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March 11, 2012

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Flights of fancy with feathered friends

ARTIST Ye Yongqing seems to tease viewers with his bird paintings.

At a distance, his paintings look like childish scribbling. Viewers don't realize how exquisite and meticulous they are until taking a close look.

Through the end of May, his solo exhibition, "Sparrow God Funky Bird - Ye Yongqing 2012," is running at Longmen Art Projects.

Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, who is considered the founder of Taoism, once said great art conceals itself in "Tao Te Ching." It means the extremely exquisite often appears as the extremely crude. This mysterious truth of nature also fits for Ye's paintings.

The bird's image from afar changes as visitors walk over for a closer look. Countless extending sharp lines look similar to a barb-wired fence.

"In ancient times, birds symbolized wealth and elegance, but I want to tease the bird under my brushstrokes," Ye says.

Ye says he was surprised when one of his paintings sold at auction for 250,000 yuan (US$39,576). The sale generated much discussion on the Internet, much of it highly critical of Ye's ability.

"It seems those people who do not have much knowledge of art are especially angry with the result," Ye says. "I don't want to argue with them, but they really need to see my original works instead of viewing a simple picture on the web."

True, his paintings can look like they were created with a few hasty and careless strokes, but in reality his work requires several steps and the end result is reminiscent of pointillism.

First, he draws a bird sketch and then magnifies it as a rough sketch with the help of a copy machine or a computer. Then he transfers it onto the canvas with propylene paint, meticulously applying each stroke by hand.

To be more exact, his birds consist of hundreds of tiny intricate triangles.

Huang Liaoyuan, one of China's most well-known art critics, says Ye's paintings are anything but effortless.

"It is a process that includes the randomness of doodling, the arduousness in modeling, the brushwork of a literati and the handiwork of a craftsman," Huang says, "Maybe Ye uses a typical Chinese humor, that is to say a soft sense of humor like needles in cotton."

Born in 1958 in Kunming, Yunnan Province, Ye graduated from the oil painting department at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 1982. He was in the "star class" with Zhang Xiaogang, Zhou Chunya and Luo Zhongli, all big names in China's contemporary art history.

Different from his peers, Ye is not interested in fusing the prevailing political mood into his works, though he is an active member in the 85 New Wave Movement, a group of artists who are willing to push boundaries with their art.

Despite studying art in Sichuan, he often says his first teacher was his overseas experience in the United Kingdom.

"Since 1997, I have been sponsored by a British Foundation. It has given me the chance to stay in London for three months every year," Ye says.

He says the experience of living with a group of poor artists on the same street will always stay with him.

"It was so awkward living with my female English landlord in an apartment, after all, we were not lovers," he says. "The cultural collision was immediate in every detail of life."

But at the same time, Ye admires the ability of the artists he has met.

"They have incredible imagination and an accurate art language with sophistication," he says. "I felt I was a bit shamed among them, though my painting sold for the most money."

Like a bird, Ye likes freedom, especially the freedom to traveling far and wide. In the past decade he has shuttled between Chongqing, Kunming, Dali, Beijing and London.

Ye says traveling is one of his greatest hobbies.

"I discover my inner-self through traveling," the artist says. "Year after year I paint tirelessly with only one goal - to present to people my own handwriting, and that is my secret. What makes a painting special is neither its title nor the image itself. It's the enchanted personality behind it, and the fascination of painting lies in the process of conceiving and recording your personal view."

In 1999, Ye opened Shang He, a small art hub in Kunming, where he helped many unknown artists gain exposure through exhibitions and selling their work.

"I developed my social web in Kunming, meeting with government officials, real estate developers and bankers," he says. "I persuaded them to buy paintings created by Zhang Xiaogang and Fang Lijun."

In order to escape the outside hustle and bustle, Ye now lives in Dali, Yunnan. He refers to this as "the life of the present."

"To live in a present life is not easy, as we sometimes are tortured by our past or scared about the future," he says. "Living in a present life is a luxury."

Date: Through May 31, 10am-6:30pm

Address: 23 Si'nan Mansions, 515 Fuxing Rd M.


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