A Review of 黄宇兴 Huang Yuxing: 物华 Essence of Landscape at König Galerie, London
The unassuming entrance to the König Galerie and series of corridors leading to the exhibition room create a sense of isolation, a clean slate from which to view the highly saturated works of Huang Yuxing. Having never visited the gallery before, it was a curious space with low ceilings and beams, between which individual works were nestled. This however, only added to the freshness of space around each work, being an open space, yet allowing for an intimate interaction with each hallucinogenic work. The König Galerie presents a new series of works under the title Essence of Landscape, building upon previous, equally psychedelic bodies of work. A hidden fear imbues Huang’s paintings, obscured by undulating mountain peaks, convulsing deeply toned rivers, and a hint of familiarity amongst the seemingly alien terrain.
Born in Beijing, the influences of Chinese painting are present in the composition and motif choice of Huang, significantly the rivers, rocks and trees that punctuate the contoured scenes. Recognisable trees appear in two of the works exhibited: Five Pine Trees, and Stone Forest. The trees in the only portrait composition of the exhibition, Five Pine Trees, feature high up in the composition, embedded in the pink and blue veined foreground mountains, and below an increasingly saturated sky. The dark shadowy mountains in the distance contrast against the white pine trees, bring a ghostliness and temporality to the branching figures. This ghostliness is echoed in Stone Forest, in which the trees sit atop geometric crystals in an ambiguously dimensioned layering of contoured rocks, a plane of mountain peaks, and an intense blood-red sky. The painting gives a feeling of being at the very edge of something. Perhaps there is steep cliff face and unforgiving waves beneath, or perhaps this is a heavenly place of never-ending sky, or are these the last trees on Earth? These landscapes play with space, time and fear. The König Galerie states “Chinese literatis place their affection on mountains and river conceal emotions,” however there is an ominous undertone to the bright colours and fading trees. Perhaps the trees were once as bright as the mountains but are being drained of their colour and life; initially possessing a harmony – but a fragile one now subject to shattering and the industrial Westernisation of China that is a key concern of Huang’s.
As the exhibition continues, the works become increasingly urban and increasingly unfamiliar, with wider rivers separating us – the viewer, from the fictional scenes which may be closer to the truth than we think. The first painting Mountain with Chinese Zither, introduces us to a mountain range of smooth almost parabolic mountains in front of jagged waveform-like peaks. The colours in this work are the most varied in the exhibition, covering the entire spectrum. Perhaps the only naturalistic blue river winds around a parabola island mass, reflecting great blue tears across the curiously vertical-striped sky. The vertical lines extend the sky beyond the canvas, allowing Huang to achieve the height of traditional Chinese painting, but also enjoy a landscape format to fit his undulating landscapes within.
Big Sculpture in The Hills, acts as a transitionary work, both in the ideological development of Huang’s landscape works and a visual link between the untouched scenes and those with industrial interventions. The rolling hills take centre stage in this painting, undulating and pulsating with various greens, pinks and blues, all running parallel to the mound outlines. Waveform mountains once again interject the smooth mountains, but not as much as the sculpture which chromatically matches its surroundings but whose contours and façade separate it. This intervention within the landscape becomes increasingly obvious as the exhibition progresses.
Riverside Quarry; Midnight in the Lively Metropolis; and White Building in the Forest, are not only interrupted by human interventions but increasingly ruptured and reformed into entirely new scenes. A large rock, almost glowing in the centre of Riverside Quarry is far from the smooth and rolling hills of previous works, and the jagged shapes within the mountains portray the chunks which have been excavated and extracted from the surrounding landscape. The Moon appears for the first time, reflecting off the rocky mass and bounding off the artificially coloured crevices and constructed landscape. Midnight in the Metropolis is the next stage in this industrial development - the hills are artificially capped and tall elongated parabolic shapes soar into the sky, echoing the vertical lines of other works exhibited but having clearly defined edges. Centre stage is a red and orange river, bubbling and pulsating, drowning the only soft hills in the image. In the middle of the angular and tall land mass, is a cone-like tree with a glowing diamond atop, with a strong resemblance to a Christmas tree, an occasion for consumerism, the fuelling of manufacture, the decorating of fake trees, and very much an urban occasion.
The colours are the most contrasting in this image, with a horizontal line almost drawn across the canvas separating the red sea and deep blue city. The final work in the exhibition, White Building in the Forest, follows the progression from landscape resource taking and city raising, to then building in the untouched environment. We are once again faced with a thick, soupy, whirl-pooling river – pink this time, beyond which topographical, waveform, psychedelic peaks layer upon one another. Their yellows, blues and oranges create a cacophony of colour, but not one which can overpower the white geometric building behind. While the white mass is not as harshly industrial looking as the Metropolis, its presence is undoubted and its confusion with a mountain is impossible. The white building sits afore a pink Ayers Rock, but while smaller, it undoubtedly overpowers this natural phenomenon.
Huang Yuxing’s paintings present themselves as bright, dreamy landscapes of Chinese mountains, powerful rivers and multi-coloured skies. However, once delving into the contours, the topography and interruptions, the human interventions become increasingly disruptive and the river increasingly agitated at the destruction of its natural friends. Huang speaks of concerns of Westernisation; however, his warnings appear more far-reaching than cultural. He shows the downfall of landscape to human hands, the colours are not too changed, but the shapes of the landscape and implications of those shapes warn us that the trees, mountains and rivers are to be protected, for otherwise they will be lost.
Written by Alison Poon, a Contributor to Arteviste