ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai
Viewed at close range, Ding Yi's Appearance of Crosses series reveals a remarkable regularity of hand-painted strokes; an astonishing degree of control and a full spectrum of colour 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 colours darting left and right, up and down and diagonally like a massive traffic intersection of lights and colours 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.
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. The creation of the crosses series began in 1988, a period in which he describes Chinese contemporary art as "experiencing the same transition as the whole of China. Both were withstanding the shock from and the effect of Western culture on traditional Chinese thinking. I had to free myself from traditional cultural burden and the initial modern painterly impact of the West. Back to the basics and start from scratch, I remember making my first art work out of the primary colour of red, yellow and blue. Choosing crosses was exactly because of its broad symbolism. In my career, crosses have been used to denote the precise position during every colouring process. It is merely a printing industry's technical vocabulary and symbol, which lacks any room for imagination. I had to filter all practicality, to allow a painting to show her intrinsic form as its spirit is like. The 'cross' has a preoccupied meaning in the human subconscious, and by default it connects logic with the symbolic experience of everyday lives. However, the 'cross' is merely a meaningless symbol to me. Their arrangement in a particular order according to similar painterly brushstroke means that symbols are used to compress the usual meaning from symbolic experience. While the closely juxtaposed crosses explore the shallow visual and special relationship in a logical way; the colourful lines and other fragmentary shapes are distributed on the plane of the canvas to engage the space and the depth in an arbitrary abundance. The essences of art are not a mere superficial presentation of symbols, but a creation of an epical and spiritual power through the deconstruction of symbols into their component brushstrokes."
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