YAN PEI-MING (B. 1960)
YAN PEI-MING (B. 1960)
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YAN PEI-MING (B. 1960)

Grand Timonier Rouge II

YAN PEI-MING (B. 1960)
Grand Timonier Rouge II
signed in English and Chinese; titled and dated '"Grand Timonier Rouge II" 2000 Yan Pei-Ming' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
98 3/8 x 98 3/8 in. (250 x 250 cm.)
Painted in 2000.
Galerie Jean Bernier, Athens
Private collection, United States
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

“Painting is a hypothesis, a possibility of alternative. It is a necessarily empirical, interpreted vision of reality. Painting carries its own pictorial truth, it is neither true nor false.” Yan Pei-Ming

One of the most feared and revered leaders of the twentieth century, the face of Mao Zedong has been immortalized by many artists including Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter. In Grand Timonier Rouge II, Yan Pei-Ming conjures up the features of the Chinese Communist Party leader from layers of thick impasto. Yan’s painterly rendition reflects his interest in the traditions of Western portraiture, and its intention to portray not only the physical likeness of the sitter, but something of their personality too. Thus, in Grand Timonier Rouge II we can see the experience of Mao Zedong’s life experience physically etched across his face.

On a monumental scale, Mao’s instantly recognizable features coalesce on the surface of the canvas. Thick daubs of red paint are used to isolate the background, before softer mid- and lighter-pinks, salmons, and finally white tones are used to give three-dimensionality to Mao’s face.

Yan’s celebration of paint has its origins in the artist’s informed understand of the history of Western painting. He has lived in France since the 1980s, and has spent much time studying the techniques and paintings of modern and contemporary masters such as Vincent van Gogh, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. The artist recalls a trip he made as a young painter to Holland where he saw the work of van Gogh first hand. So impressed was he by the economy of the Dutch artist’s brushwork that he challenged himself to paint his canvases with the minimal number of strokes, whatever the size of the finished canvas. This encouraged his use of exceptionally wide brushes, some of which are as much as fifty inches wide.

“Yan-Pei Ming does not paint the canvas: he creates an image almost within it. He does not represent something but gives rise to it: he does not apply colours, rather his impasto technique condenses paint to spawn bodies. Ming does not narrate, but immerses us in the profundity of his and our own emotions, plumbing the depths of our existence.” Rolf Lauter

Yan's overarching focus on portraiture betrays his fundamental search for identity through portraits of himself, of strangers, of his father, of victims, or of such icons as Mao Zedong. In all of these works, Yan eliminates any background or contextualizing detail, focusing entirely on the figure. Yan's depiction of Mao is a portrait of ambivalence, registering the artist's attempt to grapple with Mao as both an icon of his homeland and as a human being. He appropriates the full frontal composition of the Chairman's official portraits. At the same time, the tight cropping of the compositional frame is reminiscent of common identification photos. Yan's portrait then is a matter-of-fact portrait and un-idealized rendering Mao as an imperfect and mortal being, lugubrious, aged, and somewhat aloof, immediately familiar and yet subject to the same fate as anyone else.

“When, for example, I paint the portrait of Mao, I am painting a father figure, someone who is strangely close, but also distant from me.” Yan Pei-Ming

Yan's red may read as a blood red, or even communist red, but the artist has always maintained his fondness for the color stems from its cultural meaning in China, as the color representing success, wealth and life. As such, Yan's is a deconstructive and extremely personal portrait of the Great Helmsman, one that captures the essence of his influence in the lives of so many, and his fragility as a human being.

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