Random Thoughts on Yang Jiayong’s Works: A Story Listener
Source:Artintern.net Author:Qu Bo Date: 2013-08-14 Size:
Walter Benjamin quoted a German saying: “A long-journey traveler must be able to tell stories” to illustrate people’s imagination of story-tellers. He should be a person who has returned from a distant place. This distant place is primarily a place in a foreign land and secondly a place in terms of traditional time. Distance gives authoritativeness of the believability of the story. But Benjamin found that the public of his time would like to hear information about matters around them rather than information about matters from a distant land. Through review of Nicolas Leskov’s works, he composed a mournful song for the fading, bygone era, during which attention was paid to individual experiences, people would keep a “relaxed state” and manual work could be done with great care.

  Walter Benjamin quoted a German saying: “A long-journey traveler must be able to tell stories” to illustrate people’s imagination of story-tellers. He should be a person who has returned from a distant place. This distant place is primarily a place in a foreign land and secondly a place in terms of traditional time. Distance gives authoritativeness of the believability of the story. But Benjamin found that the public of his time would like to hear information about matters around them rather than information about matters from a distant land. Through review of Nicolas Leskov’s works, he composed a mournful song for the fading, bygone era, during which attention was paid to individual experiences, people would keep a “relaxed state” and manual work could be done with great care.[1]

  The reason why Benjamin is quoted is because Yang Jiayong is associated with the story, not because he loves and is good at telling stories, but because he loves to listen to stories. I once saw him listening to the Tale of an Ordinary Person Becoming an Immortal (a popular on-line novel) with keen pleasure while working on his Myths series. I also heard that he was fond of the Mountain and Sea Classics, a Chinese ancient book in which the fairy tales, geography, plants, animals, minerals and products all fascinated him. In one word, he is a person destined with stories. From a biographic point of view, perhaps clues of relations between stories and his creations can be found.

  In his university years Yang Jiayong produced his Desiring to Violate series, for which he used a very simple way to convey a Buddhist mood out of his anticipation. He had been working on that series till his graduation from postgraduate studies. After leaving Chengdu Academy of Fine Art, like many other young people born in the 1980s he was confronted with a series of perplexity ranging from love affairs, marriage, family, material life to social status and multiple pressures rushing at him. During that time, he gave up expressing his Buddhist mood quietly in his works, but faced up to the pressure directly and coped with the perplexity in reality by venting it off. In those works, which were entitled by him as Neo-Proletariat Ideal, concrete material symbols that consumed our society were piled up in the frame. Through pictures displaying his inner agitation and uneasiness, Yang Jiayong was able to question the reality but implicitly felt a loss further down.

  As to what he has lost, Yang Jiayong himself was unable to tell. In continuous torment and agony, he finally got rid of the mire of reality after a shocking misfortune. Putting things in order and embarking on the road again, he began to scroll through life, tinkering on handicrafts, sauntering at curio market, and more importantly he began to enter a world of stories. In imagining stories of the ancient times he produced “Herbaceous Series”, “Fruit Series”, and “Myth Series” of works. Pictorial interpretation of the social reality disappeared from his frames. The miraculous objects in fairy tales, such as mystical creatures, divine birds, sacred mountains and holy trees were listed on canvas; even the seemingly common grass, trees, melons and fruits giving an impression of non-mundane matters due to their shapes, colors and background combined together. According to Benjamin, stories mean “distant”. A person indulged in stories yearns for a “distant place”, not stuck to the reality but detached from the bond of the reality, which constitutes characteristics of the contents of his works in recent years.

  Characteristics of Yang Jiayong’s techniques may have been inspired by stories – between telling stories and listening to stories. Benjamin mentioned that “a story-teller depends on atmosphere of manual skill”. Walerie got the best of essence from describing such an atmosphere. He believed that there are perfect things in nature such as flawless pearls, mellow wine and fully-grown living beings that take shape without limitation by time. Man has imitated such a process in nature in a way neither fast not slow and produced micro-paintings, ivory carvings, finely carved and ground gemstones, a series of fine lacquer ware or painting works. However, Walerie sighed: all of such products that required painstaking efforts and enduring labor have disappeared. Gone are the days when time is not valued and cherished. Modern people no longer do things that can’t be abbreviated, including stories. Benjamin said: “Modern people have abbreviated stories”. In the meanwhile, the ability to listen to stories has also disappeared and no audience is there any longer. Because the way to really listen to stories is when “every act and every move is infused into your work” and that talent naturally forms in the brain to retell the stories. A person can imprint what he has heard deep in his memory only when he is in a selfless state.[2] In the rhythm that matches between stories and paintings, Yang Jiayong’s works embody the characteristics of manual labor in many ways.

  Due to the flowing traces and partial thinning treatment, Yang Jiayong’s works can mislead people to get an impression of hasty work, but a close-up viewing of the process will make it known that in the seemingly thinned and flowing parts there are repeated brushwork and shaded dying layer upon layer in order to give an effect in which complicatedness is seen in simplicity while simplicity is in complicatedness. As to the parts with rich effect that have already presented to the viewer’s retina, it’s more like a result of a work carefully carved by a handicraftsman. A careful observation of Yang Jiayong’s works will make us guess he has used quite a number of methods such as laying-over, smearing, brushing, rubbing and lifting-up in his production process, and multiple body movements and gestures have left multiple traces in the frames. Superficially, this meticulous painting seems to have caused a contradiction in the borrowing of the techniques from the traditional Chinese ink-and-wash painting. But as a matter of fact, after an “unfettered” passionate show by the learners of Chinese traditional painting, repeated drills ensue day in and day out. By training and controlling oneself, man has activated tools and eventually reached a realm in which a simple brush dances freely on rice paper. Yang Jiayong’s visual effect in the frame as relaxed and rich as ink-and-wash painting is a product of his rigorous training and controlling himself at the fingertip over a long period of his study of painting itself. It’s like a traditional handicraftsman who tries to experience and ruminate the pleasant sensation that technique has brought to him in using simple tools tirelessly in his obsession of production.

  Yang Jiayong titled one of his latest series as Meditation of the Bohai Sea. Contents of the works stem from the Mountain and Sea Classics and his own travel experiences. The Bohai Sea as described in the Mountain and Sea Classics is boundless, brightly colored and quiet, and is a varied realm where colorful water sprites and spirits haunt here and there. Aba Prefecture in Sichuan Province is where he bas been several times for sketch-making tours. Over that piece of colorful land there are claret-red trees and phthalo blue lakes – the dark, gorgeous colors simply intoxicating him. By an incidental chance Yang Jiayong learned that today’s Ruoergai Prairie might by the Bohai Sea described in the Mountain and Sea Classics yesterday. Then in his imagination of the vicissitudes, with fancy for myths and yearning to experience the reality, Yang Jiayong, as always, engaged in “persistent labor with painstaking efforts” like a traditional handicraftsman. Through a process that is neither fast nor slow in gradually presenting the picture, a story listener thus dissolves…

  Notes:

  [1] Walter Benjamin. Random Thoughts Nicolas Leskove’s Works: A Story Teller[M]// Walter Benjamin. Selected Works of Benjiamin. Trans. Chen Yongguo, Ma Hailiang, Beijing: China Social Sciences Publishing House,1999: 305-330.

  [2] Ditto. 313-314, 311-312.

  (Qu Bo: Doctor of Art History, Director of the Institute of Sichuan Art, Xihua University)

[Editor] 常霞

    Artintern