Press & Reviews
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ArtReview China, Lai Fei, Interview: Han Mengyun: Translation is ultimately the politics of love, Winter Issue, 2023

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ARTnews China, Jackie Lou Jia, 复杂景观: 来自中国新一代女性艺术家的创作思考 (Complicated Sights), FEB 2024

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OUIART, 林叶,韩梦云:无尽的虚构

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Ocula, Misong Kim, Han Mengyun: A Mind, Is a Mirror, Is a Rose

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不安的绘画,栾诗璇,UCCA Edge, 上海

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Painting Unsettled, Luan Shixuan, UCCA Edge, Shanghai

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ArtAsiaPacific, Pamela Wong, Everyday Poetry: Han Mengyun, Issue 128, MAY/JUN 2022

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The Thinker, Cai Zhenyu, Mirrors of Civilization: Some Thoughts on Han Mengyun’s “The Pavilion of Three Mirrors”, 2022, Issue 73

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《信睿周报》,蔡震宇, “二画师竞技”叙事与永恒哲学:《三镜亭》随想, 第73期

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Pro Helvetia, The Dwelling Place of the Other in Me: Han Mengyun, Dorota Gawęda + Eglė Kulbokaitė, Power Station of Art, Shanghai

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Review, Sthaneshwar Timalsina, Splinters of Jade: A Postscript

玉屑集 · 跋 / Sthaneshwar Timalsina

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Dangdai, Rubén Pose, Manchas Taoístas​

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In Between Islands (artist monograph), Chong Fu, Whence things have their origin

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In Between Islands (artist monograph), Jonathan Goodman, Elegies for Emptiness

Elegies for Emptiness

 by Jonathan Goodman

In contemporary art, in painting in particular, many viewers feel that they are witnessing a crisis of faith. Painting has so often been said to have died, many no longer take the genre seriously. This crisis—it is not an overstatement to call it that---has been made more complex by the global movements of young painters across art centers of the world—New York and London and Berlin, and in Asia, Beijing. As might be expected, the injection of foreign esthetics, media, and philosophies has created a situation in which artists may eclectically appropriate imageries that do not belong to their particular legacy. This causes problems in attribution and raises doubts about the artists’ good faith. Perhaps the best-known example is the affiliation of Asian artists with the New York school tradition of abstract expressionism, whose painterly considerations may seem to mimic aspects of Chinese ink painting from far earlier, say, the Tang Dynasty. This has become a truism, however—one that turns back upon itself, making the insight difficult to support. Its usefulness is outlived in the sense that not only is it facile to characterize such different cultures and epochs as similar, it also presupposes—wrongly!—that the melding of opposites will result in a perception enabling us to pocket the foreign artist’s works as our own.

The situation has gone on for some time, perhaps as long as a generation. The problem persists despite the fact that the fundamental perception, namely, the proximity of styles being seen as evidence of similar thinking, is clearly a misreading of the differences in painting traditions. This is particularly true when we compare the Chinese legacy of ink painting to the explosive moment of Western modernist abstraction, most especially in New York in the mid-20th century. Even today in American art school critiques, as this writer has witnessed, the identification of the two heritages shows that the practice of citing influences dies hard, even if it is true that those influences have not affected the artist’s work. Of course, the effects are usually understood to travel in one direction— Western modernism trumps all other expressions (at least in the West!). This is not to deny the awareness on the part of Chinese painters that it is possible to establish a dialogue with Western abstraction; however, it is a matter of concern because the conversation tends to lose its effectiveness in the face of clichéd perceptions of iconographic similarity. In fact, it doesn’t take much for someone to think about the problem before the sense of an actual likeness falls apart in one’s hands. Why must the Chinese practitioner of abstract painting necessarily imitate American post-war abstract painting, even if the picture seems to resemble American art?

Why indeed? It is said that oil painting has been part of Chinese culture for one hundred years; and it is also said that there hasn’t been a good idea in Chinese ink painting for one hundred years. One of the more difficult aspects of modern and contemporary Chinese culture, for the Westerner especially, is its reliance on oils as a painting material. Because oils are still relatively new in Chinese painting, what we have is an exploration of the medium that, freed of its Occidental legacy, can be used relatively neutrally—that is, without the immediate interpretation that Western art is being copied. Globalization of the art world does not always result in the establishment of like motives; it is possible, I think, for an artist to take on the trappings of another culture while being true to her own background. This is not just a matter of visual semantics; the problem runs deeper—to the point where the Chinese artist may embrace stylistic change in an attempt not to copy but to demonstrate her ability to remain Chinese, even when she is working out a style that does consciously appropriate that of another culture. So much has been said about the confluence between abstract expressionism and Chinese contemporary abstract painting that the insight has become a caricature of itself. Yet, at the same time, it takes a highly motivated and independent artist to divest herself, formally and thematically, of the implications of likemindedness.

It may not be possible to push the argument any further. Still, it remains highly interesting to explore the persistence of an artist’s first culture in art that looks as though it has been exposed to several other cultures. Part of the insistence of Chinese painters that they are not taking on Western painting as their guide may result from a certain rebelliousness toward Occidental dominance—it is clear by now that the American Century is finished, and that in art it may not have been as monolithic as has been thought, even at its best moments (the point has been made by British critic Edward Lucie Smith that abstract expressionism may have meant more to America for reasons of social dominance rather than for esthetic ones). In the case of Mengyun Han, the artist whose work I will address, the question comes to mind whether her American education, first at Bard College in New York and then at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has resulted in the hybridization of her paintings. Still in her early twenties, she has directed her energies toward the use of oil in abstract inventions that usually would be perceived as a mixture of cultural effects. But the point is that this mixture may be called into question, primarily because influence across so wide a gap as there is between Asian and Western art is not easily justified.

Or at least it would seem so. The Western romance with Chinese painting and culture has by now a history, just as the Chinese development of Western art ideas has a history. Often, the insights are problematic, with misunderstandings gaining the upper hand. One doesn’t necessarily comprehend cultural differences in a short time; instead, what seems to happen is a cursory overall evaluation that is short in both detail and depth. Part of the problem has to do with fashion; there is currently a superficial hunger in the States for Chinese culture that is based on the recognition that China is becoming more dominant in world affairs. This is not only a political but also a romantic reading being picked up by the artists themselves. It doesn’t seem to matter which country they come from. I mean by this that young artists are in fact appropriating visual styles as if they were the latest fashions, and applying several kinds of imagery onto a single composition. The results are often striking, but mainly in a superficial sense; in such work, there is little or no internalization of the other culture’s depth, which is key to understanding its differences. Inevitably, there is the problem of attaining true discernment and letting it inform the artist’s sensibility: it is one thing to juggle symbols and another to understand them. Although elements of Chinese ink painting and flourishes in abstract expressionism can look astonishingly alike, that does not inevitably mean the thought that went into them is equally similar.

I have discussed these issues of cultural similarity, theoretical misunderstanding, and superficial eclecticism because they come to a point in the comprehension of Han’s paintings. The artist has been educated in America, yet she maintains ties to both America and China in both a physical and metaphysical sense. Her education in the United States has given her the tools with which to consciously adapt to influences from both sides of the world. Han considers herself someone who is skilled at combining both experiences, although it is also true that she has become more critical of her choices due to a deeper understanding of her original and adopted cultures in a globalized world. Adding to the complexity of her vision is the response of her audience, which may not be in a position to adequately understand the mix of issues that constitute Han’s esthetic. Often the understanding is superficial, especially when Han’s work exists in dialogue with the legacy of the Chinese ink tradition, to the point where she uses ink in her own paintings. Perhaps Han’s achievement lies in her refusal to serve any one particular culture, so that the blend of Asian and Western styles actually constitutes a perception that declines to bow to a particular background. This is, I think, an issue that will come more and more into recognition as artists travel and are abroad in foreign countries.

As Han has explained to me, the heart of her work has to do with adumbrating a sense of mystery, which she feels lies in the center of nature. This mystery is quite tragically constrained by the damage done by people and their associated industries, yet her feelings remain inclined to celebrate the essential enigma of nature, an action which proves to be a path of the highest potential—if only we were to pay attention to its signs and signals. Indeed, Han’s respect for what we might call the “otherness” of nature—its essentially inexplicable center—moves beyond an inclination to represent toward a desire to praise, or at least assert, the beauty of the landscape. It is by no means a matter of inscrutability; rather, Han’s choice relegates creativity to a secondary role, faced as she is with the massive presence of the outside world. Perhaps the imagery would be best understood as essentially spiritual in nature, to be noted without fully being understood. It is also true that her vision is deeply affected by Daoism and Chinese philosophy, whose understanding has help Han remain connected to an intuitive intellectual process, one nearly as interesting as her art. In its charged realism, Daoism strengthens her position as an artist, enabling her to proceed with the recognition that emptiness precedes all being.

Han’s imagery tends toward cloudy, amorphous, and billowing dark color—not to obscure so much as to embody the unknown. In this sense, hers is a serious, searching art. Yet one feels instinctively that the art is not about her—if it were, it would be easier to link it to the abstract expressionists’ egotistical sublime—but about the subject matter that has all of us, artist and audience, in its grip: the loss of habitat, flora and fauna. At the same time, it brilliantly reflects the nearly unspoken insight used in Chinese philosophy, in particular Daoism, which posits a visionary acceptance of the world as it is, proceeding from the void. Yet the language of Daoism, much like the imagery of Han’s own paintings, belongs to a metaphorical intelligence that can be said to lie at the center of Chinese art and intellectualization. Actually, Han is concerned with the way Chinese literati painters use the landscape as a way of expressing their complicated feelings about the fall of their country and their fate. It may be said that this concern is just as important, if not more so, as the experience of the natural forms being painted. Daoism posits a path that is essentially unknowable without the help of intuition; the same may be said of Han’s artistic work. Additionally, she is paying homage to her past—the way the literati painters create a style with reveals a social stance.

Daoism is central to Han’s thinking. Daoism enables the world to take place, although the whys and hows of its workings are relatively mysterious. If the mystery of Daoism is a romantic one, and as a result concentrates not only on reality but also the mystical truth behind it, we can reply that current realism in art has more or less completely failed in its reading of the landscape, primarily because of its emphasis on form alone. Looking at the core values of Han’s work, we see a virtuous refusal to interpret nature on her terms—as opposed to accepting the more difficult, but also more rewarding view of nature on its terms. Doing so may not be possible in an absolute sense, but the effort by itself maintains the hope of responsible actions, in the face of civilization’s decay. Sadly, the decline in culture is due in fact to specific changes in global society: they are, specifically, the current triumph of capitalism and the ongoing Americanization of culture nearly everywhere. And we are no longer in a position of choice—either we confront what we have done, or the damages will become permanent, if they have not already done so. Han’s art speaks to a deep-seated dissatisfaction seen in many intellectuals, who feel that their awareness merely underscores their powerlessness to effect change. On the other hand, it is likely naïve to assume that art can effect change on a massive level, although it is clear that art is capable of affecting individuals’ ideas and feelings. Perhaps it is best if we acknowledge the problem in all its destructive truth. This is something that Han does, but whatever we do, we must remember that the problem is not going to go away. Indeed, the difficulty looms ever larger, with capitalism exploiting and alienating large numbers of working people, and with American popular culture replacing indigenous forms of art. It is a continuation of a process going back more than a few generations. There is a crisis in world culture, in which the gap between high and low cultural forms is so great as to deny any possibility of bridging the chasm between the two.

Han’s commitment to a philosophically aware and transcendental treatment of art can be seen in all her work. But perhaps her vision of nature is especially clear in the five-part work Letting 1. Highly ambitious in its presentation, the painting demonstrates an unusually thorough understanding of organic abstraction, while at the same time bringing to the fore an imagery suggestive of forests and trees. The two end paintings are painted a tan color, while the two much darker panels set between the lighter ones are very dark, their imagery muted yet nonetheless indicative of tree trunks and branches and attendant foliage. Interestingly, each of the panels is of a different width; this tends to jar the viewer into paying attention to their claims, and helps emphasize the paintings’ individual bodies of imagery. The left-end panel is likely the most abstract, with relatively little imagery indicative of nature, but the two black panels and the right- end panel can be read relatively easily as referencing woodlands. The large panel on the middle left is dense with vertical trunks that eerily echo a dark forest. The middle-right panel is painted almost entirely black except for the top, which resembles underbrush; and the far-right panel looks like it is portraying evergreens. But, ironically, Han explains that the work turned out to resemble nature after it was done. The imagery was not consciously designed. So she was thinking about philosophy as much as nature.

And in addition, Han remains unsure whether she wants the interpretation to center on the depiction of nature alone. In fact, she comments, it was T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets that influenced her. “Burnt Norton,” the first of the four quartets, concerns time and eternity. In a structure corresponding with the poem, Han arranged the panels of the painting to give her viewers a sense of time as they walked past the four separate imageries. In this way, the experience of seeing her work resembles the experience of looking at a Chinese horizontal scroll painting. Han has installed the four works so that the two on the left meet the two on the right in a corner, intimating that one might turn around and walk back to the beginning. She is representing not only imagery but also time via the actions of her audience; the reexamination corresponds to the Eliot’s line in “Burnt Norton”: “In the beginning is my end, in my end is my beginning.” In this work Han asks, quite rightly, certain questions that remain unanswerable even in the face of art: How does one know which is the beginning and which is the end? Are we even certain that our linear path is from left to right? Finally, how do we understand time in a scroll, or a circular path, as a whole?

Han does not see the panels as belonging to a set installation. She feels that the form can be reversed, and that the panels can be shown individually as works of art. Putting the four paintings together allows for a dialogue between them. She tends to trust her first impulse in painting, wanting, as she says, “to maintain the freshness of certain ideas.” In Chinese painting, rice paper and ink are materials that do not allow editing; consequently, the artist must fully concentrate on the task at hand. Han asserts that one work she did was finished in five minutes, but she adds pointedly that she was following her instincts—the imagery had been carried in her mind for some time. A Chinese axiom explains it well: “When one draws bamboo, it is already traced in his heart.” One must be in the right moment to put down something that is precise, fresh, and to the point. Instincts are meant to be followed because the artist knows what she intends to accomplish before she begins. This is possible because she has already explored the world and knows the image because she bears it within him. She doesn’t need to know the tree or rock or flower in a detailed manner. In fact, Han rejects scientific precision in favor of an intuited reality that does not entirely depend on actual observation.

There is something else that Letting 1 offers. It concerns the representation of something like a forest’s energy, which most people would at best consider abstract and beyond any painter’s likeness. How can the energies that lie at the core of the forest be described, especially if that core is a construct of people’s imagination rather than possessing a recognizable form? Even if this were possible to do, how do we know that Han is attempting just such a portrait? Finally, what is the purpose of such a portrayal? In conversation, Han talks of the mystery one finds in nature, and acknowledges the idea that she is painting abstractly in order to bring into view a nearly palpable expression of pure energy—the forest’s chi, one might say. Her approach is consequently necessarily abstract since she is detailing spiritual realities in addition to the forest proper. This is not so different from one’s experience with Western abstraction—for example, the calligraphic paintings of Mark Tobey or the muted forms of William Baziotes, American artists both. Yet there is a difference, too: Han roots her mystery in the tangible reality of the forest, with images that do in fact look like trees and underbrush. At the same time, abstraction is key to her art, for it allows Han to paint an essence much more effectively than rendering easily recognizable natural forms. This essence in turn belongs to Daoist philosophical beliefs. Emptiness exists before being, but once the latter takes place, the manifestations of its reality, in the form of nature, can be addressed in painting.

Yet painting is a cultural activity with precedents, not an outpouring of nature. Although Han means to paint the ineffable by way of suggesting natural forms, they result more from looking at Chinese painting than walking in a forest (something the artist does not in fact do). This seems fair enough, for without the experience of Chinese painting we are left in a poorly imagined environment—one not specific enough to support Han’s suggestive metaphysics. So, instead of relying on rhetoric whose support is largely invisible, the artist bases her intimations on nature, a physical reality that cannot be gainsaid. This is likely the best that can be done to outline so spiritual a concept as the mystery of nature or, for that matter, the void in Daoism. We know, however, that this is Han’s intention not only because she tells us so in conversation, but also because the imagery we can make out is at once implicit abstraction and explicit figuration; the trees determine the implications of her rhetorical argument. Finally, we need to address her paintings’ purpose or motivation: why would an artist devote herself to so abstruse a concept as the characterization of something we can intuit but do not necessarily see? It is impossible to know from the paintings alone what Han’s purposes are, but there remains the fact that her images body forth forms recognizable in nature. Thus, that would be her platform for expressiveness that addresses the intangible. The implications of the painting intimate a sharp concern with the future of nature or, sadly, its current state.

If we cannot keep the forms of the forest alive in actuality, we must continue to envision its presence in lyric—that is to say, imaginative—terms. If it is accepted that nature can contain forces beyond our understanding, then we might be able to stop its exploitation out of respect for its spiritual existence. It is impossible to say that such an insight is the property of Chinese intellectuals and artists alone. Yet we can claim that the Chinese understanding of nature, as evidenced in its ink paintings, has a force and a comprehensiveness that give it great strength. Daoism’s notion of emptiness lies at the heart of her art. This makes Chinese culture stand out with regard to other traditions, and I think this is what lies at the base of Han’s efforts in general, and what animates the painting series Letting. The concept of the efflorescence of nature is surely not Chinese alone, yet Han has seen fit to place her sensitivity within a Chinese framework. She does so, not so much because she has spent five years studying painting in America, but because her experience in the United States helped her understand her own culture better: she has been able to contrast and compare her experiences in China and America. Her decision to emphasize her Chinese legacy is on one level an alternative response to her Western education, mostly because she has felt the need to reach for something deeper, something more connected to who she is as an artist.

In the painting series Wandering Mind, we have a situation whereby Han’s independence from abstract expressionism might be questioned. These paintings are black and white with heavy overlays of black. Both are thoroughly expressionist in their formation and end result; one can almost see Han’s process develop on the canvas. The relation between white and black, or it might be said, between emptiness and being, is sharply defined in both paintings. For Western viewers, it would be hard to see these works as only Chinese in nature, mostly because they connect so well with American paintings of the mid-20th century. Han herself would acknowledge some influence; however, it is also true that she paints according to the Daoist principles we have mentioned. We talk in English about issues being black and white, but we lose the subtlety of the interaction between them by doing so. In the case of Han’s two works, there is a real explosiveness between the two tones, but it is just as easy to see them as defining a position between the void and its real-life consequences in form. Nature doesn’t really exist here, but abstract forces do, and they delineate what amounts to a struggle between form and its origins.

The two paintings Samsara 1 (2013) and Samsara 2 (2013) are set up so that the edge of the first work sits atop the second, which leans against the wall at an angle. As a viewing experience, the installation of the two painting brings the viewer’s eyes upward, as if he were scanning heaven. Samsara 1 shows us a darkened work that involves layers of black, with bits of white poking through. We remember that in Chinese painting the notion of emptiness is brought into view as an engendering form of being, not as the final stop of an endgame, which is much more Western in outlook. In this painting, the black doesn’t hide so much from the white as it issues from it, confirming the Daoist position that the world’s origins are essentially beyond our cognizance, even if on some level we recognize those origins as coherent.

In Samsara 2 (2013), we find a densely painted body of imagery that relates to the idea in the title: the Buddhist cycle of death and rebirth that we find in the real world. Undertones of moss green are seen through the mostly black painting; there is a notable lyricism that connects the viewer to the concept of a regularly repeating reality, bringing into mind the five-panel painting Letting 1 described above. By extension, we can posit the cyclic nature of cultural achievement and national power. The forms in Samsara 2 are mixed and hidden, likely commenting on the decay of culture in China, with its embrace of money and popular culture. On the other hand, the image is wondrous and mysterious, presenting us with being as best as it can be understood by the human mind. We must remember, though, that Daoism presents emptiness as a positive as a positive and affirmative force, from which the forms of the world are generated. So the philosophy brings hope, despite our tattered circumstances.

Inevitably, it proves mistaken to conduct a comparison of cultures in Han’s case. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine to what extent she has been affected by her Chinese upbringing and her American education. Still, she has consciously decided to return to her cultural beginnings. At a time when so many artists have studied throughout the world and have seen fit to make art reflective of cultural eclecticism, it is interesting to see a young painter like Han claim her origins as her greatest influence. Doing so does not make her ineluctably closer to nature. Yet the painting tradition in China is such that the argument can be made in favor of its extraordinary accomplishments in rendering wildlife, mountains, and trees. Its art possesses great insight into both the forms and energies of natural phenomena. It seems right to me that Han would favor this tradition—even if only to support an account of nature that is personal and that refers to the ongoing damage inflicted by the industrialization of China itself, which results from the country’s wholesale embrace of capitalism. If nature is in significant difficulty—and it is—a protective strategy in art might well include the attempt to present our inability to grasp its essential mysteriousness. This would place a correct responsibility upon us in regard to harming the landscape, and, at the same time, it would allow nature to remain other, that is, different from ourselves. But it is also important to note that here that Daoism strongly affects Han’s outlook; she approaches the task of painting with a visionary point of view. By taking on such a view, the artist is able to suggest questions having to do with abstraction and figuration and how they relate to Daoist philosophical concepts.

Han makes this clear in much of her work. In In Succession 1, we see two smaller vertical panels —the orientation of the panels affirms the artist’s commitment to Chinese art, specifically scroll painting. On the left is a painting that is densely black, but which allows for some inchoate forms to be seen. On the right we see a panel that consists of amorphic shapes against a white ground. Combined, the two narrow strips of wood would seem perfectly abstract—if it were not for the intimations of organic form in both. Not only artists but also nature devises its own abstractions, and these can be understood as having evolved in pursuit of the continuation of the species. We can document the way this happens, but not the reason why it happens. This is, I think, the central point Han is alluding to. She indicates that these paintings are about photograph representation and the idea of illusion—the way the eye often tricks the mind. The panels defy easy interpretation, perhaps because they derive their inspiration from photography. We know that photography mimics experience, while paintings embody it. Illusions seem more real than reality. Still, a riddle, having to do with the philosophical understanding of nature, remains. We cannot solve the crux of nature, but we can describe it. There are limits to our knowledge, but we can make educated, that is to say Daoist, guesses and hope that our intuition is right. By remaining mysterious in her paintings, Han shows us how important it is to allow the mystery to survive.

In In Succession 2, Han seems to turn to painting itself as an example of nature. The work is a diptych, consisting of a heavily impastoed, greenish-black canvas on the left and a more lightly handled, tannish-brown canvas on the right. There is no conceivable reference to external nature in either of the paintings, with the result that we must turn to the very material of the pigment (oil) itself, as a reference to nature. One of the more important developments brought about by American painters in the mid-twentieth century was the recognition that paint did not need always to be in the service of representation or perspective; instead, it might be appreciated in its own right, simply as a material. The intellectual consequences of this perception are striking, for they suggest that paint might become its own subject—as though it were part of nature! One cannot be sure, but maybe this is just what Han has done in the diptych. Perhaps she is asserting that paint may reference its place in the world when she concentrates on the act of painting alone. The viscous, fluid quality of her Western materials is no longer treated as a means but as an end in itself. It is here that Han diverges from the past she has chosen, referring instead to the recent tradition of abstract painting per se.

Yet doing so on her part does not necessarily mean that she has given up her conception of nature as a mysterious entity. If in fact she is treating paint itself as a subject, it is part of the perceivable world—and by extension, the natural world. A tentative bridge has been made between nature and culture, ensuring that the dialogue between the two remains part of what sustains us—not only as artist and audience but also as inhabitants of the world. This is extremely important as an accomplishment because as long as the dialogue remains, we have reason to hope that it will intensify our desire to save what we can of nature. Art seems to be the tie that joins inner to outer states, even when that outer state remains other and beyond our comprehension. Identification with the particulars of a culture gives us a path to follow; in Han’s case, it is reassuringly the path of early experience. This is the means—the conduit—by which one approaches the real world. But it does not happen that the approach transforms itself into complete cognizance; instead, it enables us to guess at the essence of nature. As we know, we see the world but guessingly; our sense of form, as a conveyor of meaning, is incomplete, as is our comprehension of where or why those forms exist. In the case of Han, these guesses have genuine weight, in part because she is technically gifted, and in part because the Chinese tradition she has chosen enables her to advance upon extraordinary achievement. Both her skills and her affiliation allow her to represent nature as something larger than our comprehension can make sense of, something grander and more complex. It should be remembered that her alignment with Chinese culture does not inevitably constitute a rejection of her Western training. It means, instead, that she has used her American education to make a decision about where she stands. Certainly, there is a tradition of mysticism regarding nature in American art—one immediately thinks of the Hudson River School and modernists such as Arthur Dove and Georgia O’Keefe. But the implications of such artists remain permanently different from the Chinese legacy. Ink painting—and we now recall that Han consistently uses ink in her own paintings—cannot be subsumed under a worldview, much less under the aegis of anything Western. It is its own crowning achievement. Han’s esthetic intelligence is such that she chooses to remember alternatively from what she has been taught in the United States. This alternative memory allows her to pick up on a visionary approach to nature that does not analyze or dissect its energies. Instead, she moves forward in the best sense: she leaves nature the ways she found it—eloquent, of endless interest, and impenetrable beyond our limited understanding.

Published on Fronterad, 09/2013

Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art–for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.



许多评者认为,现代艺术,以绘画艺术为甚,正经历着一场信仰危机。“绘画艺术已死”的说法屡闻不鲜,流派之说也已为明日黄花。而这场并未言过其实的危机,因着全世界各地艺术中心,包括纽约、伦敦、柏林、北京在内的年轻人的推动,也变得更为错综复杂。正如人所期,随着异域美学、传媒与哲学观念的入住,艺术家们可能会“兼收并蓄”地将别国文化艺术遗产归入自家门下。如此一来,艺术流派的划分就成了问题,艺术家的信仰也相应发生动摇。其中最典型的例子则是:纽约抽象表现主义传统学院派画家认为亚洲水墨画应当归属于自家门下,但其实前者才有模仿后者之嫌,毕竟中国水墨画历史悠久,渊源于唐朝。因此,这种陈词滥调几乎是无依据可言的,也常被嗤为不经之说。要知道,将如此不同的文化和时代定义为相似的东西谈何容易?更何况,这种说法还作出了一种错误的假设——对立两方流派的融合一定会催生一种理念,使得我们不自觉地将外国艺术作品的元素纳入自己“囊中”的此类情形由来大约已有一代之久。 “不同流派存在相近的内容则证明它们蕴含的思维方式也相似”的基本认知显而易见是对绘画传统差异的一种误读,但这个问题却仍然一直存在。尤其在比较中国传统瑰宝——水墨画和西方现代抽象主义(于20世纪中期在纽约迎来了它的快速发展阶段)时,这个问题更是愈发的突出。就笔者观察,美国艺术学院派时至今日的评论导向仍是积习难改:在讨论中西这两种文化产物流派归属时,依然强调“影响”,尽管有时候,这些画家的作品创作确实未受另外一方艺术流派影响。当然,在现今全球背景下,人们往往认为这种影响是单向的——换言之,是西方现代主义在对其他表现主义施加影响(至少在西方如此)。不过,这并不是要否定中国画家也期望主动与西方抽象主义谋求对话、介绍和输出自身特点的事实。不过“图像相似就意味着流派一致”的谬论长期的存在,往往让这种对话失去其应有的效果,所以这也是一个值得关注的议题。实际上,不需多少工夫人们就能明白中国水墨画和西方抽象表现主义是否存在真正的相似性。不过就算中国抽象画画家的作品与美国的抽象画具有相似性,但这本就是中国画由来已久的历史传统,他们有何理由一定要模仿战后才兴起的美国抽象派绘画呢?














《游心》系列作品中的色彩是非黑即白,黑色着色尤重。无论是画面亦或是呈现出的效果,都完全符合抽象表现主义的定义,观者几乎可以通过墨迹看到韩梦云行笔的过程。因此,可能会让人不禁质疑韩梦云是否像她说得那样独立于西方抽象表现主义。按照她的诠释,画中的黑与白,根据道家的思想,分别代表了“实”与“虚”,二者辩证共存,界限分明。然而,在熟悉抽象表现主义的西方观者看来,这系列作品与20世纪中期的美国绘画有着千丝万缕的联系,他们估计很难赞同这系列画作仅仅包含了中国元素。而韩梦云自身也承认,确实有一些西方影响存在。但她确实是在根据道家的理念作画。英语中概念, “黑”与“白”只是两种色彩而已,并没有中国文化中的深意。不过,这样一来,二者间的精妙联系与相互作用也就随之丧失。在韩梦云的两幅《游心》系列作品中, “虚”与“实”两种元素辩证共存,交织碰撞。画中不存在自然具象,但却有一股抽象的力量,描绘着形式和起源之间的纠葛。





   《代序2》,似乎被韩梦云处理成了一幅展现自然的画作。这件作品是一幅双联画,风格非常的田园,左边着以绿、黑色,右边则是相对较浅的棕褐色。这两幅画在自然现实中都没有可与之对应的意象,因此我们必须将视线转向此画使用的材料——油彩,因为油彩本身也引申自然。 20世纪中期的美国画家在艺术界发起的一项重要观念变革就是:绘画作品并不一定必须蕴含某种思想内涵。它被创作出来的目可能就是为了被观赏而已。其实这个新观念极具智慧的,它使得画作本身成为自然中的一个主体,而不是再现某个主体的载体。不过我们也不敢肯定,韩梦云的这副双联画是否属于该情况,还是说这幅画在现实世界中其实有对应的意象,只是她在创作时过于专注而未注意到。绘制过程中所使用的油彩——这种黏滑的西方液体颜料——此时已不再仅仅被视为一种绘画工具,而是其自身的一种载体。这幅画与韩梦云大多数作品的风格不同,更多采用与参照了近代抽象画的理念和内涵。



In Between Islands (artist monograph), Jonathan Goodman, Elegies for Emptiness