Tuesday to Sunday 10:00-17:00 (Last admission: 16:30)
Closed on Mondays
The Train Garden is open to the public every day
After graduating from the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in 2007, Tang Yongxiang came to Beijing. He vaguely felt a crisis in the prevailing painting style, and tried to break free from the restrictions of the academy’s emphasis on the tactile quality of the artist’s hand as well as the market’s pursuit of realistic painting at that time. Gradually, the way he paints and deals with images that we see now was generated. The transformation of style is the milestone of Tang Yongxiang’s reflection on the crisis of oil painting as a painter.
Tang Yongxiang takes oil painting as his only creative medium. The “only” here is absolute as far as one can see. He does not create manuscripts nor does he try to pre-determine or experiment with the images of his works by any technological means. He randomly chooses photographs taken in his daily life to become the motif of his works. But this motif is eventually abandoned in his painting practice – through the overlaying of paint, the discernible objects and forms are gradually enveloped under the skin, leaving the rough and hard outlines squeezing each other, to produce a new spatial layout and colour relationship.
It is a common perception that oil paints have stronger spreadability and materiality than acrylics. However, in the selection of pigments, Tang Yongxiang would sometimes intentionally choose domestic-made paints with weaker spreadability, which, on the contrary, present a composite state of mixed colours and cracks on the canvas properly. The upper part of the new piece A Plant on a Green Background (2021) slightly shows a reddish gray white, which is resulted from the artist’s use of the basic colours of red, blue and white squeezed directly from the paint tube to superimpose on each other, so as to achieve an unintended colour effect. He intentionally deviates from the previous realistic way of painting, reflecting the artist’s perception and discussion of the materiality of oil paints.
The materiality leaves explicit marks and clues on the work. Because of the thickness of the overlaying paints, the outlines of the image covered in the work are able to emerge like relief sculpture on top of the work, and thus present the detail that can only be grasped by the naked eye. Such marks are given by the characteristics of the material and are the result of the process rather than the objective. The pigment has transcended its limitations as a tool while its tension adds a touch of intriguing uncertainty to the work, achieving the liberation of the object.
In terms of the complexity of the expressive dimension of painting, Tang Yongxiang introduces the element of time through his unique way of working – repeatedly covering with paint in a given shape, the thickness of the colour block represents the coexistence of multiple time dimensions on the same plane, giving the two-dimensional space the possibility of carrying time. Tang’s work is a measure of time, a sculpture of his own cognition. The exhibition, Tang Yongxiang: Hei Qiao, presents the artist’s daily record of the work during his painting process, in an attempt to slice this condensed entity into time-based pieces and provide the viewer with a path to see through the artist’s painting process. Aristotle’s perspective on time is linear, “for time is just this-number of motion in respect of ‘before’ and ‘after’.”(Aristotle, Physics). However, in Being and Time, Heidegger proposes an existential structure in which “the past”, “the present”, and “the future” reach “ecstases”, in the premise of the “future”. For Tang, a work will never be considered finished until it leaves the studio. His repeatedly layering process have framed the multiple existence of the object and the artist’s thinking and perception during this period in the work.
The space composed of large blocks of colour gradually reveals itself after the hidden of the image. “When viewing two people walking side by side, my point of view is not in the solid shape of the two people, but in the void part between them”. The artist’s daily way of seeing reminds us that, perhaps in Tang’s paintings, the “shape” between forms is where his view falls. For example, in A Female Figure at the Lower-right, Many Red Blocks at the Top (2020), the upper part of the image were originally two trees. Tang cover the tree shapes with the paint, while using the eye-catching red colour to emphasize on the artist’s attention to the gap when viewing.
Heidegger interprets the matter of space through the metaphor of the “jug” in Things: it is not the bottom or body of the jug that provide its storage function, that “the jug’s ‘thingness’ is in fact the void inside it”. Void, in Tang’s case, is the gap, the negative form between the outline of objects. Space is a container, the vast space built by Tang Yongxiang is like the platform of Giacometti’s sculpture, where the relationship between objects and objects as well as between objects and space grow. The figure of the girl in Profile of a Sleeping Girl (2021) is vaguely reminiscent of the artist’s series of works on the same motif. The artist either enlarges the image of the girl to a partial size, or incorporates it as a whole, or even makes it disappear within the frame. Tang regards the portrait in the same way as a still life, presenting the state of existence of the object within diverse framings, so as to illustrate the interrelationship between individual existence and the world. The development of technology and the social isolation have made the distance infinitely close while infinitely far at the same time. Nothingness returns, thus the space that Tang Yongxiang has hinted at in his oeuvres, which is about the state of individual existence, should return to the centre of the discussion.
Painting’s attempt to represent three dimensions on a two-dimensional canvas can be traced back to the invention of perspective, to Lucio Fontana’s slash on the canvas. Clement Greenberg suggested that sculpture should learn from painting, getting rid of the physicality and provoking the intellect through vision, while Tang’s attempt to present three dimensions on a plain canvas is an attempt to deal with images in a sculptural way. Tang first set out to add the volume to his work by repeatedly layering paint, leaving hole-like colour blocks at the outline of the shapes, for the viewer to peek into the process of creation. The layer at the edge of the hole-like colour blocks is like a rock stratum, providing the work with a thick volume. On the other hand, Tang sees the images in the photos as volumetric objects but not flat images, which are not static but have the possibility of falling and moving, and therefore need the artist’s intervention to coordinate the structural relationship between the objects. The work Blue Background with a Few Profiles(2013) was not originally presented to the viewer in its current perspective – the artist flipped the image upside down, the profiles broke free from their solid structure and were given a dangerous momentum, as if they were about to fall down. Tang had to add “shelves” to the tops of the plaster-statue-like profiles to bring the stability back to the space. In Three Pairs of Legs and One Foot Walking on a Light Green Background (2013), Tang Yongxiang fills in rigid white blocks between the walking feet, as if trying to slow down these people’s walking pace, until they lose kinetic energy and becomes infinitely static. Painting as a still medium, has been explored for years on how to capture and condense the livingness of living objects on canvas. The Impressionists, for example, with their extreme fever for capturing the moment, even sacrificed the sublime completion of the academy painting in order to approach the momentary reality. Tang Yongxiang, on the other hand, adopts a reversed approach of painting, to find the delicate balance between dynamics and stasis. It is in this way that this reversed tracing of the sculpture has led to a subtle echo between Tang’s oeuvre and the modernism art.
For Tang Yongxiang’s works, the original figurative and narrative images, the literature, art history, and even philosophy that he has read are all important elements that inspire the shaping of his works. Therefore, when viewing Tang’s paintings, one should go beyond the nostalgic and hazy aesthetics to recognize the artist’s concepts hidden behind the images. In the meantime, through the intuitive and mechanic way of working, the artist tried to suggest a phenomenological reduction way of seeing — to strip away concepts, strip away presentations, and to focus on the objects. In the choice of objects, Tang does not borrow grand narrative to sublime his work, but preserves individual perceptions; he also renounces the empowerment of the artist’s divine aura over everyday objects and rejects the absolute presence of the artist. Tang Yongxiang’s works are about the artist’s spontaneous exploration of the relationship between himself and the world, while maintaining an eternal and irreplaceable poetic between contradictions and tensions.