Alan Chan discusses a monograph featuring the paintings of Ye Yongqing
A bird’s body has a kind of efficiency to it; the streamlined curve from beak to tail smoothly directs air from front to back. The contour of a bird is as if a drawing was executed in the medium of air, a drawing that recurs each time the animal flies. Birds seemingly defy the gravity that condemns us terrestrial beings to earth. In the blink of an eye they launch, demonstrating that they are the most agile things in the sky. They are such beautiful and fascinating creatures.
I discovered Ye Yongqing's bird paintings from the monograph Paint a Bird: Paradox and Reality in AAA Library. I find them very intriguing, though I understand I am writing about them at a distance from the original art objects. These paintings have a kind of deceptive efficiency to them. They look like quick sketches and scribbles of birds in charcoal that could be done by any artist well practiced in contour drawing. Yet, they are not quick sketches that Ye did to capture ephemeral subjects before his eyes: rather, they are big paintings, done at a slow pace. What at first glace looks to be intuitive scribbling is actually many tiny touches of acrylic paint meticulously applied to canvas.
For a long time in the history of art the economy of lines was seen as the expression of the genius of the artist who puts the world under his or her brushes. What was valued was efficiency—the production of maximum effect with minimum effort. In these paintings it is as if Ye has reversed this logic and turned the figure of birds into an ironic counterpoint where maximum effort has produced a more minimal effect when encountered on a printed page. The deceptive economy of line persuades me to say the pictures are, quite simply, beautiful; yet, they lure me to make a misstep in judgement, to miss the point of the work by precisely saying so.
What is it in the work that is influencing its viewers? What is at work in the work that is working on our relationship with it? What kind of game is it playing with us? I find these paintings as seen in the book very slippery and that is what I like about them. They cleverly occupy the demarcation between different logics of judgement, like footnotes to the myriad language games at play in art today.