GUAN YI (YAO FENG)
Grounding the spiritual
Guan Yi (Yao Feng) received classic art training in the 1980s. But it was during the ’85 art movement that he elevated his practice into a new realm of fine art through his “Big Soul” oil paintings. Since the millennium, he has been based in Beijing and focusing on his artistic process creating a number of profound series of works including; “Perceptions”, “Experience", "Verification" and most recently, "Enlightenment". The spirituality within these works transcends abstract theory and conventional style, revealing intangible, pure and naive artistic expression.
Looking at the series “Perceptions”, the painter's mind is free, giving free reign to calligraphic and ancient symbolic expressions. A large colour gamut is rapidly and intensely spread across the work following meditations, intentions, and spiritual observations. Revealing no recognisable image but an abstraction with no set boundaries that follows no rules.
“Experience” series on the other hand, echoes “Verification”. Lines become organisms, moving gently and subtly changing. Different from how we usually rationalise and analyse, these series are more about emotion, natural phenomenon and the abstraction of nature.
"Verification" series consists of horizontal and vertical lines, constituting a grid-shaped square picture with rational and logical thinking. Repetition shows calm and simple composure, cool tone, consistent rhythm and a harmonious sense of order.
The works in "enlightenment" series are created using card paper and acrylic paints, a cross between ink and oil, thin and transparent. It bears a flowing, dreamlike and ethereal expression and the true and diffuse charm, making the whole picture a composition of reflections within empty and micro spaces.
It can be said that Guan Yi’s experimentation returns to core of art, and only then can art have fundamental freedom. The foundations of artistic innovation is social freedom, which first needs individual freedom and individual responsibility. In today's post-industrial era, especially in China's mixed post-industrial and post-totalitarian state, the economy is relatively developed, but political reform lags behind. Cultural pluralism is one ideal of social freedom and Chinese art presents various styles and directions, which is a sign of cultural prosperity. However, one thing is abnormal, that is the art controlled by political power in the past has been infiltrated by capital and therefore control. It can be predicted that the biggest crisis of contemporary art is excessive greed of capital, which is changing the evaluation standards of past works. If the dominant social force of the past three decades is the economy, then the next three decades will inevitably be dominated by spiritual beliefs. The revival of spiritual art has predicted self-renewal in the absence of contemporary cultural spirit.
Contemporary art itself may lack nothing but full spirituality. We know that, different from the modern aesthetics of disenchantment, contemporary (or post-modern) aesthetics dissolve the dualistic opposition between subject and object of modernism. Spirituality and nobility are related to abstractness. Spiritual art explores the mystery of dissimilarity and the gift of being. When all grand narratives are considered imperfect and are determined by society, then the individual's spiritual desire will understand god through language in the transcendent world. Contemporary art needs to be rerooted in a more solid spiritual belief, not only based on the game of desire and the expansion of free will. This root needs to have love, care and justice, but also to be "returned to charm", to reflect on modernity and recover the values of pre-modern times, namely all the universal values.
The brilliance of art lies in the nobility of its emotions, the profundity of its thoughts and the new form. Transcendent spiritual art can redeem the human heart, inspire the mind, and give people a deep sense of understanding and beauty. But this desire requires the renewal and construction of the artist's life, which is based on spirit, not on flesh. The paintings of Guan Yi generate a realm of spiritual art, a unique art style, its value is self-evident.
Professor of Tsinghua Academy of Fine Arts
Ph. D advisor
Member of International Academy of Aesthetics.