Blazing the way for political art in China, Yu Youhan's abstract style has made him one of the leading contemporary artists in Asia. Youhan grew up during the Cultural Revolution and uses his experiences to convey political and societal statements through a variety of mediums and artistic styles.
With Yu exhibiting at Hong Kong Art Week, we chat to him about Andy Warhol and abstract inspirations.
Tell us about your new series of paper works being presented in Hong Kong.
I experimented with this ancient traditional technique of handmaking paper, and began using it in January 2016 as a new medium for painting. I had heard of David Hockney and other Western artists also utilising this material for smaller pieces before, but nothing on this scale.
The works in Hong Kong at the Rén Space are an extension of the series that was shown in my recent PSA exhibition [at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai].
Tell us about the Mosaic piece.
“New Life; 1987 Mosaic” is a brand new work in paper that captures the spirit of a piece I created 30 years ago, which was lost. It's very large in scale and complicated in the process. It is unique and is a result of many trials. I'm very grateful for everyone who took part in this project.
You have been called China’s Andy Warhol—what do you think of this?
I think the comment refers to my Mao series, where I studied and practised different, more Western methods. It perhaps reflects my desire to experiment and express my work in different ways. However, for me, I don't really mind what people call me: it doesn't change who I am.
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What medium do you like to work in?
I have tried to create works in different materials and media with Rén Space, such as metal board, high-resolution tapestry and paperwork, in the past several years. I add another layer of hand-painted work to make each piece unique and further the effect.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Painting, photography and music are my lifetime interests. I really like the work of Paul Cezanne, as well as masterpieces by Chinese and western artists. And classical music, especially, is a source of inspiration.
What are the subjects you’ve used in your work that you find most riveting and why?
The subjects I've used in my work that I find most riveting are based on my interests and emotions. I take the abstract form and integrate classical Chinese cultural elements, as in the “Circle” series, so as to express myself in an ever-changing world. And in it, you will see the variety of its movement, the self-discipline and harmony of that world.
What's your favourite travel destination?
I love travelling in China: there are many unforgettable places to explore. Currently, I am travelling in Tibet, which is such a spiritual and special place.
What do you want people to take away or remember when they are engaging with a piece you created?
I want people to feel relaxed. I want people to enjoy the art and be able to appreciate the flow of the works.
What about your work makes you relevant as an artist?
I'm not obsessed with being a “master” or someone famous. I just want to be honest with myself, and be kind and generous to others, in term of presenting the beauty of art to everyone. That's my lifelong aspiration.
Yu Youhan's works will be exhibited at Art Basel and Art Central throughout Hong Kong Art Week 2017.
Art Basel Hong Kong 2017, Booth Nr. 1C16, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center, Hong Kong
Art Central Hong Kong 2017, Booth B09, Central Harborfront, Hong Kong
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