Like Cai Guo-Qiang, Huang Yong Ping, Chen Zhen, and other China-born artists, Yan Pei-Ming represents a unique bridge between Eastern and Western aesthetic practices, producing innovative and unique insights into both traditions, firmly establishing Yan as one of the most exciting expressionist painters of his generation.
Yan's practice revolves around his almost obsessive return to the portraiture genre. But Yan's portraits are not traditional representations of individual subjects. They do not typically provide any insight into character or psychological disposition or even social or historical context. Nor does the artist limit himself to a single, unique portrait of an individual, unique person. Rather, he returns again to the same subjects - self-portraits, portraits of Buddha or of Chairman Mao - rendering them personal icons with which the artist himself maintains a complex, extended relationship. In many ways, this repetition comes from an explicitly Buddhist tradition, where the uniqueness of an individual cannot stand out without the group. Yan has stated, 'In the large Chinese temples, there is a room dedicated to 500 real life wooden statues of Buddha. If with the first glance, they all look alike, each figure is different and special, without it being a portrait'.
Yan's athletic and aggressive painting technique has antecedents in Buddhism as well. The artist uses unusually wide and long brushes - and occasionally a broom - in the execution of his paintings, a technique similar to that of Zen calligraphers, and one that gives the works their muscular structure and allows the artist to incorporate elements of chance into each work.
This exceptional, monumental portrait of the artist's father from 1996, shows the artist at the height of his powers. Upon close inspection, the figure's features disappear into abstraction. From a distance, the rich powerful and dynamic brushstrokes add a passion and exuberance to the work at odds with the figure's solemn and remote expression. Based in Dijon since the 1980s, Yan returned again and again to the image of his ailing father, still in Shanghai, whose eventual passing affected the artist deeply. Yan has stated that he only paints 'miserable people', including himself, a disposition that seems to imply a fixation on the inevitably of death. Here, Yan's focus on the subject of his father seems to compensate for their geographic distance, and taken collectively they serve as a poignant meditation on human solitude and mortality.