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Profile of Yang Ming-Yi

Renowned Chinese artist Yang Ming-Yi was born in Suzhou, Jiangsu, in 1943. In 1958, he entered the Suzhou Arts and Crafts Institute and, under the instruction of such famous artists as Wu Yangmu and Xu Shiming, graduated with outstanding marks in 1962. He stayed on at the school to teach Chinese art, and after the Cultural Revolution, was appointed Artist-in- Residence at the Suzhou Traditional Painting House. In 1981, he attended an advanced course at the Beijing Central Fine Arts Institute, where he received instruction from such masters of the older generation as Wu Zuoren, Li Keran, Wu Guanzhong and Huang Yongyu. In 1987, he went to the U.S. as an overseas student to continue his artistic training and development. In his early youth, Yang Ming-Yi began a serious, deep and long term study of Chinese traditional painting. Later, he visited celebrated natural landscapes, and the majesty and grandeur of nature affected him deeply and stirred his imagination. His watercolor block prints made in the 1960s have won several awards and been highly appraised at exhibitions in China and abroad. In the 1980s, he turned his attention to Chinese ink and wash paintings, and through a process of ceaseless painstaking dedication to this technique, he was able to form his own distinctive and original style, which has won great esteem in the art world, and has been very infivential. Artists such as Wang Yiqian, Huang Miaozi, Wu Guanzbong, and Huang Yongyu have all written articles in his tribute.

Yang Ming-Yi uses a traditional style of ink and wash painting to creatively portray the enshrouding mist and dense humidity of the Jiangnan water country. Tranquil and expressive, fresh and refined, individual and distinctive, these works profoundly reveal the depth of his feelings for his hometown. His works have often been selected for national exhibitions and major international exhibitions, and have won numerous awards. Exhibitions include the National Contemporary Chinese Painting Exhibition in London, the 11th Contemporary Art Exhibition in New Delhi, the National Art Exhibition in Beijing, the 18th Contemporary Ink and Brush Painting Exhibition in Japan, the Spring Salon Exhibition in Paris, the American Ink and Brush Painting Exhibition and the American Water Color Exhibition, while awards include the Japanese Contemporary Ink and Brush Painting Award for Excellence, the Bronze Medal of the 6th American Art Exhibition, the Gold Award at the 1990s China-Japan Calligraphy and Painting Exchange Exhibition. the 4th Worldwide Transmission of Chinese Culture and Fine Arts Award for Excellence, and the 1996 Japanese Art Award. After coming to the U.S., Yang Ming-Yi has had over 20 one-man exhibitions in San Francisco, New York, Washington, Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung and Hong Kong, at which his works have received high praise. Also worth noting is that in the Spring of 1997, the Sun Yatsen Memorial Museum in Taipei and the Yu Zuoren Art Museum in his hometown of Suzhou will hold a Yang Ming-Yi retrospective covering over 30 years of his works, which should have a powerful and valuable impact. Yang Ming-Yi's works have been collected by art galleries, museums, fine art institutes and private collectors in China and abroad. In 1989, the ink and wash painting "West Lake of Hangzhou" was chosen to be printed as a special edition commemorative stamp. This stamp was first issued at the World Stamp Expo in Washington D.C., and Yang Ming-Yi was invited to attend the ceremony. In 1990, his painting "Ancient Bridge by Moonlight" was included in the collection of President and Mrs. Bush. In 1991, he won the designation of American Artist. In 1994, illustrations by Yang Ming-Yi won a National Award for Excellence. Over the years, his paintings have been auctioned by Christie's and Sotheby's international auction houses. Collections of Yang Ming-Yi's works include "Chinese Paintings of Yang Ming-Yi", "A Dreamlike Hometown", "Paintings of Yang Ming-Yi", "The World of Yang Ming-Yi", "1993 Collection of Yang Ming-Yi", "Suzhou Fisherman's Song", "Recent Works of Yang Ming-Yi", "Paintings of Fans by Yang Ming-Yi", "Four Seasons", and "Sketches byYang Ming-Yi". Dozens of dictionaries of artists in China and abroad list Yang Ming- Yi as an entry.

Yang Ming-Yi in New York

Like many Chinese painters, Yang Ming-Yi's life as an artist started when he was just a boy. By the time he was nineteen, he had a reputation of distinction and a teaching post at the Suzhou Arts and Crafts Institute (1963). In the years that followed Yang exhibited frequently in the People's Republic of China and in countries around the world. His early works included woodblock prints as well as paintings, with the latter a major preoccupation at present.

The decisive turn in Yang's career came in 1987, when he entered the United States determined to make his mark in the highly competitive art center of New York City.

Yang's arrival capped a decade that has been an extraordinary time for Chinese artists in general. The "Open Door" policy of the Chinese government after the end of the "Cultural Revolution" (1976) gave a green light, for the first time in memory, to artists to make contact with the art of the West. Building on modern Western art was no longer proscribed. Chinese artists leapt at the opportunity to relate to a broader spectrum of styles. American and European sources were sought. Significant numbers of artists made their way to France or England, but the largest contingent opted for the United States and for New York City in particular. The internationalization of Chinese art was underway. What a heady time it was! No better demonstration of the changes underway could be found than in the news-making exhibition of contemporary art in Beijing in the early part of 1989. This exhibition was shut down briefly on several occasions because the proliferation of Western styles was too much for the authorities: Abstract Expressionism, Op Art. Pop Art. Demonstration Art, Conceptual Art, you name it.

Back in New York, many Chinese artists were experiencing phenomenal successes in major galleries along 57th Street and in Soho. They were also invited to show in college and university art galleries and to participate in discussion sessions and colloquial.

What were the issues? Where were Chinese artists headed? Was there a danger of losing their "Chineseness"? Was it enough to mimic styles or even to excel in styles already well established? Would the commercialism of the art scene have a negative effect?

These were precisely the questions Yang Ming-Yi had to face when he came to the United States. He has successfully found his way by retaining a distinct identity as a "Chinese" painter while incorporating many qualities that are traditionally Western. He had retained the familiar materials of brush, ink and paper and his subject matter is nearly always drawn from his native city, Suzhou, or the surrounding countryside. Suzhou is called the "Venice of the orient", for it is distinguished by canals that vie with the paved streets and are crossed by graceful stone bridges that arch steeply like the backs of stretching cats. Tree lined streets, temples, pagodas, and many old houses and gardens make the city a delightful place. The prosperous farms and fisheries along the wetlands of the Yangtze River estuary give the region an air of ease and well being. The nostalgic attachment of Yang Ming-Yi for his home town is perfectly understandable; he seems, in fact, to be haunted by the place. Painting after painting reveal a wistful or dream-like quality to his Suzhou houses, boats and fishing nets and landscapes so often enshrouded in a fine mist or gentle rain. A mood of reverie also graces his night scenes, flooded with moonlight.

These pictorial effects are achieved by the wet brush technique which Yang has mastered. The brush, loaded with ink, is applied to pre-moistened sections of the paper. The ink is quickly absorbed and spread like the action of a blotter. A natural gradation of tones follows until the dry white paper is reached. Second and third applications of ink are made to produce a sense of depth in a given area. Architectural forms are rendered with middle gray washes, and for emphasis fine dark lines are introduced as outline of houses, with animals and figures often added as stark silhouettes. The broad washes and the sharp dark lines counterpoint each other and contribute to the magical atmosphere at once defined and undefined.

The monochrome ink paintings the clearly in the Chinese tradition. Yang, however, has begun to experiment with color as broad washes and as accents. He also uses the three-quarter view for houses, steps and bridges, all implying a recession to a common vanishing point. His landscapes have foregrounds, middle distances and far distances that are unified by a continuous spatial field. At times discrete areas of the white paper surface are left in reserve to create the effect of emanating light not unlike the luminous play in paintings by Kung Hsien, who was said to be also influenced by Western art.

The integration of these elements, Eastern and Western, is so natural that one does not question the separate parts or try to identify their origins; they form an unique blend in the hands of Yang Ming-Yi. Above all else, Yang has realized an identity of his own. He never forgot the admonition of his teacher at Beijing Central Arts Institute, Huang Yong-Yu, who said, "A good painter should have his own character."*

Suzbou's houses have a special place in Yang's oeuvre. He has described them as "delicate, peaceful, and elegant."* They appear often in his paintings, not simply out of nostagic longing but because they represent an ideal of Chinese culture to which he aspires. When Yang isolates the house form, pushing it up close and parallel to the picture plane, the divisions of space that result from vertical and horizontal lines suggest an incipient cubism and perhaps a prefiguration of the direction Yang will take in the years ahead. To be sure, Yang Ming-Yi has already proven himself adept at holding on to his heritage while incorporating the occidental styles he is confronting.

*Note. Quotations are taken from an interview with Yang Ming-Yi by Lin Li published in The Artist, Taiwan August, 1988.

Philip Gould, March 5, 1991
Professor of Art History, Sarah Lawrence College

My Choice

My Choice Master Yang has always been;
Your magic brushes eyes and minds both feast.
For e'er the ferns and flowers my dreams feed.
And to no end of my home thoughts from abroad lead.

Gong Dingan has a famous line which goes "A never-ending dream of leaves and flowers in Suzhou." Mr. Yang Mingyi is a native of Suzhou and his paintings have a fine touch of the beauty of the misty Jiang Nan, otherwise known as the South of the Chang Jiang River, hence a poem with my compliments on the publication of Mr. Yang's recent works.

-- May 1995, Miaozi in Brisbane, Australia
*Huang Miaozi is a celebrated Chinese artist and art critic and is now living in Brisbane, Australia.

The Original

Yang Ming-Yi returns again to Suzhou, for the fifth time since he left to live abroad. Yang Ming-Yi has been painting since childhood. At first he studied woodcarving, then switched to painting, specializing in rendering the landscapes of Suzhou in his own individual style. Later many artists copied this style. For an artist, the most important thing is to be original. Yang Ming- Yi is truly original.

-- Ya Ming

Pencil Drawing by Chen Yifei

Ming -Yi is my old friend. Whether we're in China or abroad, we often get together to discuss art, study art works, go sightseeing and make sketches, and engage in sincere and understanding exchanges. Ming-Yi is a talented, unpretentious, vigorous and creative artist. I especially like his Jiangnan landscapes in water and ink, which are so elegantly expressive and full of charm. His art works have met with a lot of success in recent years, and he has had numerous one-man exhibitions in many countries. His works are attracting more and more admiration from the public and more and more attention from collectors. Thus, on the occasion of the publication of this collection of his sketches, I would like to sincerely wish him even greater success in his art.

-- Chen Yifei, Summer, 1996

My Old Friend

Yang Ming-Yi is an old friend of mine, despite the age- difference between us. In the early days he involved himself in woodcarving and lithographs, as well as paintings. He then suddenly switched to ink painting and produced some wonderful landscapes of Suzhou. These paintings did inherit an element of style from traditional Chinese ink painting, but at the same time they were new and original, painted in a handsome, elegant style. Yang Ming-Yi is a straightforward, hardworking artist. Painting is the cornerstone of his life. He was born into a scholarly family. He lives in Suzhou, in a small house with a very strange name. Within the house are many antique objects and furniture, and a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. His parents are elderly and distinguished people. It is Suzhou, and that refined family background which has cultivated Yang Ming-Yi's Character.

-- Huang Yong-Yu

The photo taken at Yang Ming-Yi'sone man show in Hong Kong in 1994. From left: Huang Hei-Man, Huang Yong-Yu and his wife, Yang Ming-Yi.

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