Tang Yongxiang: Fragmental Remnants from Temporal Transience

By Wang Xiaorui, Translated by Fiona He, Image Courtesy of Magician Space

Going forward on the path of artistic practice, artists strive to hone their technical skills and establish one’s own system of aesthetic preferences. One’s evaluation of a work of art is often a result of adopting existing visual experience, knowledge from one’s education background, while this accumulation of knowledge inevitably misguide people into falling into a set pattern of cognition. Artist Tang Yongxiang suggests, if one would control everything on this narrow path of painting, new opportunities would be nipped in the bud before any opportunity to blossom. What’s stored in our memories should be unlearned, as well as relinquishing one’s “ego”. For this reason, the artist gives up on imposing subjective thinking or the inclination of a specific directions in his the course of art practice, instead engages in unlearning that will allow him to break free from the various limitations, so he could find the balance between the controlled and the uncontrollable. 

The Exhibition of "Tang Yongxiang" at Magician Space

From Tang Yongxiang’s works, we would often catch the everyday sights, for example, bananas, branches, flowers, or body parts, this is because he often adopts the compositional structure of an existing image, and then makes concessions from the visual givens having done simple deliberations on what to keep and what to eliminate. During the long and arduous course of making the work, Tang maintains a constant conversation with the image, where he challenges, struggles, and makes compromise day after day working the brush on canvas. Making changes on one color block often affects the others, and its details inevitably clash with each other. As he adds layers onto the canvas, the various details of these everyday objects begin to gradually fade, that eventually dissolve into the contours of lines, so the negative forms in the background and the positive forms that occupy our visual focus bear equal weight in our visual experience. What becomes flattened is also the emotional factor and everything else that posits on the surface of the image. 

The artist does not subscribe to aesthetics in the traditional sense by choosing images that can be easily integrated onto the canvas, instead he tries to search for those that are difficult to control, even what may seem impossible to compose for most people. Tang Yongxiang studied figuration at the art academy where painting was the medium in which the artists competed “who can paint the images as real as the photographs”, a goal that exhausted his creative impetus. Consequently, Tang had to look for other strategies and solutions for those uncontrollable images, and in order to meet these challenges, once he had to let go of those preconceived notions and expectations in painting, so the medium of painting becomes an unknown territory. Most of the artist’s time is spent waiting, for a moment of inspiration, as the layers and layers of confusion dissipate, everything begins to elucidate. Then the images truly unite with the artist, where ideas and dispositions belong to none other than his own. 

The work that occupied an entire wall in the exhibition space, “A bunch of stuff and a few buckets, where blue is underneath”, consists of a plethora of color blocks as far as the eyes can see. According to the artist, the imagery once depicted a group of people walking, and the figurations were then covered thereafter in his painting process. If one were to approach the painting, the lines are still visible enough to reconstruct their silhouette. The concave area of the color blocks are in fact the traces left behind from the initial figures that once sat there. Yet with layers and layers added onto the canvas, it is as if nothing had taken place. Those areas layered were created and then fully painted over, only colorful traces were left on the periphery of those shapes, as if we are looking at the cross – section of a rock strata, it’s the fragmental remnants left behind from a temporal transience. The final presentation of the painting is verisimilar to the finale of “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, as the town of Macondo was flattened to the ground in a tornado, where the Buendia clan collapsed without leaving any documentary remains, who was completely wiped out from people’s memories, isn’t life the same, where the sky does not leave any traces, even birds have flown by. 

The Exhibition of "Tang Yongxiang" at Magician Space

Bananas Next to a Black Line, Oil on Canvas, 80 × 100 cm, 2017

Speaking of creative inspirations, the artist would draw sources from art catalogues, design, photography, sculpture and other forms of his everyday life. Although painting is presented through images, but art should not be confined by boundaries, the artist often reminds himself to not fall into any delight, and should avoid falling into the trap of “painting comfortably”. Once he steps into a comfort zone, he’d lose the motivation to be challenged and dwells in mediocrity. Even those ephemeral moments of spectacles had to be isolated, and be resolute to eliminate. At the same time, he aims to eschew from perfection on the canvas, for whom, perfection is like a house without windows, regardless of how sophisticated its decorations may be, it’d still seem lifeless. On the contrary, these intentional imperfections are the windows that allow people to breathe. So it would be unnecessary to distinguish reality from imagination, because misinterpretation would lead to new possibilities, all of these undertakings are the artist’s ways of searching for direction of the heart desires.  

The Exhibition of "Tang Yongxiang" at Magician Space

Notably, Tang Yongxiang adopts the creative process that resonates with the narration of stream of consciousness in literature. His process of painting breaks the temporality of real time that neither has a beginning nor an end, but connects the dots with personal stream of consciousness. Sometimes told in his soliloquy, and others through the eloquent language to piece together his inspirations, where the flash of a moment in reality may ignite a plethora of ideas. On the other hand, an infinite amount of time may only be captured in one concise thought. As the past, the present and the future overlap, the momentary becomes eternal. Whether it is in a novel or on a painting, “They are both in fact iterations of the multi – faceted, bewildering and unspeakable spirit, no matter how common and complex it may seem, one has to represent it without any alien objects.” (“Modern Literature”, Virginia Woolf.) 

Of course, once the works of art leaves the artist’s studio, the artist recedes to behind the curtain. For Tang Yongxiang, the course of struggle ends, as for installing the work or even naming them seem irrelevant to their creator, in other words, when the work “on canvas” ends, others’ work begins. Tang Yongxiang hopes to leave more possibilities to others with this open attitude.