Expressionism in the East
HUANG YONGYU White Lotus
Black Against White
Traditional Chinese xieyi (expressive) brushwork painting reached its peak during the Ming Dynasty. One telling example is Xu Wei's works on flowers and plants. Among the modern freehand painters, Huang Yongyu's splash-colour works are even comparable to their ancestors. In addition to the plum flower, the lotus is another favoritable theme for xieyi (expressive) painters – not only for its symbolic meaning of decency and purity which "lives in the slit but not imbrued", but also for the large expressive space that is left to the painters. The Qing painter Zhu Da's Ink Lotus, expresses his regret and sadness towards the prior dynasty, by depicting a few broken lotus petals. Modern painters like Qi Baishi depict the lotus with light brown and ink so that the lotus appears to be fresh and elegant. Zhang Daqian's lotus works demonstrate a variety of styles; some with fine brushwork in heavy colours, and others applied with light ink. By contrast, Huang Yongyu's lotus is famous for its splash-colours. The mixture of a set of colours into ink distinguishes itself from traditional Chinese paintings. At first glance, Huang's lotus is far away from its pure and mighty quality. In fact, it is this contrast between black and white from the flower, and that causes the theme to become even more prominent and striking.
Painting By Heart
During the Cultural Revolution, Huang began his fascination with drawing of the lotus. The decency and nobleness of lotus became his spiritual subsistence. The lotus flower sketches are found to be numerous. The earlier ones are rather well structured - more like fine brushworks. As time goes by, the style became increasingly bold, and can be witnessed in the gradual combination of Huang's ink lines and his thoughts. The White Lotus is one of the latter works. The background is filled with mainly grey and black hues, implicating the silt where lotus grows. The bottom layer of the leaves is also black, mixed with some dark green. The lines are decisive without hesitation. The white petals are depicted within a few simple brushes yet are full of dynamism. With the well-structured density and spacing, this painting offers a unique artistic experience compared to the traditional bird and flower works of art.
In Zhu Da's work Ink Lotus, the silt beneath the boulder and the extending lotus stem reminds viewers of lotus's noble and unsullied quality. The ink colour expresses Zhu's bitterness towards the former dynasty. Nevertheless, Huang's White Lotus employs a different painting method. The broad-brush is used to replace zhong-feng. Dark colours cover the entire background. The composition is not panoramic but has an emphasis on the petals and the stems. The work is not a realistic depiction of lotus. Instead, it highlights the quality of lotus, which coincides with the saying 'the shape is based on the image, but was inspired by heart'. Therefore, it's not just the shape of the object that is incorporated, but also Huang's unyielding characteristics. Being consisted of mainly black and grey, this work is a mixture of spontaneity, sanctity and force. It carries both the Daoist philosophy and characteristics of the Chinese literati. More importantly, Huang's attitude towards life and personal aesthetic has become alive on the paper, which fully provides the work with cultural richness.