Imaginary & Ordinary
April 25 - May 22
An exhibition of select works focusing on imagined landscapes depicting the beauty of ordinary forest and landscape scenes, crossing the bounds of Chinese and Western landscape painting, with a focus on light, sky, and trees, by artist Haitao Yin.
Born in 1974 in Harbin, Haitao Yin has always understood how to use visual language to express his thoughts. At the age of eighteen, he was accepted into the Central Academy of Arts and Design in China, and moved to Beijing. In 2000, with his wife, across the Pacific, he immigrated to Vancouver. For the sake of living, he worked from dawn to dusk; he delivered papers and picked blueberries. Then he opened an art supplies shop, open to this day, where many of Vancouver’s artists frequent. However, his identity as an artist was known to few. To say that he is a ‘hermit in the city’ would not be an overstatement at all. His studio is in the back of his shop, separated out by two boards as walls, making a space not more than two meters square. In the eighties in Shanxi China, there was an artist collective known as the Three Steps Studio (Sanbu huashi), meaning thatthe studio was within three steps. According to this logic, Yin’s studio is the ‘space between inches’, and each beautifully imaginative yet elegant work is born from this space.
In Yin’s work, there is never a lack of trees. In the “Morning Glow”, each side of the work is framed by a slender trunk, each leaning, propping up the entire surface, yet the crown of the tree is outside of the frame. Following the light, within the image, is a dense forest. To learn from nature—an immense undertaking—no matter ancient or contemporary, East or West, for artists, tree is a subject that one can hardly ignore. Ancient Chinese literati have a saying, “to write landscape one must write trees”, and the contemporary “Forest Project” by Xu Bing is also borne of trees, for trees. Since the inauguration of 17th century Dutch landscape paintings, the depiction of trees in art has a rich lineage. It is true, Yin’s trees calls to mind the nineteenth century forest painters Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898) and Isaac Levitan (1860-1900) and the Russian landscapes under their brush. And at first glance, Yin’s artworks generate some realistic feelings. Similarly, in “Morning Glow”, at first glance it appears that there is a stand of birch trees—even the slim branches are brought out in detail; however, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that all of these plants are entirely derived from the artist’s imagination.
Similarly fascinated with Canada’s grand wilderness as the Group of Seven, there exist neither people nor architecture within Yin’s works. The difference is, in Yin’s work, every blade of grass, every branch, every stream and mountain appears intimate to the viewer. There are no famed grand landmarks within his works, what are presented are small, intimate scenes. To immigrants, many are awed with the sense that British Columbia—62% covered in forest—is filled with endless trees, streams, clouds and blue skies. For those who have been here long, Yin’s work evokes a sense of catching a glimpse of the sun on the way to work in the mornings, or serendipitously finding a clump of trees during an afternoon jog. In other words, Yin’s works all deal with his ordinary view of Vancouver, something common to Canadians. As Yin said to me, at times he likes to stay by himself in a forest for the entire afternoon, to take the time to listen, feel, and observe the beauty that is often overlooked.
This kind of beauty expressed through the painted surface is a landscape determined by the heart, as these works do not express any place that actually exists, but are visual memories and imaginations combined, forming strongly illusive landscapes under Yin’s dramatic and masterful handling of light. There are many masters throughout history that ‘play’ with light—for example J. M. W Turner (1775-1851), Claude Monet (1840-1926), and Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923). Haitao Yin’s creative spirit must have received their inspiration. In his works, the colour of sunlight is different in each one: in“Morning Glow” it is a golden and orange colour, in“Dancing Field” white is used to express the reflection of the sun on the water. The subtle shifts of the sun and light are grasped strongly by the artist’s keen perception, who uses shifts of colour and high-keyed colours to create flows, moving the viewer’s perception with this flow of colours, creating a surreal and ethereal sense of imagination.
The ordinary and imaginary are beautifully married in the work, benefiting from the artist’s high level of technique. Chen Danqing once said, painting in oils is a work of craft, as long as oil painting as a medium remains relevant, one must speak of craftsmanship. Yin’s craft is highly competent, and often hides technical traces (sleight could also imply cunning or deception) of hand within his images. Often, contrary to common practice, through the process of creation Yin invents many experimental techniques. Several works in the exhibition give an impression of delicate brushwork, except upon closer inspection, it is found to be scratches upon the canvas. According to the artist, these scratch marks are made using blades. Experimental tools are made from fragmented rags, napkins, and whatever is at hand. Through craft, the mood of the painting, and the psychological impression of the artist as well as life’s environment a certain way emerges.
At first glance, it is hard to put on the works of Yin any single label drawn from the discourses ofcontemporary art, as the artist himself does not intend to use some simplified mark, nor to express a predetermined style, but to fuse different ‘styles’, to create works that are embedded of the artist’s own philosophy and spontaneous expression. If we do not rush to find a label for Haitao’s work, but look at the paintings and enjoy them on their own merits, perhaps then we can find more easily within these works the beautiful, ordinary and imaginary entanglements between humans and nature.