When we first reached out to Yuanyuan Yang about offering her prints on Thumbtack Press, she was in New York. In the meantime, she went back to Beijing (where she’s from), to prepare for a show and to reconnect with family. It’s no small deal for anybody to move between cities like NYC and Beijing, but for as thoughtful an artist as Yuanyuan, you’d be forgiven for thinking the effect could be monumental.
Because, as you can tell from our chat (below), besides being an exceptional artist, Yuanyuan is an exceptional thinker. Her contemplations on balancing humor, innocence, and youth with some of the larger conflicts of contemporary society and existence never get bogged down in the boring traps of intellectualism. They stay compelling. Rainbows shine through.
We’re absolutely thrilled to offer Yuanyuan’s work here at TTP. Read our chat below and dig her entire initial offering at her Thumbtack Press artist page.
TTP: Hey! How’s it going?
YuanYuan: Good! How are you?
TTP: Great, it’s amazing that spring/summer finally got to Chicago. Feels like I haven’t seen the sun in months.
YuanYuan: Really? Weather in Beijing is good.
TTP: Yeah so what’s up in Beijing? Are you working there?
YuanYuan: I finished my solo show in New York last Dec. It was Chinese New Year in Feb. It kinda lasts more than one month to celebrate. I am just looking for studios in Beijing right now, and communicating with galleries. I’ll be in a group show in fall and hopefully a solo show in Beijing sometime this year.
TTP: Sounds like you’re planning on staying there, no?
YuanYuan: Ummm, not sure yet. I am Chinese and it’s been 5 years away from China.I started to notice I want to dig more of myself culturally.
TTP: You have family there?
YuanYuan: Yes I do. It was fun to spend my time with them for the luna new year earlier. From then, I started to think I should show my art in both China and US.
TTP: Do you have any family in NY?
YuanYuan: Nope. But I’d like to go back to the states next year if possible.
TTP: So I can totally understand you going back to China. The artist returns home! So have you found that being in Beijing affects your work at all?
YuanYuan: The Chinese art market is growing fast and also it’s getting much better than 5 years ago. For me, I think you can see its affect in my concept and the subject matter but not much changed in my style.
TTP: Like how specifically? You’re painting different ideas?
YuanYuan: It’s not absolutly different. I call it developing – my works still focus on human desires.
TTP: It’s interesting, in a way desires are always the same, but they’re also always changing for everyone and forever.
YuanYuan: Yeh! I think I am breaking my concept of the desire right now.
YuanYuan: Painting how it affects our daily life, trying to explore more specific questions I had about the government, the society, the relationship between man and woman – I am looking for the tension I get under different cultures.
TTP: Yeah. Like you said: developing.
YuanYuan: Painting is like a meditation. It shows your atitude to the world. It grows up with you.
TTP: It’s interesting in your work how the “high” interacts with the “low” – there are lots of children, but also lots of higher ideas like relationships, sex, violence, and so on.
YuanYuan: Yes I think kids in my painting represent the innocent and weak but also the pure. And they’ll be the future of our human society. I kinda like the idea of fairy tales, they look very cute and attractive and always have a perfect ending but what hides inside is the cruel reality of life.
TTP: Yeah, there’s always something more. Like in your piece Paranoid. Or in No Thrill. Something else is there, in the subject’s face.
YuanYuan: Yes. Including self identity doubts and reactions to the stressful environment.
TTP: But I also like how the colors aren’t brooding or depressing. There’s almost an argument happening in your pieces between the innocent, the doubting, the pain, and the funny.
YuanYuan: Yeah, because I am not a totally depressed person. Btw, it is kinda stressful to chat … You know why I paint? Because language is not the most comfortable way for me to express myself. lol
TTP: Heh. There’s some song lyric like “If I was better at finding the right words to say, I wouldn’t need to write these motherfucking songs.” (It’s from ”Don’t Ever Fucking Question That” by Atmosphere.)
YuanYuan: Cool I will check it later.
TTP: Cool – so are the TTP pieces all from a certain time frame?
YuanYuan: Most of them, including the rainbow ones, are from between 2010-now.
TTP: All of them have at least a little bit of rainbow.
YuanYuan: Yes. As in my statement, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Colors are the deeds of light. Colors are light’s suffering and joy.” That is to say, color can only be seen because light lost its freedom by being hampered and refracted against the substance of the atmosphere.
TTP: That’s sort of your launching point?
YuanYuan: Yes. I think people are the light and desires are the colors. As people are impeded by the material world, socially they refract several colors, while at the same time they lose their freedom. All the desires are causing people’s joy and suffering.
TTP: Very Schopenhauer.
YuanYuan: Really? Thank you. Also in Chinese, there is a strong relationship between color and desire. “色” (se) is a word with multiple meanings. It means “color” and at the same time means “lust”. Even more, in Buddhism, “色界”(se jie) which literally translates into “color world”, is used to describe the material world.
TTP: WHOA that’s awesome!
YuanYuan: That’s the second reason I paint very saturating color to represent the material world.
TTP: Yeah, and “things.”
YuanYuan: There is a famous sentence from the Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra that says, “色即是空,空即是色 (se ji shi kong，kong ji shi se)” which means, “All things of visible form and substance are empty, emptiness is form and substance.” Just so you know but also I think everything is contradictory – I am very insecure about society. But I like how it is complex.
TTP: The complexity/contradictions are what make society all that it is, don’t you think?
YuanYuan: Yes thats right.
TTP: But I see, again, those contradictions in your work too is what gives it another dimension. Sometimes complexity –> depth
YuanYuan: Thank you.
TTP: Ok I don’t want to take up too much of your time Yuanyuan I think we should wrap this up!
YuanYuan: It’s nice talking with you.
TTP: Same! And thanks. Talk soon.
YuanYuan: Talk soon.
You can see all of Yuanyuan’s initial TTP offering at her Thumbtack Press artist page.