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Yan Pei-Ming (b. 1960)
Generously donated by M. YAN PEI-MING through the Socit des Amis du Louvre (French Society of the Friends of the Louvre), the proceeds will go to the Louvre Museum for the refurbishment of its 18th Century Decorative Arts Galleries.
YAN PEI-MING(Chinese, B. 1960)

Bruce Lee - Fighting Spirit

YAN PEI-MING(Chinese, B. 1960)
Bruce Lee - Fighting Spirit
signed "Yan Pei-Ming" in Pinyin (on reverse); signed in Chinese (on reverse); dated "2012" (on reverse)
oil on canvas
300 x 300.5 cm. (118 1/8 x 118 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2012

Brought to you by

Eric Chang
Eric Chang

Lot Essay

"For me, the portrait is about the soul, about humanityKthrough the eyes you can see the person behind."

-Yan Pei Ming (Exhibition Catalogue, Mannheim, Kunsthalle, Yan Pei-Ming: The Way of the Dragon, 2005, pp. 101-2).

Like Cao Guo-Qiang, Huang Yong Ping, Chen Zhen, and other China-born artists who have spent the bulk of their careers in the West, Yan Pei-Ming represents a unique bridge between Eastern and Western aesthetic practices, producing innovative and unique insights into both traditions, firmly establishing him as one of the most exciting expressionist painters of his generation. Born in Shanghai but based in France since the early 1980s, Yan Pei-Ming has built an extraordinary body of work around the portraiture genre, which gains in depth through the use of repetition and variation. By intentionally limiting his subject matter, technique, and palette, Yan draws from a wide range of subjects for his portraits; he paints individuals, typically at monumental scale, fixating primarily on self-portraits, family members, anonymous strangers, prostitutes, victims of crimes or disasters, or more iconic figures like Chairman Mao, Pope John Paul II, Bruce Lee, President Barack Obama, and the Buddha. These images are drawn from memory, sometimes abetted by newspaper photos or other mementos. A dominant theme linking all of these works is Yan's decided interest in mortality and experience in the search for identity in cultural icons, family relationships, and in the unpredictable and inescapable accidents of fate. Within his chosen vocabulary, the creation of these images serves as a process of externalization, one that allows Yan an extended meditation on the persons in his life and the meaning of their existence.

Yan is known to work in a restricted palette, usually in black and white, or red and white with few tonal gradations which he has stated is "a very sufficient palette to express what I want to say and it's become a very direct way of painting." His earliest aspirations as an artist were to become a professional painter for a film studio so he could paint images of movie stars, and in this featured lot, Bruce Lee - Fighting Spirit (Lot 27), we see one of the most influential martial artists of all time immortalized by Yan in elegiac black and white with great, broad brushstrokes of silver-like paint. Filling the entire height and width of the canvas, Yan stated that "[Bruce Lee] had to be painted in a large scale format. He is a film star and I want to paint something reminiscent of the scale of a cinema." Yan enlarged the shoulders of Bruce Lee to emphasize the Kung-Fu artist's infamous physical strength, and his monolithic and expressionist portrait maintain a certain fascination with star power.

Though Yan is working in a classically 'Western" painting genre of portraiture, his technique remains deeply rooted in distinct Chinese sensibilities. The artist uses unusually long and broad brushes, 20 to 50 inches wide with a minimum number of brushstrokes for his works, that allow him not only to paint economically but with considerable urgency. These self-imposed limitations upon his technique are aligned with traditional Zen Buddhist painters and calligraphers who used large brushes in order to liberate themselves creatively so to sidestep their "conscious" impulses and give rise instead to a less mediated form of expression. This immediacy is apparent in Yan's work as well; they have an almost "automatic" quality, as if revealing Yan's visceral and subconscious feelings towards his subjects during the time of their creation. Painted at a distance from his subject both physical and temporal, Yan's portrayal of the figure is distillation of experience and memory, at once personal and collective.

As not only one of the most recognized martial arts figures but one of the most iconic Chinese persons in 20th century popular culture, Bruce Lee's Hong Kong and Hollywood films elevated traditional Hong Kong martial arts films to a new level of popularity and acclaim while sparking a surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West in the 1970s. While many people may not realize that Bruce Lee was a product of the West just as much as he was of the East, he was nevertheless a cultural icon and a default representative of Asian culture in the West. In the East, Bruce Lee is viewed as a cultural ambassador where he represented the post-colonial East and its synthesis with the West. Situated within the artist's oeuvre, Yan's portrait of Bruce Lee seems to be merged from a desire for reconciliation, capturing all of the vexed feelings of contemporary Chinese identity as an expatriate Chinese artist might have living in France
Within Yan's own particular history, such iconic images of popular figures have exerted profound influence on him and his contemporaries, but his portraits are not traditional representations of individual subjects as they do not provide any understanding into character or psychological disposition or even cultural or historical context. Instead, Yan renders his personal icons with which he maintains a complex, extended relationship. As he has stated, "I am very interested in man, in humanity, or rather humanity's development and transformation. Man is very important, because art, in the end, is for Man to gaze upon. Man performs as both subject and observer so looking at my art should be like looking in a mirror."

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