Artist Mao Jianhua Made 48 Watercolors in Just Three Months—But He Wants You to Absorb Them as ‘Slow Art’
The Chinese artist's first UK show, inspired by China's Yellow Mountain, is on view now at Saatchi Gallery.
With its jutting and majestic peak seemingly perpetually emerging from a dramatic fog, the Yellow Mountain (otherwise known as Mount Huangshan), located in Eastern China, has been a place of artistic pilgrimage for thousands of years and continues to be so today.
“The Yellow Mountain is the most meaningful mountain in China and is linked to ancient symbols and legends,” said artist Mao Jianhua. “The light changes every moment; there are beautiful sunrises, colors, flowers, and a large variety of landscapes.”
In “The Spirit of the Valley,” the artist’s debut UK exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, Mao has created 48 new watercolors depicting this ancient terrain. His materials are traditional: he paints with pigment made from stones and minerals and uses handmade Xuan paper derived from Sandalwood. But his mindset is more contemporary: he created the work in a flurry of creativity in just three months. Now, he wants viewers to appreciate them at a slower pace.
In the new works, Mao depicts the famed peak in rhythmic and gestural black marks, occasionally punctuating the works with passages of blue, green, and red.
A poetic quality suffuses the exhibition; the artist seems more concerned with expressing emotional and spiritual states than any sort of formal innovation. Bold, competing strokes of ink and color are offset by untouched spaces.
“In recent times, I have been using more vivid colors to counterbalance the presence of white (which corresponds to Wu Chi, to the state of the silent joy of the origin) which is well reflected in the chromatic scale that I have been introducing in my ‘Mirage’ series,” Mao explained.
The artist is quick to acknowledge the philosophical roots of the series. The exhibition takes its name from the philosopher and Taoist-founder Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, which reads, “the spirit of the valley never dies,” and which draws a parallel between the mysteries of the creative process and those found in nature.
“It is an expression of wonder at the inexhaustible nature of the creative process that sees male and female, Yin and Yang, as original forces that must continually be brought into balance and interpreted in harmony with the physical and spiritual characteristics of nature,” said the artist, who sees his new works and the spiritual tenets of Taoism as inherently entwined. He exhaustively created the works in just three months—and yet somehow, he feels regenerated by the process.
“This is an opportunity to explore the meaning of ‘slow art’ by altering the time of perception and gradually allowing oneself to enjoy works that invite creativity,” he said. “These works irradiate inside yourself, in a similar way to music. I used all the energy I had in order to complete this series within three months, and yet, now I feel as though I can begin something new. Everything is still full of potential.”
“Mao Jianhua: The Spirit of the Vallery” is on view at Saatchi Gallery in London through July 7, 2019
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