"Any work of art that is rigorously sincere will aptly reflect the times, express the views of contemporary people, and show what it is that they care about."
Beginning in the early nineteenth century, the global trend of modernization gained unstoppable momentum, leading to increasing exchange between Eastern and Western cultures. The modern development of Chinese fine arts was also underway as China made its own transition to modernity. Chinese artists with a background in Eastern cultural aesthetics began to travel abroad to study, enriching the development of modern art. Large-scale emigration from China's coastal regions began in the mid-nineteenth century. San Francisco, a city on the West Coast of the United States, became known as "Old Gold Mountain" due to the Gold Rush, and also became home to a large community of Chinese émigrés. In 1921, Yun Gee moved from his hometown of Guangdong to live with his father in San Francisco, where he enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts. He received a formal art education, but he never forgot the Chinese culture that nurtured him. He was skilled at playing the erhu and the bamboo flute, two traditional Chinese instruments, and even in the United States, he often wore the long Chinese gown for men known as a Changshan. In his paintings, he combined ideas from the Bible, Freud's A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, and the Analects of Confucius. Although he had assimilated into American society, he had not lost his affinity for Eastern traditions and culture. These qualities influenced Yun Gee's artistic production. He often chose Eastern characters and culture as his creative themes, and in Dancing in the Music (Lot 1016), featured in this evening auction, he chose his beloved erhu as his subject. In particular, he sought to use modern techniques to interpret the image of this traditional Chinese instrument, resulting in a kind of autobiographical reflection: an exploration of his own cultural identification.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the United States was in the midst of a modern art revolution, and Yun Gee was an eminent figure in this transition. During his studies, Yun Gee was inspired by his instructor Otis Oldfield, whose theory of Synchromism emphasized the contrast and harmony of colours within a painting. Synchromism attached great importance to the structure of compositions, and Oldfield also experimented with the deconstruction and reorganization of objects within the painting. He compared painting to musical composition and sought to create rhythms and melodies through the use of a "colour scale". For this reason, Synchromism is also translated as "colour-rhythm theory". For Yun Gee, these ideas were the foundation of his development, and he sought to explore them in greater depth. Dancing in the Music demonstrates the artist's masterful use of colour, as well as his skilful deconstruction of objects. The image of the erhu is disassembled into a series of geometric shapes that perfectly reconstruct the three-dimensional form of the instrument. The warm tones that form the base of the tableau are bifurcated by blocks of cool colours, lending the painting a powerful dramatic tension. The hand that draws the bow across the erhu is suggestive of Yun Gee's aspirations: to make his individual mark on the international art scene as a Chinese artist.
For Dancing in the Music, Yun Gee opted to paint on a tall paperboard (75x52cm). Paintings of these dimensions are not often seen on Western canvases; rather, they more closely resemble the vertical scrolls of Chinese ink painting. Yun Gee also inscribed the left side of the painting with the following Chinese characters: "Lovebirds bump into each other left and right, wearing red and green brocade gowns like swimming serpents, dancing in the music in pairs of two. For Ailian, the music lingered long after the night is over (so I wonder if Ailian was also a dancer)". The "Ailian" (Lotus Lover) mentioned here is none other than the Northern Song literati Zhou Dunyi, who once used Ailian as one of his pseudonyms, and who became known for his essay, "The Words of Ailian": "Of the flowers of land and water, grass and forest, there are many to love. Tao Yuanming of the Jin loved chrysanthemums, and since Tang Dynasty, everyone has loved peonies. I only love the lotus, which emerges from the mud clean, and exudes a dignified charm; its stem is straight and hollow, with no branches or leafs, it demands to be viewed with respect." The lotus flower, which "emerges from the mud clean" and has a tall and erect posture, is viewed as "the gentleman of flowers". Yun Gee's inscription expresses the mood of an extravagant era in which the artist remains sober among the drunken throng and stays clean among the filth. These lines, both self-expression and self-encouragement, are closely linked to the environment of the painting. And the practice of inscribing verses onto a painting also demonstrates Yun Gee's inheritance of the traditional aesthetics of Chinese painting, revealing this artwork's unique symbiosis of Eastern and Western culture.