“There are so many hidden stories within a landscape!”

Born 1966, Jilin, Jilin

Huang Yan has made his career at the outer limits of Chinese landscape painting. Instead of paper scrolls, he paints on everything from human bodies to furniture, musical instruments, even a leg of ham. It’s his classically trained wife, Zhang Tiemei, who executes the paintings; Huang Yan, a sometime poet, comes up with the concepts and photographs the results. Each new “canvas” gives its own twist to the landscape upon it—a literal twist when a face, arm or leg moves. By joining human body to painted landscape, the artists underscores the enduring connection between Chinese people and their artistic heritage‚ which, ironically, has always ranked humans a distant second to nature. As well as shaking that tradition out of clichéd complacency, Huang Yan deliberately unsettles the eye, pushing it from painting to thing-painted-upon and back. In the Sofa: Painted-Face Landscape series (2006), the subject might equally be the landscape, the sofa, or the face peering out from both. As “the most authentic representation of the philosophy of the ancient Chinese sages”, landscape painting is to the artist a personal refuge. But it is also his personal vehicle for rebellion, “my resistance against worldly conflicts and a place to express my Ch’an [Zen] ideas.”

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