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Apr 15, 2021 Top 10 Picks

2 years ago

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World Renowned Ink Artist

Yuan Jinhua was born in Hangzhou, China in 1964. He graduated from the China Art Institute with B.A in Chinese Painting in 1988 and was conferred his Ph.D. in Arts by the same in 2009. Yuan is a world renowned ink artist and one of the foremost representatives of China’s modern art history. He is also the director of the Portrait Studio at the Zhejiang Painting Academy and serves on the committee of Association of Chinese Artists.

Since 1990, Yuan has been the subject of over one hundred group exhibitions, including 57th Venice Biennale in Italy and Milan Design Week (2017). Yuan has made a name for himself among many public institutions and art collectors, with his pieces frequently being sold at auction. His series of work ‘Embraces’ sold for $73,755 at Sotheby’s in 2015. Yuan is the first Chinese artist selected for Foundation Beyeler Summer Night’s Gala: A Benefit Auction for Foundation Beyeler 2018 in Basel, Switzerland. The Foundation Beyeler has extremely strict requirements for the works selected for the charity auction – all the works are from world-famous collectors, galleries and art foundations. Yuan’s work ‘Sea of Clouds’ represented Chinese contemporary ink painting and was auctioned alongside other world-class works of art from Lucas Arruda, Roni Horn, Philippe Parreno and other 10 contemporary artists. China Art Museum, Shanghai Art Museum, China National Museum, Zhejiang Art Museum, Eckenstein-Geigy foundation and many other public institutions worldwide have collected Yuan’s works into their permanent collections. He has also been listed in Record Today for The Future, which is an art collection project jointly sponsored by the American Academy of Asian Culture, the American Folklife Center and Library of Congress. 

(2017 “Meteorology” 57th Venice Biennale, Venice)

Yuan’s works are representative of contemporary ink art’s increased focus on concept rather than craftsmanship. His artistic approach was greatly influenced by the ‘85 Movement’, also known as the ’85 New Wave’, refers to the boom of artistic activity by artists working within groups in cities all over China during the mid-1980s. The 1980s in China represented a kind of explosive answer to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, when China was not only cut off from the rest of the world but was also forced to disown and renounce its own culture. Suppression of such a powerful culture could only be met with an equal and opposite force. The momentum of this collective movement underpinned the Chinese avant-garde that emerged internationally in the early 1990s and would later have a significant impact on an increasingly globalized art world. Yuan Jinhua’s keen awareness of contemporary issues since then is vividly captured and expressed in his works. He is an unflagging artist in his constant experimentation with various subject matters, symbolism and methodology while creating through an intellectual discourse on prevailing issues and contrasts between east – west, rational – sensual, national – individual. His singular style is the result of his thoughtful eloquence and masterful composition through a traditional medium. Drawing from classical Chinese aesthetic and philosophy, Yuan places thoughtful strokes on the paper and adapts millennia-old techniques to the expressionistic and conceptual context of contemporary art. His works elevate the traditional ink painting language to an experimental level that is made relevant to political and social statement. 

Series of Work ‘Embraces’

In his series of ink painting works, known as ‘Embraces’, which is an important work that Yuan Jinhua integrated based on his original semi-abstract symbols after 2006. The stacking geometric little human figures appear in the background motifs of various traditional Chinese ink painting. It reflects the painter’s personal thoughts on the relationships between the individual and the collective; human being and the environment as well as the western culture and eastern culture. The “huggie” symbol the artist created through the “Embraces” series is unique on a global scale. Thus, because of its “constructive” rather than “deconstructive” characteristic, has drawn a clear line from the previous art genre that prevails nihilism and criticism. Yuan’s new approach might develop a new trend for the creativities of Chinese ink painting and lead to the new stage.

Part of Series of Work ‘Embraces’(2006—2016)

Also, the imageries from ‘Embraces’ that Yuan brought up is extremely relevant in today’s narrative. It seems unclear whether the world has become simpler or more complicated. However, the artist thinks that the modern society we lived in is becoming more and more monotonous. “In this clockwork world, one thing for sure is that people-to-people relationships is indifferent and utilitarian,” Yuan once stated. The series of works that he produced are aimed to bring back the inner kindness and peace that people once hold for each other, expressing an attitude of treating people equally, spurning selfishness, abandoning all burdens and boundaries. The “embraces” of the little human figures symbolized warmth, intimacy, trust, dependence, and positiveness in a way. Yuan uses those simplified human figures as a vessel to appeal for the return of the most basic natural state of human being — no discrimination, no bias, no prejudice, and without restraint.

In addition to his ink paintings, Yuan has also applied his iconic symbol on ceramic and digital practices. This is the first time that Yuan present his digital version of his ‘Embraces’ series to the public. The animation of ‘Embraces’ are based on the second phase of this series which only have 28 pieces prior to 2011. Starting as of 2012, hundreds of works were completed on an experimental basis and some of them selected by the artist to further expand. The animation creative team put efforts into the digital practices for over seven months, and 10 pieces were finally completed. These works are not merely animation, for this series of works represents Yuan’s new attempt, through animation based on contemporary ink paintings, to create a kind of vertical, dynamic concept for the ‘huggie’ symbol. By this concept, the relations between the characters and between characters and the environment can be stable but can also be dynamic and transient. This series has further developed the concept of ‘Embrace’ as an act, while adding more temporal and spatial dimensions to the core idea. 


Much attention of Yuan Jinhua is focused on the modern consumerism which is stimulating the appetite for instant gratification and irrational self-expression. The excessive consumption, war, pollution, and human nature all make Yuan keep thinking about the question of peace. He doubts if harmony is possible in people-to-people and people-to-nature relationships. ‘Prayer’ express Yuan’s wish of the inner kindness and peace that people should have for each other, expressing an attitude of treating people equally, spurning selfishness, abandoning all burdens and boundaries. Also, this work is seeking to better represent the connection between people in terms of spiritual power. The ‘huggie’ symbol is not just a purely material substance, but also intangible and abstract. The subjects of ‘Prayer’ are infinite and unlimited– it can be a religious symbol, nature, or any other subject that can receive feedback of spiritual power, including the behavior of embrace itself.


This work represents a kind of pursuit, adventure and seeking. It’s symbolizes result-oriented exploration into the boundary of ‘embrace’ as a behavior. The pink flying bird is an abstract expression of all individuals’ dreams, group objectives, and individual’s free will. In another dimension, when two people hold a person up in their arms, only the top one thus capturing the pink flying bird with an abstract significance. Does this signify the sacrifice because of collectivism or the success of heroism? Or something else? 


‘Flame’ represents the attitude that human beings are connected with each other to overcome all crises that we are facing in the modern world. This work features multiple dimensions including individuals cannot thrive alone since escaping would bring on a greater disaster. On the other hand, confrontation with the crisis may also results in some inevitable harm  in some cases. The artist expresses his tribute to the solidarity and also his doubts of self-sacrifice of humans as well.



Curator | Art Advisor at SuperRare



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