The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lin Yan: Ink and Paper

Lin Yan,'Sky 2', 2016, installation view in Taipei, image courtesy the artist and White Rabbit Collection

Last week I interviewed artist Lin Yan about her life and work. She is the daughter and grand-daughter (and wife) of artists, born into one of those extraordinary dynasties of artists that you find more often in China than elsewhere. She reflected on her life of journeying, from Beijing, to Paris to New York where she now lives and works. Her beautiful ink and paper installation Sky 2 is currently installed for 'The Dark Matters' exhibition at Sydney's White Rabbit Gallery. Soon I will post the video of our interview. In the meantime, here is part of the abridged version published today, very appopriately in time for International Women's Day in the Northern Hemisphere:

Three cities, three histories, and three artistic languages co-exist in the work of Chinese artist Lin Yan, who was raised in Beijing and studied in Paris before moving to the USA, where she now lives and works in New York.
Lin was born in 1961 to a family with a distinguished artistic lineage —both her parents and two grandparents were famous artists. Like other intellectuals, writers, artists and teachers, they suffered through the changing political winds of twentieth century China. Lin studied at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, entering in 1980, only two years after it had re-opened at the end of the Cultural Revolution. After graduation, she followed in the footsteps of her mother and grandfather, studying in Paris before moving to the United States in 1986. Today, she works in her Long Island City studio, travelling back and forth between New York and Beijing several times each year.
Lin Yan's parents, Lin Gang and Pang Tao, in 1958, image courtesy the artist

Best known for working with paper, Lin Yan bridges the divide between two and three dimensions (she calls it working in ‘two and a half dimensions’), and between Chinese and Western philosophies and aesthetics. She blurs boundaries, embraces paradox, and juxtaposes past and present. I wanted to learn more about her journey from one culture and visual language to another, and to discover how her beautiful, fragile works encompass past and present. While the artist was in Sydney to install her work at the White Rabbit Gallery we spoke about her early life in Beijing, and how she thinks about her practice: what follows is an abridged and edited account of a much longer conversation.
Luise Guest: I’d like to ask about your early life, growing up in a family of artists in Beijing. Your parents were modernist artists and influential teachers; I know that your mother, a printmaker who had also studied in Paris, at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, was Xu Bing’s teacher, for example, and your father, Lin Gang, had studied in the Soviet Union. Your grandfather, Pang Xunqin, was a very famous modernist artist. How do you think these early experiences influenced you? And what are some of your most vivid memories of your early childhood growing up in this artistic milieu?
Lin Yan with her mother, artist Pang Tao, in Beijing in 1963, image courtesy the artist

Lin Yan: I saw my parents doing paintings a lot when I was young, but not my grandfather, because he was accused of being a Rightist in 1957 before I was born. [Mao’s Anti-Rightist campaigns began in 1957: more than half a million intellectuals, students, artists and ‘dissidents’ were persecuted. Many were executed, imprisoned or sent to labour camps. Lin Yan’s grandfather was made to clean toilets and forbidden to make art, blacklisted for more than twenty years.] Actually, I didn’t really meet him until I was ten or eleven years old. Of course, I had met him when I was a baby, but I couldn’t remember that, I just saw the pictures. My earliest memory of him is from the time during the Cultural Revolution when my parents had been sent to a labour camp along with all the other professors from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and I was staying behind in Beijing, living with neighbours. On my way home from school one day I saw an old man with white hair standing in front of the gate … he was staring at me. I asked if he was looking for someone, or if he wanted to come into the yard, and he said, ‘Are you Pang Tao’s daughter? I am your grandfather.’
Lin Yan as a student at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, in 1982, image courtesy the artist

...Lin Yan pleats, drapes, folds, sheaves, crumples, cuts and layers soft handmade Xuan paper. Sometimes stained, even saturated, with black ink, her works remind us that ink and paper are the essential Chinese materials for both art and writing. Floating in the gallery space, suspended by fragile threads, the crumpled, twisted, grey and black forms of Sky 2 evoke brooding grey skies over polluted Chinese cities. They contrast with sheaves of pleated white paper that hang behind them, a curtain that shifts gently in every current of air, as if breathing. Overhead, the soft, hollow forms of paper stained with black ink loom like storm clouds.
Lin Yan, Inhale, 2014, ink, plastic bag, light and Xuan paper installation, 765x508x190cm, image courtesy the artist, photo: Jiaxi Yang

Lin Yan with her work Sky 2 at White Rabbit Gallery, image courtesy White Rabbit Collection, photograph: David Roche

O read the rest of the article on The Art Life website, click HERE