The exhibition will bring together three series of works: Storm Resurrection, Naïve and Sentimental Paintings, and Veil. Using his “human-computer friendship” method, Young melds contemporary technology with oil painting techniques in his signature works, drawing on an innate human sentiment in his selection of presented images to create art that engages with the anachronistic condition of painting in the age of photography.
Shaping the core of the exhibition will be works from Young’s new Storm Resurrection series, where the artist manipulates original paintings by Wang Ji Yuan, Guan Liang, Qiu Ti, and other members of the Storm Society, China’s first modern art association, to generate abstract compositions. He then uses oil paint to translate these faithfully onto linen. In this series, Young searches for a historical significance that has somehow escaped the cultural consciousness of artists in China, as he tries to rediscover the country’s source of Modernism.
While the Shanghai Art College never rejected Western Modernist styles of painting, they were reserved in their support of its development in comparison to Chinese painting. In response, societies were formed after class and off-campus to maintain its development, which is how the Storm Society was conceived. However, with little attention or appreciation for the Western style they espoused, the Society ceased to exist after four exhibitions and twelve issues of their periodical. Selecting these works as the basis for his series, Young puts forth his belief in the retrospective importance of this movement as a breakthrough towards Modernism in China.
Young’s Naïve and Sentimental Paintings series serves as an introduction to his oeuvre as a whole with its reference to early Western Modernist paintings. The title was inspired by Minimalist composer John Adams’ Naïve and Sentimental Music, which itself derived its name from Friedrich von Schiller’s 1795 essay “On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry”. Schiller classifies all poetry as either naïve or sentimental; the former is recognised by direct description of a straight narrative, while the latter is self-reflective and built around the author’s reflections and relationship to the material. An understanding of Young’s process is important in relating it to the title. Working from a database of thousands of random images downloaded from the Internet, the artist generates his abstract images through computer software that applies predetermined Photoshop filters through batch processing. The resulting “automatic” composites are then assessed before the artist makes his selection. The choice of the image to be painted, out of a batch of thousands of blindly transformed images, relies on a certain innate sentiment, an emotive variable, or a resonance that catches the artist’s eye. The mechanical overtones of his practice should not be viewed as a hindrance to the emotive aspect of the work, as Young aims for technological convergence, to take computer imagery and merge it with traditional technology such as oil painting.
Young’s Veils, an ongoing series that was first created eight years ago, similar to the Naive and Sentimental Paintings, is influenced by Mark Rothko and Morris Louis, two New York Colour Field painters who worked in the 1950s and 60s. The works use deep, intense colour to engage the viewer, in some ways reminiscent of Morris’s drip paintings with the suggestion of paint flowing from the top edge of the canvas. Young’s photo-paintings are as much about the medium of paint as they are an encounter between Western and Eastern pictorial traditions, giving the “chance” image a tactile density in his layering of paint. Even the elusive overlapping colour on the digital image is transformed on linen, where the suggested overlap is made real.
While Young’s academic background in philosophy is evident in his works’ strong conceptual foundation, he also attempts to reintroduce the aesthetics of painting into the domain of a conceptual practice. Well read in the area of 1960s conceptual art, Young moves in an opposing direction from the formative conceptualists of the period. Instead of working exclusively within the realm of documentation and typewritten text, Young approaches abstract painting from a point of view that refuses to denigrate aesthetics (as the original conceptualists often did). For Young, it is essential that the audience grasps the sheer intellectual capability embedded within his paintings.