Duan Jianyu is a thinking painter, reviving a particularly anti-cosmopolitan form of bad painting that balances between conceptual absurdity and the vulgar poetry of popular aesthetics reflected decorative prints for mass production and the televisual imagination. Stringing together surprising and occasionally bizarre narratives of personal travel experiences and fabricated characters, Duan draws on a set of favored imagery including fruit, flowers, flight attendants, farm animals, and more exotic creatures like camels to populate the awkwardly framed compositions of an otherwise generic and banal visual practice. At stake in this rustic and sentimental work is the status of genre, focusing attention in particular on the conventions of and boundaries between the cliched definitions of landscape, portraiture, and still life, employing devices of rhythm and rigid pictorial readings to transform the living narrative of the scene into the latter category. Her palette is almost laughably amateurish, approaching the extremities of taste in order to deprecate the mechanisms of choice and fantasy mobilized by the painter in the name of innovation. Borrowing equally from the visual languages of Julian Schnabel and Wang Xingwei, Duan Jianyu has been included in public exhibitions including the Guangzhou Triennial (2005), the Venice Biennale (2003), and the Gwangju Biennale (2002), and has received honors from the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards (2010). Where her earlier work often focused on garish faceless figures and bleeding pigment ensconced in the frame of the tondo, Duan has gradually introduced more alien elements in order to produce an effect of sentimental regionalism coupled with an inscrutable linguistic element, contributing greatly to the conversation of place and personality in painting practice.
Situated in the formative moments of this practice, the oil on canvas work Hey Hello Hi! No.6 (Lot 897) depicts three eggshaped vessels containing different figures, all set against one of the pseudo-typographical backgrounds common to her work of that era. Duan Jianyu fills this field with a patchwork of rectangular sections all depicting the same set of four or five characters in black pigment, typically translated as "hey," "hello," and "hi," repeated ad infinitum. Some instances are darker and more defined than others while many transitions between blocks of text are blurred and blotted, producing through repetition and differentiation an effect that serves to negate the linguistic meaning of the characters, instead transforming them into graphic elements that serve to add a sense of vitality or rhythm without signification; the work seems to babble on endlessly in the background. The three orb features are aligned across the lower half of the composition. On the far left, an undulating line encloses white negative space in sharp contrast to the muddied texture of the text to the rear; the center oval is defined rather by a crisp but shadowed line, while that to the right, the thinnest of the three, is produced through a weaker and lighter line. These elliptical vessels contain, in the same order from left to right, a corpulent and white human figure that looks almost more like a worm draped over a pole at its torso, a brown feathered bird laying flat across the same vertical feature, and a transparent vase housing an indistinct flower, the stem of which meets also with the supporting pole. Here Duan Jianyu teases the viewer, motivating obscure symbols drawn from her usual repertoire—bird, flower, and naked body—to the seductions of narrative never actually present on the canvas, a sensation heightened by the presence of meaningless linguistic information.
Hey Hello Hi! No.6 (Lot 896), also executed in oil on canvas, conjures shadows of influences from Matisse's La Perruche et La Sirene. It resists such visually pleasurable compositions in favor for a bricolage of forms that appears something more like a page of exercises from a sketching pad, further diminishing the importance of intentional signification present throughout the work of Duan Jianyu. On a faded field of beige, orange, and pale blue patches that interact with the comparatively untouched negative space of the treated base, the artist again marks out one of her trademark oval forms, employing an organic shape that suggests a microcosm of the world at large within the space and practice of painting. In this case the scenario is populated with two major categories of iconography drawn from a characteristic set of imagery: the botanical, present in the form of a patch of green grass as well as brown branches bare but for their variously pink and blue blossoms, in some cases extending from circles and other movements through the picture plane; and the avian, represented in well over a dozen birds of various types and styles. Some, depicted in black silhouette, appear stiffly flat, perhaps dead or otherwise removed from the living portion of the work. Others give off a more radiant hue, ranging from the bright red to the yellow and green or the more common brown. The remaining constituent elements of the image are much less clear, as if they were unfinished beginnings or unresolved psychological tropes: in the lower right, for example, the viewer finds a bleeding patch of color that resembles another worm-like human figure, while the piece is full of bare circles and bits of hatching. Again leading the audience unwittingly into quick and vulgar interpretations of painting, Duan Jianyu is interested in exploring and, at least to some extent, revisiting and reviving standard notions of beauty as they emerge in painting; the viewer is offered a seemingly comprehensive arsenal of figures circulating between symbolism and imagery, never settling on a final place of rest.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.