Artist Spotlight: Yan Pei-Ming

23.10.2019

Yan Pei-Ming in his Paris Studio

Contemporary Chinese painter Yan Pei-Ming was born in Shanghai in 1960, and grew up during the Cultural Revolution.

"The Cultural Revolution, formally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a sociopolitical movement in the People's Republic of China from 1966 until 1976. Launched by Mao Zedong, then Chairman of the Communist Party of China, its stated goal was to preserve Chinese Communism by purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society, and to re-impose Mao Zedong Thought (known outside China as Maoism) as the dominant ideology in the Communist Party of China. The Revolution marked Mao's return to a position of power after a period of less radical leadership to recover from the failures of the Great Leap Forward, whose leftist policies led to famine and approximately 30 million deaths only five years earlier. The Cultural Revolution damaged China's economy and led to the death of an estimated 500,000 to 2,000,000 people." - "A Brief Overview of China's Cultural Revolution". Encyclopedia Britannica

Yan Pei-Ming moved to France in the early 1980s where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Dijon and discovered the works of Gustave Courbet at the Musée du Louvre. After his studies, he began to work in portraiture, and in 1987 he created his first series “Heads of Mao”, based on his experiences growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution. Yan Pei-Ming is known for his distinctive red, black and grey monochromatic oil paintings which sprawl large canvases. His monumental works are made with a mop-sized brush working with large rapid strokes with wet oil paint. He marks the canvas with energy and thickness.“Yan Pei-Ming’s portraits, furiously and quickly executed with a strong, large brushstroke technique, reflect the artist’s concerns on social conflicts and international politics and present his ongoing concern for problems of universal human nature." - Guo Xiaoyan, UCCA Chief Curator and co-curator of Landscape of Childhood.

His artworks refer to history, current events, and the media. He transforms media images into timeless scenes depicting the destiny of humanity. He is celebrated for his portraits of well-known 20th century political and cultural figures- including Mao Zedong, Bruce Lee, Pope John Paul II, and Pablo Picasso. When describing his works Yan Pei-Ming says, “I have never felt it necessary to put some things around the persons; I just want to draw portraits.” His works gained international recognition after his distinguished participation at the Venice Biennale in 2003. 

Yan Pei-Ming, International Landscape, 2006

Yan Pei-Ming, 'International Landscape' 2006, 200x400 c"m. Courtesy of the Tiroche DeLeon Collection. 

He revives historical painting, continuing in the line of Goya, Delacroix, and Courbet. In October 2019, Thirty-nine years after Yan Pei-Ming discovering Gustave Courbet’s work, he collaborated with the Petit Palais for Courbet’s Bicentenary in the exhibition “Yan Pei-Ming/Courbet, Face to face” which is currently on view. In this exhibition ten works by Gustave Courbet from the collection of the Petti Palais face fifteen monumental paintings by Yan Pei-Ming.

Pei-Ming was the first artist in residence at Courbet’s workshop, where most of the works in the exhibition were made, in Ornans. His works can be found in the collections of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Shanghai Art Museum, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, among others. He lives and works in Dijon, France.

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