|DOROTHY YUNG: HEAVEN, EARTH AND THE WAY WE LIVE
For a variety of compelling reasons, Dorothy Yung is an exemplary artist for the 1990s. She makes unique contributions to the language of painting, but she also deftly rides several current waves, multiculturalism among them. In many instances, it is an attitude that drives wedges between nationalities and ethnic groups. But Yung's' career is a perfect illustration of multiculturalism's progressive side: the notion that at this point in world civilization, any language or system is common property, and an artist can pick from and use any phenomenon the world offers up.
Yung has a long and open Chinese lineage behind her from which she freely draws. But in her reverence for tradition, which she wears on her sleeve, she refuses to see her history as static or hieratic. Rather, she sees her legacy as fluent and pliant. This attitude takes visual form in the way Chinese ideograms, dissected and made elastic, form the backbone or the armature of her most ambitious work.
But she has made her own many of the tenets of abstract expression, which is ouen regarded as a moribund, outdated style. Many artists from East and West have seen and exploited the visual similarities between a gestural brush stroke and Oriental calligraphy, but to this basis Yung adds the key notion of spontaneous expressionism of feelings and emotions.
She makes many sketches for a painting (these are compelling works in their own
right) concentrating on exploring how a Chinese character can be transformed to
serve her expressive ends while retaining an echoing sense of its linguistic meaning.
But when the time comes to actually make the painting, she doesn't look at her preliminary work: she tries to capture her attitude of the moment. Yung equates spontaneity with genuineness of feeling.
But, Yung also has the gamut of art history inside of/her. She shuns going to exhibitions these days, fearing undue influence, but, as she says, she has been lucky enough to see most of the world's key art monuments in the original and what she has seen and digested, comes out in the course of a painting. There are strong affinities with Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, as well as De Kooning, especially the De Kooning who melded the human figure with the landscape.
A second pervasive attitude that makes Yung a vanguard artist for her time is her repudiation of the notion that a painting made of abstract shapes and vibrant color is devoid of narrative content. Quite simply, Yung is a storyteller, a bardic relater of events, many of which come out of news of the world. Her landmark series "Desert Storm" reads like a historical pageant. Only minimal orientation in Yung's painterly vocabulary is required: the terrain of the Gulf War and the major players in it are all tumultuously present, albeit encoded.
One is reminded that the cubist painters would anchor their compositions in real time by collaging bits of newspaper. However, Yung incorporates headlines through the same process she uses to paint landscapes or her more personal or spiritual paintings. Last year's Iragic exodus from Rwanda prompted her to make a series of modest works on paper. True to her emotions, these works (not in the exhibition) in uncharacteristic grays and browns are rather inchoate, revealing the hopelessness of that crisis as Yung perceived it. Two tiny dots, extracted from the character for rice expanded by Yung to mean food or nourishment, underscore the extreme physical and emotional poverty of the situation.
The ubiquitous clustered dots in Yung's oeuvre, derived from 'rice' have political overtones as food; its abundance or lack, is what drives, and shifts the balance of societies. "Banquet" speaks to this. But the enlivening dots also have a spiritual dimension as manna. This decade has seen a renewed interest in spiritually-based art, and Yung again is at the forefront. She easily shuttles between heaven and earth. Her overarching subject has always been humanity, finding its earliest expression in her figurative 'mother and child' compositions.
Her window into the mystical has been steadily enlarging. "The Solitary Drinker" might be read as preparation for the immersion. Its strongest manifestations are in "Passage" which concerns the death of her mother at which Yung was present and "Thousand Flowers" commemorating the death of her father in a plane crash. Both paintings vivify the buoyant message of the biblical parable that unless a seed die first, it cannot flourish. Thus, inevitable cycles which become manifest through the process of fertility have become major themes for Yung.
Most recently the notion of Compassion has crystalized in Yung and overtaken her art. It is the realization that everything in the universe is interlinked, and that mankind shares a common pupose. One thinks of the saying, "you cannot pick a flower without the trembling of a star." This interdependence is demonstrated formally in the fluidity of her style in which components are interknit, but also by the new omnipresence of the "heart" character which becomes a generous, bowl-like form.
Yung's principles are interwoven into her life. Tn addition to the solitary act of painting she teaches art to students of all ages, imbuing them with what she has come to know and getting jaunty and sprightly results in return. One of the strongest demonstrations of her concern for the other is the very recognizable foot which frequently declares itself nakedly, emerging from a welter of abstract shapes. In such paintings as "Banquet," "Bathing VII" and "Majestic Mountain," the foot is a handle which a viewer can grasp to make his or her way into a painting, to sense a narrative through what Yung terms her "subliminal realism." When the viewer apprehends the scope of a Yung painting, he can recognize himself in it and, therefore, the common-a1ilv of humankind.
Dorothy Yung's art makes a swift, definite and strong impression. It illustrates the ironic axiom: egoless people have strong characters.
New York City January, 1995