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December 17, 2011

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Ding sticks to hypnotic patterns

ARTIST Ding Yi has built his career by using the symbols "x" and "+" in his paintings.

Considered a pioneer in abstract art in China, Ding is an important figure in the country's New Wave Movement.

Minsheng Art Museum is holding a solo exhibit of Ding's work called "Specific Abstract."

The exhibition features 35 canvases and 26 paper works dating back to 1986.

Ding says he rarely has solo exhibitions because "I don't have much in my hands."

"I always face the same question: 'Do you get bored repeating those symbols all the time in the past 20 years'?" he says. "My answer is, never."

Zhou Tiehai, executive director at Minsheng Art Museum, says the crosses are Ding's unique way of practicing Zen.

Sometimes Ding spends months on a single painting, piling on layer after layer of "x" and "+" motifs in geometrical patterns. He says the process requires an almost "maniacal slowness."

This slowness puts him in a "profound trance-like state" where he tunes out reality through the repetitive, template-like action of painting.

Indeed, his paintings do have a hypnotic appeal if stared at beyond a few seconds, going deeper into the layers to uncover meaning.

Born in 1962 in Shanghai, Ding is a graduate from Shanghai University's art college.

"When I started this subject, I found it was necessary to distance myself from both the burden of traditional Chinese culture and the influence of early Western modernism in order to get back to the starting point of art," Ding says.

He also uses the crosses in his pieces created with a ballpoint pen, acrylic, chalk, charcoal and ink.

Ding's artworks from different periods show variations on his main theme through the use of colors, arrangement and ambience.

"For me, they are totally different, otherwise I would be a lunatic to continue the exact same work for years," he says.

For example, according to the artist, the fluorescent works may represent his excitement toward the rising skylines of a cosmopolitan city while the dark colors reveal his concern about pollution and problems that originate from such congested cities.

"I can't tell you exactly what I am painting inside, that's too hard," he says.

Some critics compare Ding's work with traditional Chinese craftsmanship.

"Ding's paintings are akin to an accumulation of writing," says Hou Hanru, director of Exhibitions and Public Programs and chair of the Exhibitions and Museum Studies program at the San Francisco Art Institute.

"But all his efforts lead viewers to his inner world that he is going to conquer."

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