Yin Zhaoyang's paintings are driven by his investigation into collective and historical memory. He returns again and again to the most recognizable images of communist China - Tian'anmen Square and Mao Zedong, in particular - to explore their continued influence in contemporary consciouness. Unlike preceding generations of Chinese painters, these subjects are not an opportunity for irony or a displaying a dark humor about China's present circumstances, but a medium through which he can explore contemporary identity.
The range of works featured here display Yin's prolonged meditation on the subject. In a series of portraits of Mao, Yin painted the Chairman at different life stages, sometimes replacing his own image for Mao's. In Red from 2006 (Lot 1649), Yin paints the elder statesman in three-quarter view, eyes pitched nobly to the horizon, in a luminous communist red. It is a transcendent image, seemingly outside of time and space, and light seems to exude from the figure itself. Yin's use of a monochromatic palette carries multiple meanings: "red" is code for maintaining a politically correct status in the communist context, an ideal that this image of Mao embodies quite literally. In traditional Chinese culture, it also has only positive associations - fortune, fertility, happiness and success. At the same time, the red also evokes the pure color-field explorations of Mark Rothko, giving the portrait deeper emotional resonance than a straightforward realistic depiction. As such, the notion of a traditional or even idealized historical portrait is in tension with the expansive and meditative qualities of pure color abstraction, reminding the viewer just how much the fate of the nation was embodied in the fate and life story of its leader.
In one of his "Tian'anmen Square" (Lot 1581) paintings, Yin turns again to one of his favorite subjects, painting the famous gate under a clear blue sky. The finer details of the scene are deliberately abstracted while light seems to emanate from the gate itself. Hordes of anonymous figures move inexorably towards the gate, giving the painting an almost mystical, science fiction feel, as if the gate itself exhibits a gravitational force on everything around it. In a smaller Tian'anmen painting from the same period (Lot 1655), Yin extends these effects even further in a night scene. Again, the gate appears to be the source of light itself, and Yin's paint is especially thick, with concentric circles etched into the surface like the seismic rings of an earthquake that radiate out from its epicenter. Taken as a whole, Yin's paintings display his understanding of the eerie power of political imagery, its allure and seductive ability to mobilize on a grand scale, while his subtle shifts in light, paint texture and surface further suggesting its latent dangers.