Hangzhou artist Yuan Yuan (b. 1973) is gaining critical acclaim on the international art scene thanks to his distinctive paintings focusing on architectural subjects, executed with impeccable technique and conveying a unique atmosphere.
Born in Zhejiang, Yuan Yuan studied in the Oil Painting Department of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, where he gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1996 and a Master of Fine Arts in 2008. As a secondary school student, he also studied traditional Chinese painting which influences his thinking. The Academy, founded in 1928, was the seedbed of modern Chinese art after its founder Lin Fengmian turned to the West in a bid to reinvigorate Chinese painting. When Yuan Yuan was studying there, while Chinese society was still very conservative, the Academy was “like a sunroof, always open for us” and he benefited from a library well stocked with foreign periodicals.
Yuan Yuan is inspired by Western artists such as Richard Long (b. 1945), who creates “art made by walking in landscapes” - sculptures which are lines or circles made from natural materials, and photographs of them. Yuan Yuan admires Long’s ability to go to places other people cannot reach, and awaken the viewer by letting them experience such places. He also cites the late Cuban-born American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996), whose work “successfully places private sentiment in the common consciousness.”
Yuan Yuan’s subjects are mainly interiors, some once very grand such as great halls with neo-classical arches and balconies, others more modest such as entrances and corridors of old apartment buildings. These are based on real places mainly in China, with some imaginary elements added, as he wishes to impose his own system of design.
All share a sense of abandonment and dereliction, offering just a glimpse of their former glory. Yuan Yuan says, “Ruins give us a sense of security, they are living spaces without a sense of pressure so you can do whatever you want. Abandoned places are also public, meaning that you may enter and visit. This is similar to the process of a viewer who is looking at an artwork. I am trying my best to identify the residual traces left behind - not so much what the place has now, but rather what this place used to be for a long time, which no one can take away and cannot be seen.”