October 23, 2017

An Artist: Yang Yongliang

An Artist is a series of posts profiling contemporary artists whose work I find interesting. I am a big fan of contemporary art, particularly from North Asia. I am by no means an expert in the field, but on a personal level these are the artists whose work I have liked the most in recent years.

I first encountered Yang Yongliang's digital art works in an exhibit of contemporary Chinese art in Singapore. They grabbed my attention immediately, and have been stuck in my memory ever since. They're just enormously effective and captivating. I think they have a near-hypnotic effect.

Yang originally trained in traditional Chinese ink painting before formally studying visual communication in Shanghai. After a few years of experimentation in ink painting, short film-making and photography, he started working on his so-called 'phantom landscapes' in 2006. In his works he draws intricate Chinese landscapes in the popular 'shanshui' style of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127 CE). Into them, however, he inserted modern buildings and technology, and tightly clustered fictional cities. Then he animates them.

The animation is always relatively tiny and subtle: a waterfall in the distance, lightning on the horizon, or flashing lights atop some faraway building. It achieves a staggering effect: a very old and traditional art form is rammed up against the contemporary world. It is a moving picture that simply begs you to lean in and spend minutes at a time examining and experiencing every tiny detail.

Yang continues to work in digital photography, painting and film-making, but it is deeply effective and absorbing moving paintings that stick in the mind. I have embedded a Youtube clip of one of them below; just imagine it painting-sized.

Yang Yongliang, Artificial Wonderland, 2016. (Digital photography.)

Yang Yongliang, Still from Phantom Landscape, 2012. (Digital animation.)

Yang Yongliang, Rising Mist, 2012. (Digital animation.)

Further reading
  • Yang's official website. (link)
  • A 2012 video interview with Yang by The Creators Project. (link)
  • A 2015 interview with Yang by Ben Beaumont-Thomas for The Guardian. (link)

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