Huang Zhiyang, Playing with the Construction of Signs

◎ Chen Lvsheng


Huang Zhiyang is a self-possessed and spirited contemporary Chinese artist, as well as a bookish one.

His character was shaped by the elementary education he received in Taiwan. The distinctive multivariate methods seen in his creative works stem from his knowledge and understanding of culture and cultural issues. Though like many contemporary artists he drifts amongst different media-ink art, installation and sculpture, his ponderings follow an independent path in which his cultural concerns invariably emerge. He pursues the profound issues of art, engaging philosophical and religious questions without shirking from the aesthetic implications. As a result, his artistic language has developed through numerous, diverse stages.

For an artist, the construction, discovery and reconstruction of his individual artistic language system is a pivotal working process that reifies and embodies one's core artistic values. One can see the "late-life transformation" (shuainian bianfa), [of artists such as Qi Baishi] as the push toward such an all-pervading unity [of values and language]. The art language system of Huang's work-from the temporality of ink wash to the spatial experience of installation, from the austerity of monochrome ink to the experiential world of color, from the reality of the "Delivery Room" to the unreality of "Auspicious Beasts", and from the imagined "Nest" to the concrete "Moss"-with its countless transformations and abnormalities of aesthetic experience, will only find its convergence, its unity, in the world of the spirit. These movements in language reflect what is going on in the artist's inner being-indeed, it is difficult to predict what his next thought will be and hence what he will do next. From the spiritual world, Huang conveys thus his artistic concept in precisely this kind of movement in language and from this constructs his own "contemporaneity" .

For many years, Huang Zhiyang has expressed a particular interest in semiotics and the various ways in which one can link concepts to signs. He begins with the creation of a signifying unit but then builds upon and extends it [aesthetically]. Through the construction of various kinds of signs, he manifests a diversity of artistic qualities. The signs that compose his Possessing Many Peaks [sculptures], and the Three Marks series, the regularity of the constituent elements are a rational expression identical with the artist's own disposition-in its rigorousness it resembles the speculation of a philosopher. Through a different method like that in the Lovers' Library series, human body forms are compound signs such that within the parameters of the body, sign and form relate through pattern and regularity. Having also served as the basic depictive means of When Flowers are not Flowers, Huang extends this technique in the Beijing– Bio series. The similarity in signing does not mean the sign unit has a fixed image, but that the sign's features emerge in the process and context of the drawing or painting. He says, "Bit by bit I began to accumulate the marks and symbols for my paintings. In the process of exploration that I began, searching for what could be called my own 'space', pictures took form and found completion in correspondence to the conditions of the outside world, of society, and of the environment."

Huang was not content with the construction of signs in just painting and used nearly the same idea to render signs and symbols in marble. Moreover in the spatial relations of the installation format he began to explore the interactive relationship of his signs to society and to the environment. Following the outer form of the rock, he made precise calculations in the alignment of contour lines. These lines thereby constituted a form correlated to the shape of the stone, its regularity exposing that of the stone's. Huang then sets these particulars into an overall space of his own organization. In this way, space becomes integral to experiencing his art.

Because of his ongoing speculations on the philosophical plane Huang's art exudes the erudition of the traditional Chinese literati. He is attentive to the process of artistic creation, and wherever he encounters the entanglements of logic, he seeks a balance in his artistic depiction. Moreover, in his obvious enjoyment of the process, he is himself alive to the changes that guide the expression of his concepts.

The multiple reflections and diverse expressions of Huang Zhiyang's art, reminded us of the modern Taiwan art movements of the 1950s and the mainland China "1985 new tide of art" that followed the introduction of reform and openness. In the early 21st century, Chinese contemporary art has, in a very short space of time, achieved a rise in status and popularity. Public acceptance and understanding has meant that Chinese contemporary art-with its critical relationship to predominant social values, ideas an ideologies-has been continually engaged at the forefront of social change especially as society looks on from the sidelines. Nowadays there is an confluence of cross-straits cultures emerging that includes Huang Zhiyang, a Taiwan sojourner living in Beijing. All this has brought about a new atmosphere in contemporary Chinese art and perhaps Huang's own significance will find its expression here.

20th Feb, 2014