“H Land” is a code name. It could signify the yellow soil of China’s Loess Plateau, a sweeping mountain range, even the small hills that one climbed during childhood. Shang Yang’s work conceptualizes the abstract shape of mountains and rivers, and attempts to record the erosion and disappearance of these features from our surroundings. In choosing these subjects, Shang confronts the environmental issues that face us in the modern day and age, while also exploring the aesthetic of the Chinese landscape painting in a contemporary context.
In H Land - 14, Shang Yang has created a flattened topography that expresses the idea of a landscape as a two- dimensional metaphor. The pale ochre tones are suggestive of desert sands or yellow earth, while the two knolls resemble dunes or hills. Despite the lack of recognizable landmarks, the textured brushwork and two domed shapes that make up the work are distinctly topographic. Shang Yang’s use of line is inspired by classical Chinese landscape painting, and the figures in his work are reminiscent of works by artists such as Dong Qichang. Yet his work is also distinctly modern, reflecting modern sensibilities in his depiction of desolation.
Materiality also plays an important role in Shang Yang’s work. He paints using a mixture of acrylic and oil paints, which forms a unique texture that adds visual impact. Combined with a simple colour palette, the effect is one of stark minimalism that also borrows from tradition. By emphasizing materiality, Shang draws comparisons with organic surfaces, producing a physical visualization of the passing of time and precipitation of history. The natural landscape, which humans have both needed and nurtured for millennia, is conceptualized as slowly being degraded in the light of humanity’s exploitation and arrogance.
Shang Yang once stated in an interview that, “If there is only a heavy sense of Eastern meaning, but no spirit of the contemporary, then is there anything that distinguishes new work from the traditional? You must have both elements.” Embodying this concept, Shang Yang interprets classical landscapes using oil, emphasizing the contemporary, the traditional, and the individuality of the artist on an equal basis. The result is a work that may not be easily accessible to all audiences, but nonetheless projects a simple beauty and long-lasting impact.