theme of humanity. Huang's early paintings portrayed people in the real world, but later, the world is placed at a distance, glimpsed only through a keyhole. In his River and Bubbles series, images both flowing and static appear and depict life's cycles, while in the Habitat series, living beings are revealed as both fragile and powerful entities. As the contextual structure for Huang's ideas about humanity shifted from figuration to metaphorical images, and then underwent further refinement into total abstraction, the concept of humanity in Huang's work has always been the matrix through which he challenges the world, expressing his belief that humans are the carriers of history and wisdom about reality.

In his Treasure series, Huang shifts his point of view, creating new virtual spaces to explore imaginary landscapes. In doing so, he explores the conflicts and overlaps between the eternal nature of time and complexity of humanity. In Huang's Treasure Island (Lot 52), the artist borrows and refines key elements from his previous series: rivers, whirlpools, buildings, crystals, and life forms are subjected to mutation, reconstruction, superimposition, buffing, and scraping, resulting in the integration their colours and forms. On the island shore beyond the river, a palatial structure towers high, and warm-toned surrealistic colours combine with numerous crisscrossing lines to create a multidimensional maze-like space. The palace is magnificent but illusory, the treasures inside enclosed within the structure but still emitting a dazzling light. Huang's method of constructing this imaginary scene recalls the husband and wife team of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and their practice of wrapping real-world structures in fabric. The structures and their surroundings are automatically altered by the nature of the wrapping and its concealment of the original object, producing effects at once real and illusory.

With this work, Huang continues to strengthen his individual painterly vocabulary and unique artistic style, creating a piece that exemplifies his masterful control of visual contrast and harmony. The element of colour has always served an important function in his work, and Huang notes that, “to take all of the boundaries and all the colours and mix them all up, and then to rearrange them, make something perfect - that's the state I always hope to reach.' His infectious and appealing colours sometimes even determine the form his works will take as they fuse to produce their own kind of colouristic space. This recalls the results achieved by Paul Sérusier, a painter of the Nabis group, who, taking Gauguin's advice to augment his colours and simplify his forms, was tremendously pleased with the results produced in his 1888 The Aven River at the Bois d'Amour (Fig. 1).

Huang Yuxing's brilliantly painted shapes consolidate themselves into a densely complex yet organic sense of space. Within these emotionally charged structures he weaves geometric objects and fragments, along with subtler figures as transparent as bubbles, to produce an unreal temporo-spatial web somewhere beyond the physical limits of time as we know it. In this unreal world, the upper portions symbolize the architecture of life, and the toppled figure reveals both weakness and stubbornness, symbolizing all the possible reactions of man to his physical world, its seductive external attractions and our resistance to them, the perplexity of growth, and our persistence and our surrender. This is perhaps almost the opposite of an image painted by Caspar David Friedrich, of a cross standing majestically on a mountaintop (Fig. 2), yet Huang's work too testifies to the relationship between belief and outer reality. As Huang Yuxing has said, 'One's history and its course are manipulated and controlled by so many things external to life.' Beneath the gorgeous colours and the psychedelic treasures, the river in the foreground flows slowly by, and even its eddies and whirlpools float lazily on the surface. The river stands for the passage of time, and is imbued by the artist with greater significance as 'the source of life.' Things in the world may undergo great change, but as Laozi said in the Dao De Jing: 'All things take shape and become active, then ultimately return to their original source.' In this physical world we inhabit, everything has its natural course of development, its own destiny. So one should 'empty oneself of everything, and guard this serenity faithfully' to return to the source of life. In the end, 'like vegetation that grows and flourishes, all returns to the root from which it sprang.'

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