“The biggest challenge for me has been to find the simplest way to express everything.”

Born 1961, Shanghai

Yi Ling’s name sounds like the Chinese for “one zero”. This, he says, is a neat summation of Taoist philosophy: “one is zero and zero is one—nothing is everything, everything is nothing”. His work is a quest for balance between the polar opposites of yin and yang as they appear in everyday life. “Chinese reality is Toyotas as well as horse-carts, skyscrapers as well as shanties, people who believe in capitalism and people who believe in Communism. It is crowds, complexity, chaos,” Yi Ling says. “Therefore, in my paintings there are figures and abstractions, past and present, collective and individual, Chinese and Western.” To depict this multifarious, constantly changing reality, he starts with images rendered in the bold outlines of folk art, and covers them with layer upon layer of geometric designs and calligraphy until his canvas is an intricate maze of line and colour in which the figures can barely be discerned. “Some people look at my work and see nothing but the colours,” he says. “I have actually drawn cars, buildings, clothes, but they don’t see a thing. So you could say I have put everything in one painting, or that there’s nothing in my painting. It totally depends on the viewers.”

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