Biography of Yinjie Sun 04/05/2012
(Yinjie Sun, 2012)
Yinjie Sun was born in 1985 in Jiangxi Province, China. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the China Academy of Art and Central Saint Martin’s College of Art.
In his art, Yinjie focuses on the following key themes in his work: Life in China and UK, religions and beliefs and their impact on the everyday existence and Chinese literature. He has inherited his traditional skills from western old masters paintings and at the same time he integrates a lot of new concepts and Chinese philosophy into his works, using a vocabulary that global audiences are able to understand in the context of ancient Chinese Philosophy. He tends to focus on some of the most unexpected objects as models for his work, trying to reflect the problems of the society. The work, The Virgin and Child depicts two monkeys sitting near a hot spring to symbolise the Virgin and Child. This painting looks like a classical religious painting in the first glance but actually Yinjie is trying to depict his fears for the chaotic conditions in the society and his aspirations for a harmonious life. The depiction of the monkeys in this iconic pose satirizes humanity, conveying the message that animals are nobler than humans if the humans have no faith.
Yinjie exhibits extensively both throughout the UK and internationally. His most recent Solo shows include The Museum of East Asian Art, Bath (2012), Museo Ramon Maria Aller Museum, Lalin, Spain (2012). Besides, his work has been selected by the Victoria and Albert Museum for the Chinese New Year Celebration and exhibited in Raphael Gallery (2011). His work has also been exhibited in the Today Art Museum in Beijing (2011), The Sunshine Art Museum in China (2010), Ourense Museum in Spain (2011), Shengyang Industrial Museum in China (2010), Sunshine International Art Museum, Beijing (2010), and his work has appeared in numerous publications such as BBC China, Eastern Art Report, The State Council News Office of China, People’s Daily Newspaper, China News, Art China, and is represented in public and private collections in Britain and worldwide.
Yinjie lives and works in London.
Article by Sajid Rizvi, Eastern Art Report.
Sun Yinjie remembers that he was a mere tot, six years old, when drawing and painting began to claim ever greater parts of his days back from the school and weekend playtime.
As expected, early encouragement was readily forthcoming from both his parents although, as he grew older and more assured, Yinjie received—predictably—cautionary counsel from his family about questionable merits of art as a ‘real’ job.
Yinjie was born in 1985 in the breathtakingly beautiful and culturally rich Jiangxi Province, best known outside China for its porcelain production over two millennia. The city of Jingdezhen, in the northeast of the province, is renowned as the Porcelain Capital, not only of China, but (as the proud Chinese insist) of the whole world. One of the most extensively
documented artistic cities, Jingdezhen has been producing pottery and porcelain for more than 1700 years.
(Yinjie Sun with friend Sajid Rizvi Editor-in-Chief, Eastern Art Report, and CEO, EAPGROUP International Media, 2012)
Naturally, with so much artistic excellence concentrated on porcelain the region spawned crafts and creative skills across an array of disciples, painting and drawing being the most frequently used practices applied to objects favoured by the nobility and royalty as well as everyday, utilitarian items of domestic use.
Yinjie recalls that neither of his parents was too dogmatic about the future career path of their beloved son. Having pressed their point about art and ‘real’ professions on and off over a period of Yinjie’s formative years, the family decided to go along with his pursuit of creative exploration first as an academic undertaking and then as a profession of a lifetime. Almost from the toddler age, Yinjie was encouraged at home and then prompted to spend time in the atelier/studio of a local teacher, where he was encouraged to draw and paint, emulate or imitate his master, or just mess about as a child would do.
(Yinjie Sun’s studio in Central London, 2012)
Jiangxi offers a creative spirit plenty of subject matter for expression. Located on the ancient trade routes of China’s southeast, the region is replete with rivers, mountains and valleys and abundant fauna and flora (though all of nature has suffered in more recent years).
The Yangzi flows by in the north and is joined by Jiangxi’s own Gan River. Jiangxi’s proximity to the bordering provinces of Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong Provinces places it at the heart of much historical activity, almost a cultural and commercial hub from yesteryears. This location later became both an advantage and a disadvantage for Jiangxi, as industrialization took root. Yinjie’s later work often refers to this unwelcome change, and his environmental commentaries are a lament for pristine landscapes being lost to globalization and ‘progress.’
Jiangxi’s place in history and the musical chairs of dynastic change and upheaval influenced and played a part in the region’s artistic, cultural and political development. Dialects and diverse ethnic groups abound, thriving alongside the Han majority, chief among them being the Hakka cultural and linguistic features shared as far afield as Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Over the years Jiangxi developed its own form of Chinese opera, the Ganju, so when the young Yinjie relocated to Beijing as a student he was already familiar with a form of the dramatic musical style better known to the outside world as the Beijing Opera. Again, as he explored and experimented with styles and subject matter, Yinjie began reinterpreting operatic characters in his work.
Likewise, despite years of Communist indoctrination, Jiangxi remained a discreet hotbed of Buddhism, as it had been over hundreds of years, giving spiritual nourishment to generations of Chinese through their particular pursuit of Mahayana Buddhism, which was adapted in China as the Chan tradition that percolated later to Southeast Asia and eventually to Japan. This early exposure to Buddhism, however rudimentary in that elementary stage, was later to emerge in Yinjie’s exploration of Buddhist themes and, on a broader scale, religious themes, beliefs and myths across cultural systems and the interaction between those beliefs and myths and people and art. This is explored most comprehensively in Sun Yinjie’s Asia House exhibition, Lost in Myths.
Yinjie’s course was set then, but his pursuit of art, early apprenticeships and training and finally academic education proved to be too much of an uphill task, challenging and demoralising at times, demanding utmost patience and perseverance. His passage through the China Academy of Art was a milestone, but it required many sacrifices for a youth out of the provinces into the impersonal urban ambience of Beijing and Shanghai. It was partly Sun Yinjie’s early prescience about the limitations he could face after crossing numerous hurdles in China that brought him to London.
It’s been fascinating to have been a witness to Yinjie’s opening forays into London’s art world that coincided with his foundation studies at Camberwell. The year spent at Camberwell wasn’t a waste of time, it was the key to Sun Yinjie’s exploration, investigation and discovery of the metropolis and its many hidden wonders. But in quite an important sense it was something he didn’t really need to do, given his previous academic accomplishments and artistic practice in China. The fact that he did it anyway, and did it well, was the result of realization that progress from the first to the second rung of the ladder required some compromises and some trade-offs of time. Again, on balance, though, Camberwell set the stage for diverse creative meanderings that followed.
In that early period, Sun Yinjie experimented with reinterpretation of the figurative from his early practice in China, adding his individualist comment and sly interventions to subject matter that represented a sort of bridge-building between western techniques and eastern aesthetics and though processes. His early cityscapes of that period provide ample hints of this creative development. In his Paris series, Yinjie embarked on experimenting with playful allegories that invited the viewer to ponder over deeper meanings of both life and art.
The Paris paintings employed a red arrow, essentially a virtual origami paper plane that seemed to appear in the most startling of locations on his canvases. The paintings invoked thoughts of invisible presences symbolised by the red paper darts, suspended in midair, tentative and somewhat menacing, appearing in hazy, sleepy cityscapes, without any clue as to who is launching the ephemeral projectile into the offered space.
Portraiture was his next and almost simultaneous exploration. In a series of works, Sun Yinjie introduced his London audiences to characters from the Chinese opera, figures drawn from his London circle of acquaintances and friends and a rather defiant self-portrait with full-frontal nudity that challenged some assumptions and stereotypes about ‘Chinese’ artists, their supposed modesty, discretion and reserve and, eventually, self-censorship. In the event the self-portrait with the male genitalia in full view offered none of that, and invited the viewer to think differently about the artist, his work, his cultural perimeters and, in a broader sense, the new art emerging from China.
In later works, too, Yinjie experimented with erotic representation in somewhat elliptical references to social change and in some cases extreme upheavals in Chinese society. As a young male artist, Sun Yinjie comes across in these paintings as an unexpected commentator on moral corrosion, which may point also to the depth of feeling in China about the pros and cons of change, especially industrialization and its impact on society.
In this period, Yinjie embarked on a series of deeply personal responses to his experience of environmental degradation as a price exacted from unsuspecting citizens for ‘progress’ in many parts of China, including his native Jiangxi. His series, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, offered eloquent and somber visual narratives on the darker side of China’s economic dynamism. The environmental paintings depicted grim, wounded landscapes, equivalent of human portraiture of faded beauty, which gave the shocked viewer hints without sentimentalism of pristine and precious natural treasures lost to the juggernaut of industrialization.
In 2011 Sun Yinjie began exploring the many universes of faith and reason, religion and superstition across cultures. As a child growing up in Communist China, Yinjie could not be expected to depart from the template of educational regimentation at the time, one which externalized belief, often dressing up dogma as faith. However, Yinjie says that despite many years of the propaganda, Confucianism and Buddhism survived in roots if not in foliage and allowed ordinary individuals to internalize precepts of both and apply them to their daily lives. This formative period was invaluable when revisiting questions of belief and faith in the context of his artistic practice.
A new series of paintings begun in 2011 and included in the Asia House exhibition explores these themes not only in Chinese tradition but also in Christianity and Western thought, myths and mysticisms.
By far the most exploratory of these works in Sun Yinjie’s reinterpretations of the Chinese monkey stories inspired by the Ming dynasty epic, Journey to the West. Often attributed to Wu Cheng-en, a statesman/sage of the classic variety now so rare in modern politics, Journey to the West is a superbly crafted multi-layered tale replete with allusions, meanings and
interpretations. One of the protagonists in the tale is an itinerant and adventurous monkey in an imagined entourage of India-bounded Buddhist monk Xuanzang, who mirrors human travails and tribulations but ultimately comes on top, thus affirming belief in human endeavour toward self-improvement, optimism and ultimate enlightenment.
In his reinterpretations Sun Yinjie has done what the monkey stories did earlier: blend Buddhism with Confucianism and Taoism and other ancient beliefs. Yinjie blends Eastern stories with Western stories drawn from cultural tradition, religion and superstition. As with Journey to the West, he has used the visual narratives of the series to offer commentaries on contemporary China and his immediate experience of the West.
Soon after arriving in London, Yinjie explained his commitment to expression of inner feelings and thoughts and bringing that expression to the canvas. “I relate them to contemporary society, my environment, and my lifestyle. As I experience more in my life, and learn more from others around me, I find a constant source of inspiration. My diary is a collection of many of these special moments recorded with camera, and with pencil. I select carefully the most expressive materials to interpret my deepest feelings; constantly striving and eventually achieving the effect that I wanted.”
Your work has gone through phases since your arrival in the UK. What are your present pursuits?
Although my work has gone through phases it remains constant in its fundamental pursuits. My work continues to focus on life, whether in China or the UK, its meaning and purpose, its numerous challenges and facets and its eventual goals.
The latest work is an exploration of beliefs and religions that spans both Asian and European cultures. How did this exploration begin?
I have always been interested in China’s ancient concepts and philosophies and there have been times since my early years that I have found myself immersed in words that our forebears left for us. Despite profound and in some respects drastic changes, and despite the experiences of its modern history, China remains deeply entrenched in tradition, its Confucian base almost intact and its Buddhist traditions deep-rooted in people’s daily pursuits — although, sadly, that has been changing. My work reflects upon that change and it expresses ideas in more subtle and (Yinjie with Sajid in Aldgate East Studio, London, 2013) explicit ways than words can express. That, I think, is what art should do. In articulating my ideas I use a vocabulary that is universal and transcends cultures, religions
and political systems.
Recently you embarked on a series of paintings that outwardly and visually were erotic and could even be considered ‘rude.’ What was the idea behind that series?
My so-called erotic works are a response to what I experience in China and the West and are particularly relevant to my thoughts on the societal evolution in my native environment. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy and conservative, I’ve observed change that can only be defined as moral corrosion. Such corrosion, history tells us, is never a sign of good health, however good everything else may seem. Look at the mighty Roman Empire! As you will see from my brushwork and colour palettes, the erotic content is anything but that. The somewhat angry brushwork and the poisonous colours of what is being depicted are my way of expressing my feelings about the moral degradation that we talked about earlier.
In the exhibition, Lost in Myths, you have dealt with Western subjects with appear to be readings of the subject matter with Eastern perspectives. Many viewers may be intrigued and indeed surprised by your treatment of subjects such as Christ’s Crucifixion, Madonna and Child as well as mythic themes.
Belief systems, beliefs and myths interest me tremendously. In a contemporary world belief has become a commodity, variously marketed, sold or suppressed, any discussion of belief, unbelief, fact and fiction, myths and reality is a topic of great relevance and provides with an appropriate vocabulary for what I wish to convey. It’s an exploratory phase, of course, because I’m always exploring new ideas, new ground to cover, new materials and new ways of saying things.
You have founded in London what clearly is an atelier/studio in the tradition which you embraced as a child. Does the Sunny Art Centre indicate you wish to continue imparting your ideas to those who subscribe as your students while at the same time exploring new directions in your own art.