West Lake: Etchings and Paintings

Yan Shanchun

BEIJING

February 27 – May 8, 2016

West Lake in My Dream #7 西湖梦寻 #7

2009

Acrylic on canvas, mixed media 布面亚克力, 综合材料

83 1/2 x 60 in (212 x 152 cm)

Xixi #3 西溪之三

2005

Acrylic on canvas 布面亚克力

39 1/4 x 59 in (100 x 150 cm)

Chambers Fine Art is pleased to announce the opening on February 27, 2016 of Yan Shanchun: West Lake, Etchings and Paintings. Born in 1957 in Hangzhou, Yan graduated from the Printmaking Department of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now China Academy of Fine Arts) in 1982, and thus belongs to the generation of artists who were the first to graduate after the academies were closed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

The celebrated city of Hangzhou, located in an area of considerable wealth and culture is centered on West Lake, a source of inspiration for poets and painters for hundreds of years. Even when Yan was not living in Hangzhou, memories of the famous lake and celebrated viewing-points never left him and they became the inspiration for much of his work. Now that he lives and works in Hangzhou he can see the lake whenever he wishes although this is less important to him than his memories of it and its unique position within the history of art in China. 

Yan is also well versed in ink painting as well as classic Chinese poetry which aim not to describe but to evoke through carefully observed details. That being said, Yan wears his learning lightly and the paintings, works on paper and etchings are memorable for the manner in which they reveal so much while remaining self-effacing and reticent. 

Yan’s career has followed an unusual path. For a decade after joining the staff of the Shenzhen Fine Arts Institute in 1993, he devoted most of his time to scholarly pursuits, only returning to painting in 2005. From 2010, however, he has devoted most of his time to the production of etchings, one of the primary print-making techniques in the West for over 500 years. The current exhibition establishes a dialog between Yan’s magisterial paintings and his etchings which are inspired by the same subject matter as the paintings although totally different in scale and impact. 

Designed by the artist, the installation provides a peaceful environment in which the viewer can contemplate his works as if displayed in a library or in a private home. Each painting results from the application of multiple layers of pigment, concealing memories of the famous landscape of West Lake that hover in the background and appear only intermittently. Faint touches of color emerge through translucent veils of white and sometimes along the edges of the canvas, but play only a minor role in the orchestration of the multiple layers and shades of white paint. On occasion he works from more than one side of the canvas, creating a tension between horizontal and vertical drips that provide visible traces of the artist’s working process.

That is not necessarily the end of the extended period of creation as he also likes to complicate the spatial dimension of the works by applying thicker layers of paint applied with a palette knife that partially conceal the shifting veils beneath. At first glance the paintings appear to be pale and bleached, lacking in material substance, but as the observer absorbs the evidence of the artist’s creative procedure and relates the hints of colored surfaces to forms from the real world, they assume a legibility as surprising as it is brief. As in certain works by Cy Twombly, the pale, scuffed surfaces allude to a surprisingly wide range of cultural and historical themes.

The new group of copper plate etchings, a technique that Yan finds to be particularly congenial, requires different viewing conditions from paintings. In order to appreciate the technical skills of the print -maker, they need to be examined very closely. Displayed on reading-frames in a library-like setting, Yan’s etchings are particularly magical. Using a mixture of sulfur and olive oil to produce recesses in the copper plate, and printing on Japanese ganpishi paper, Yan creates prints that he describes as having “a luminous, silver-print photography effect, lending the image a heavy, metallic feel similar to how I feel about the West Lake: clear, remote, tempered and classic.” Like the paintings, the etchings are inspired by West Lake but the focus is on evocative details rather than a broader view of the expanse of the lake. For true print-lovers, it is refreshing to see Yan’s poetic etchings that provide the kind of deep satisfaction associated with the great print-makers of the past. 

Although Yan is fully cognizant of the long history of abstract painting and print-making in the West, he has been less concerned with rivaling these antecedents than in modifying their example to enrich the valued tradition of Chinese literati who cultivated the arts of calligraphy, painting and poetry in seclusion. That privileged life-style is no longer possible but in his detachment from the goal-oriented atmosphere of the contemporary art world and in the development of his own quiet poetic sensibility equally attuned to poetry and the visual arts, he may be considered a twenty-first century equivalent of these legendary polymaths.

前波画廊诚挚地宣布将于2016年2月27日起举办《严善錞:西湖》展览。严善錞1957年出生于杭州,1982年毕业于浙江美术学院(现中国美术学院)版画系,成为改革开放后第一批毕业的艺术家。

西湖坐落于享有“上有天堂,下有苏杭”之美誉的杭州市中心,也是历代诗人与画家的灵感来源。西湖湖畔的美景已经深深地印刻在严善錞的脑海中,即便身在他乡时,这些回忆仍为他提供了无限的创作灵感。现在他回到杭州工作生活,又得以随心所欲地欣赏西湖美景。然而于严善錞而言,对西湖的记忆和西湖在中国艺术史上独树一帜的地位远比他眼见的景色更加重要。

严善錞擅长传统水墨画,也精通古诗词,然而他却并不刻意彰显其水墨技艺和去描绘所观察到的细节,而是从中激发情感,其绘画和纸上作品令人回味的地方就在于它们既充分展现出丰富的表现力,又蕴含着儒雅与谦逊的气质。

严善錞的艺术生涯非同寻常。自1993年起在深圳画院任教,他便将所有的时间和心血都倾注在学术追求上,直到2005年才重拾画笔回到绘画创作中。而自2010年起,他将大部分的时间都花在了蚀刻版画上。蚀刻艺术主导西方版画技术已有500多年。此次展出为严善錞的绘画和蚀刻作品建立了一个对话,虽然拥有同样的主题,但尺寸和视觉效果却大相径庭。

为了此次展览,艺术家设计了一个怡然自得的平和环境,使得观者像在一个图书馆或自己家中欣赏其作品一般。每件绘画作品得益于他对多层颜料的运用,将艺术家对西湖胜景的记忆隐藏在背景之中,营造出一种若隐若现的视觉效果。淡淡的色彩通过轻盈的笔触时而从半透明的白色画面中浮现出来,时而呈现在作品的边缘。然而在由多层白色颜料交织而成的画面中,这些色彩仅仅充当了一个次要的角色。有时严善錞也会从画布的各条边开始作画,由此在横向与纵向的笔墨间营造出一种张力,并展示出艺术家的创作过程。

严善錞也喜欢用调色刀把厚重的颜料再涂到那若隐若现的半透明画面上,从而营造出更为复杂的空间效果。乍一看,严善錞的作品有些苍白和平淡,缺少具体物象,但当观者掌握了艺术家在创作过程中留下的线索、并将画面上朦胧的色块与现实世界中的物象相联系起来之后,便会惊喜地发现这些绘画作品其实并不缺少具象。正如艺术家赛扬·托姆布雷的一些作品一样,看似黯淡破旧的作品表面机理实则暗喻了无穷而广泛的文化与历史主题。

此次展出包括一系列新的蚀刻铜板版画作品,这是严善錞非常喜爱的创作媒材。与其绘画不同,观者必须近距离观察作品才能真正欣赏到他精湛的版画创作技法。透过类似图书馆中的陈列橱柜,其版画具有不可思议的效果。通过使用硫磺粉和橄榄油的混合物在铜板上产生凹槽,并转印在日本雁皮纸上。他的版画正如他自己所描述的那样具有“一种银盐摄影的光泽,使得画面更加厚重且具有一种金属感,也更接加近我自己对西湖的气质的理解:清峻、遥深、温润、古雅”。如同其绘画,这组版画的灵感也来源于西湖,但却更强调能引起共鸣的细节,而不是西湖辽阔的宏观感受。对忠实的版画爱好者来说,严善錞富有诗意的蚀刻版画就如过去版画大师们的作品一样引人入胜。

尽管严善錞通晓西方抽象绘画和版画艺术的悠久历史,但他并未试图与那些前辈一比高低,而是以自己独特的方式利用这两种媒材来丰富中国古代文人闭门修行书法、绘画及诗歌的悠久传统。那种悠闲自得、养尊处优的生活方式在当下已经不可能了,然而由于他看淡当代艺术圈里的利益是非,并通过自己的作品来寻找安详平和、诗情画意的感触,也许可以把他看作是二十一世纪的中国文人。

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