"In Shanghai the colours on the street, in advertisements and so on, are fighting all the time. This is not a peaceful city. There is shouting everywhere, giving rise to excitement, and now I want my work to express this kind of reality…I don’t think so much about the future. Rather I want to express what is here now, because that is what’s most important. China now, Shanghai now." – Ding Yii
Ding Yi is unusual among contemporary Chinese artists in his rigorous pursuit of what appears on the surface to be a practice of pure geometric abstraction. But while the surfaces of his work are indeed abstract – and dazzling in their complicated patterns and effects – a deeper engagement with his painting draws the viewer to contemplate the reductive vocabulary of the artist’s mark making and its physical and temporal significance.
‘×’ and ‘+’… ‘+’ and ‘×’… The cross is Ding Yi’s vocabulary as well as his grammar. There is no subtraction, only addition; division transpires only in the occasional separation of marks into their constituent parts, which multiply in a seemingly endless repetition the similar strokes. The lengthy process of creating such works, one stroke at a time, with the logic of the whole composition in mind, approaches a meditative practice that is all but anachronistic in the fast-paced urban environment Ding inhabits and, in recent years, wishes to convey in his painting. Unwavering from this singular pursuit since adopting the practice in the late 80s, Ding’s oeuvre is all the more impressive for the extensive range of surface qualities and emotional expression he is able to generate.
Appearance of Crosses – 6 is a tour de force example of the artist’s work, a multi-panel display of visual pyrotechnics that virtually pulsates with its own vitality. Ding Yi, too, must favor this particular work as it was selected as the cover image for the catalog of his recent retrospective exhibition at Birmingham’s cutting-edge Ikon Gallery (to which Hou Hanru contributed an essay and Hans Ulrich Obrist an interview with the artist).
Viewed at close range, Appearance of Crosses – 6 reveals the remarkable regularity of Ding’s hand-painted strokes; an astonishing degree of control and a full spectrum of color decisions have been made in minute detail that resolve into pattern and texture at any further distance. At medium range, one’s eye is led to the complicated patterning of individual sectors across the extensive field of the image, which defies bodily dimensions, the artist’s no less than the viewer’s; one seeks in vain what rules might exist and the logic of choices expressed as pattern. At a greater distance, however, the eye takes in the whole of the composition and builds the relationships between constituent parts that allow the central cross to emerge, the colors darting left and right, up and down and diagonally like a massive traffic intersection of lights and colors in unstoppable fast-forward motion. This is the speed, intensity and dynamism of contemporaneity, painstakingly analyzed one calm stroke at a time.
In revealing the cacophonous complexity of the contemporary urban experience, the artist forges an order amidst the chaos. And this is perhaps what is most inspiring: Ding Yi’s unique practice offers a model for negotiating our own experience of the present.
i “Resembling the World outside: Interview with Ding Yi and Hans Ulrich Obrist,” Ding Yi: The Appearance of Crosses, Birmingham: Ikon Gallery, 2006, pp. 38 and 40.
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