Yan Pei-Ming - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Bernier Elliades, Athens
    Private Collection, New York
    Sotheby’s, London, ‘Contemporary Art, Day’, 22 June 2007, lot 415
    Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Yan Pei-Ming paints large canvases in a style notable for its rapid, expressive brushwork. He has gained particular renown for huge portraits employing a limited palette of white and black or red – a highly economical use of colour which he uses to conjure up an alternate realm beyond the reach of ‘real’ hues. Often referred to as the ‘master of brushstroke’, his work is represented in major museum and gallery collections all over the world. He has also participated in several prestigious group exhibitions, including the 2nd Seville Biennal in 2006, and the Venice Biennales of 1995 and 2003.

    Yan’s portraits usually contain key elements of his own personal memory and imagination, mingled with propaganda derived from Maoism and other ideologies. Most of his paintings suggest an atmosphere of nostalgia, often being based on the heroic notions of traditional history painting. This story has parallels with the artist’s own work, which is also a product of experimentation and self-reinvention. Having grown up in Shanghai during China’s Cultural Revolution, Yan decided to settle in France and create his own style and technique, working in a more individualistic fashion than had been encouraged in his homeland. In the monochromatic portraits which resulted, Yan has positively embraced the possibilities of chance and experimentation, using fluid, dramatic brushstrokes inspired by traditional Chinese calligraphy, and creating backgrounds that are rarely as important as the main subject they serve to emphasise. The overall effect is striking and vibrant, with a careful balance between minimalism and maximalism, peace and disruption. Prime examples are his epic Mao Zedong portraits, brushed in thick, swift strokes: viewed at close quarters they appear to be abstract, but the motif becomes more evident from a distance.

    Containing elements of both orient and occident, Yan’s expressive style speaks of the western world, while his controlled palette and ‘blurred’ technique is more suggestive of eastern aesthetics. Invisible Man no. 1 foregrounds this connection between two cultures, with its masterly use of dripping paint, selective highlights and subtle delineation all contributing to an air of enigmatic vitality. Such works are psychologically charged, with a shallow pictorial space that appears both iconic and the monumental, and fluid brushwork that at times resembles watercolour. The artist often describes his large-scale canvases as “collages” of memories and photographs, but rather than documenting separate historical or current events, they suggest an ongoing history in flux.

    According to Jérôme Sans, Director of Beijing’s Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA), and co-curator of its 2009 Yan Pei-Ming exhibition Landscape of Childhood, “Yan Pei-Ming has become the ultimate artist portraying the iconic scene”. Guo Xiaoyan, UCCA Chief Curator and co-curator of Landscape of Childhood, agrees: “Yan Pei-Ming’s portraits, furiously and quickly executed with a strong, large brushstroke technique, [represent] the artist’s concerns on social conflicts and international politics and present his ongoing interest [in the] problems of universal human nature”.


Invisible Man no. 1

oil on canvas
220.5 x 300.5 cm (86 3/4 x 118 1/4 in)
Signed [in English and Chinese], titled and dated ‘Invisible Man no. I Yan Pei-Ming 2000’ on the reverse.

£200,000 - 300,000 ‡♠

Sold for £163,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

14 February 2013