Lot 110
  • 110

Yu Hong

15,000 - 25,000 USD
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  • Yu Hong
  • Figure and Ground: Gymnastics Series
  • signed H. Yu. and dated 2005 
  • acrylic on silk/satin

  • 238 by 45 in. 604.5 by 114.3 cm.


Acquired by the present owner directly from the artist


Jean-Marc Decrop, Yu Hong, Hong Kong, 2006, pp. 19, 24 and back cover, illustrated in color 

Catalogue Note

Yu Hong’s painting of two girls stretching (2005, Lot 110) belongs to her recent series Figure and Ground, which depicts young girls practicing gymnastics.  The works seem simple, yet they neatly encapsulate a sophisticated thread of thought the artist has been developing over the years, representing a fresh vision and a new plateau in Yu’s oeuvre.

Each painting in the series depicts from one to three girls against a blank ground, bent into contorted positions as they practice gymnastics. Yu Hong based the paintings on photographs she took at her daughter’s gymnastics class. As the artist has said, the paintings “are all about girls doing artistic gymnastics. People, especially girls, have to change themselves to suit society.”[i]  The images are a simple but highly effective metaphor for the place of young girls in contemporary society.

Yu usually paints with acrylic or oil on canvas.  In conceiving the Figure and Ground series, she determined to experiment with new materials and tried different kinds of silk, linen, and cotton fabrics before finally settling on a special kind of soft silk satin with the Chinese name of ruan duan.

Just as the silk ground forges a link to traditional Chinese painting, so too do the paintings’ compositions. Measuring six meters long by just over a meter wide, the paintings’ proportions resemble those of Chinese hanging scrolls, the dominant format of traditional paintings. Also like traditional Chinese paintings, Yu Hong has left much of the ground blank.  The most interesting and subtle link between Figure and Ground and traditional Chinese art is the employment of a motif with a simple silhouette, repeated in dynamic variants:  the girls’ contorted forms are like Chinese characters, their expressiveness like the taught energy of Chinese calligraphy.[ii]

Although the Figure and Ground paintings appear simple and unlabored, that is deceptive. Like masterful calligraphy, the paintings are the product of the artist’s long years of artistic practice, through which she has acquired the technical skills and wisdom to translate her perceptions into images. The sophisticated concept and seemingly effortless execution bear witness to Yu Hong’s mastery of her vocation.

* Excerpted and adapted from Britta Erickson, “Figure and Ground: Yu Hong’s Gymnastics Series,” in Jean-Marc Decrop and Britta Erickson, Yu Hong (Hong Kong: MAP Book Publishers, 2006), pp. 13-28.

[i] E-mail from the artist to the author, 12 February 2006.
[ii] It is relevant that some Chinese characters are based on the human form. Da (large), for example, originated as a pictogram of a person standing with legs wide apart and arms outstretched. We might speculate that the association of human proportions with beauty may have influenced the proportions considered harmonious in Chinese characters.