YANG QI’S BIOGRAPHY OF ART LIFE
I was born in an artist’s family. My father graduated, around the end of 1930s, from Suzhou Art Institute, one of the predecessor institutes that constituted the unsurpassed China Academy of Art today. Suzhou Art Institute was established in the 1930s by Mr. Yan Wenliang, a great modern painting master and educator, together with a group of Chinese artists who studied in French. Later, my father continued his study in the art department of Central University under Chinese painting master Xu Beihong’s education. After a long period of training and studying, my father soon became an influential artist and art professor in southern China. My mother was born in Frankfurt, Germany; my grandparents went to Germany at a young age to study. They lived there as doctors after getting their PhDs. So I also attained a bit of Western education as a child.
In my early memories, in great interest, my brothers and I often watched my father painting. Sometimes we also made casual drawings mimicking our father’s work. He often gave us some lessons, telling us stories of traditional Chinese poetry and foreign arts. Unconsciously influenced by this creative atmosphere, my original interest in painting developed. I spent my childhood and teenage years painting with my father, discovering initially how to sketch, sculpt and paint spontaneously around the same period. Apparently, my father was my first teacher of the arts.
I was influenced by different artists during different times, most of whom were Western artists. The one and only Chinese artist who influenced me greatly was Feng Zikai, a famous modern painter, prose writer and art educator. Influenced by my father during childhood, I have also seen many paintings in Feng Zikai’s books created during the War of Resistance Against Japan. Those empathetic images of life scenes, and the poems written with the paintings, rooted themselves deeply in my mind for a long time. Foreign artists such as Picasso and Chagall influenced me significantly; living in Europe, German expressionism and later neo-expressionism both transformed me from a Chinese artist into a representative figure of German neo-expressionism, which has been an important process for my art.
My work, to a large extent, is based on Chinese and German philosophies, such as Taoism, as well as Heidegger’s theories. In terms of arts, German artist Joseph Beuys raised my interest greatly when I first came to Germany.
I don’t favour pop art much as I am more into academic art. I have spent a long time developing and creating art with an academic focus.
There are a few things in life that have influenced my art. The first thing was coming to Germany to see great masterpieces in person that I had previously seen in magazines. From classicism to renaissance, from medieval arts to modern and contemporary ages, I ventured among as many masterpieces as I could. With a great dedication of time and interest, I studied and compared their works, contemplating how my own art could reach and exceed their accomplishments. I also have seen many original artworks by European artists in galleries, including some artists I didn’t know.
The above experience was an important transformational point in the way I think about the arts: there have been so many people in the world creating different artworks that I should continue my path creating something different from existing forms; I should create something of my own. Moving from China to Germany, from an Eastern world to the West meant my entire artistic insight has transformed within a complete change of environment. In the West, especially in Germany during the late 80s and 90s which was its rapid flourishing period of contemporary art, I attained great knowledge of the arts.
The second major point was my shift from abstract art to figurative art. I have always longed to fuse Zen, Taoism and German dialecticism into my artwork. I had been thinking about the way I paint, the feelings I have when I paint and the changing of my style, so I did abstract paintings. At the end of 90s, after being exhibited in many major art museums in China and Germany, I felt that it was time for a change. Thus, my art-making became very free and wild when I changed from abstract to figurative work.
Neo-expressionism has influenced me, freeing me from abstraction and leading me back to figurative painting. It has become a significant part of my art. I gradually changed from pure abstract style to figurative painting, incorporating academic techniques from the late 90s. Later, I noticed that my works appeared differently, meaning my own style was established confidently with more feelings and emotions added in. It was in the late 1990s in Germany when some European critics called me a “rising neo-expressionist in abstract art with unique style”.
The third important thing was my long working period during which I made art installations. This started from the late 90s alongside my paintings and continues today. I participated in many art exhibition with both my paintings and installations, from group shows to solo shows. Those installations stand for my own style to a major extent. An artist should not only do paintings, but also should use various artistic elements to express his styles, showing a comprehensive artistic consideration with diversified art languages. Many famous artists today use diverse artistic media, varying from paintings to sculptures and to a wider range of styles. Art develops into an intensively diversified portfolio of forms. This has encouraged me to devote my time to creating paintings, installations, photography and multi-media arts, which all formed my contemporary artistic expression in the 21st century as a whole. I think, as an artist, the process of changing and transforming artistic styles is also a process of self-revolution and self-introspection.
The forth important thing has been to raise the quality of my art to new heights after being declared a German neo-expressionist. For fifteen years since 2002, I have participated in many major art exhibitions throughout the world, which has been a great encouragement for me to continue creating art. Being a recognized artist in the West, I am able to promote and express my own art style. This experience has been exceptional to me, giving me great confidence in my artistic life. An artist is meant to be confident and proud, otherwise his art will show timidity. I was able to advocate for myself and push my art to a higher level, to be compared with international artists and to join important exhibitions, which would be hugely encouraging for any artist.
I left China thirty years ago, thus I always look at issues happening in China with a foreigner’s perspective. Looking at the media’s presentations, I don’t really care about politics; those major political issues seem irrelevant to me.
Issues in Europe or other parts of the world, or even social development topics, are to an artist objective matters which he should be looking at with his own angle and position. He should not be swayed by the issues, unless there are wars or similar chaos. I think in a peaceful environment in Europe, people’s life and society, as well as the broader culture and cultivation opportunities are not vastly influential in an artist’s development.
Any interview question asking about my choice of style and technique appears a bit absurd. A successful artist does not choose his style or technique, but forms the style after a life-long exploration of his artistic development. He forms this style, instead of choosing it, to create art. I express my art with heart and flesh, with my spirit and whole soul. It’s a matter of independence for an artist; he needs not to listen to others’ opinions. An artist is in a world of his own, thus he could influence the outside world as a whole. I have not chosen a style.
This interview should not be a show, thus I want to express what is true to me, saying what I want to say to the media. Other things are not related to me. I am responsible to my own art, and to myself. How people praise or criticise my art should be a very natural thing.