Last year, the artist Yun Fei Ji came to meet with a group of young people I was working with at the Museum of Modern Art. He was rather shy and spoke matter-of-factly about the incredibly detailed and large painting the students were observing. His presence echoed his painting style — subdued but filled with incredibly colorful stories.
Ji paints in a traditional Chinese painting style (specifically from the Song Dynasty that begun over a thousand years ago). Amazing to think that they can be so fresh while using the same materials (mineral dyes on mulberry paper) that artists have used for millenia. On trips, he documents what he sees by taking photos and making numerous sketches in little notebooks.
Currently on view at James Cohan Gallery is a selection of work that he created after witnessing parades during the 60th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China last October. He was among the crowds observing the parades and began to realize how many police and state officials were among the celebrants. The paintings are a result of the feeling he gets from this display of governmental control. According to an article in the New York Times, “he rode home to place an online order for “The 120 Days of Sodom,” the scandalous 18th-century French novel by the Marquis de Sade. “For some reason,” explained Mr. Ji, who was born in Beijing but is now an American citizen, “whenever I go to China, I feel the need to transgress.”
Migrants of the Three gorges Dam, 2009. Courtesy James Cohan Gallery.
Looking closely at the work, you notice that the paintings focus on the mixture of people and landscape. The people have been forced from their homes and are moving their belongings, including the buildings they inhabited during the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China. As the artist stated in an interview with John Yau in the Brooklyn Rail, “You know, villagers had to dig up their ancestors’ graves and take their bones with them; it’s quite sad.”
As you scan the landscape, mixed in with the trees and rocks and all of the people and their belongings are also strange creatures — is that a large monkey figure with human legs? Does it represent a specific person or is it a spirit in the landscape? In many of the works, skeletons are walking around among the living, helping them shuffle along. Each figure is unique, but often of the same colors as those of the landscape. The relationship between them is apparent but subtle and an element of fantasy runs through. The landscape seems ancient as the people are constantly in flux.
What are the relationships you notice between the people and their belongings? What stories do these objects tell us about them? And how would you describe their connection to their surroundings?
Yun Fei Ji Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts James Cohan Gallery - 533 West 26th Street until March 27, 2010
Posted by Nathan Sensel on 3/15/10 | tags: painting