Paintings invite audience into young artist's inner world

Writer: Debra Li  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2023-03-30

Young artist Ye Xiaokai’s solo exhibition, lasting through May 6 on the fifth floor of the Guangming Culture and Art Center, present 60 paintings he created in the past seven years.

“We name the exhibition ‘Cloud in Pants’ after a poem of the same title by Vladimir Mayakovsky, which is perhaps the most acclaimed work from the poet,” said curator Zuo Qianqian.

A visitor observes Ye Xiaokai’s paintings at the “Cloud in Pants” exhibition at Guangming Culture and Art Center. Photos courtesy of the exhibition organizer

“Ye’s paintings, filled with poetic images and presented in dramatic scenes, offer the viewers possibilities of wild interpretation and give them a glimpse into the vivid imagination of the artist.”

Zuo said those bold images used as symbols remind her of Mayakovsky’s poetry, which is why she thinks “Cloud in Pants” a perfect title for the exhibition.

The paintings are grouped into two categories: “Ideal People in Ideal Scenes” and “Diaries.”

Inspired by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) who founded the French Classical tradition, the first part of the exhibition presents works in an intensely idealized style.

One piece representative of this style is “Little Red Hat,” created with acrylic on canvas in 2021. It depicts a red pointed hat held in the hand of a girl, the grass appearing as if it was tousled hair with a gentle breeze ruffling through the meadow, and a white bird gliding through the blue sky. Using saturated colors of red, white, green and blue, the dreamy scene immediately transports the visitor into a joyful sunny spring afternoon, when the air is filled with a refreshing smell of the grass.

Another piece titled “Sun Flower” depicts a red globe with blue eyes and a broad smile (a cartoon image of the sun) in the hands of a girl with painted nails, next to some bright yellow tulip blossoms.

In contrast, the “Diaries” series of paintings, each using five color tones at most, appears more retrospective and expresses puzzlement about the future.

“I have met some personal setbacks, and there was the feeling of uncertainty caused by the pandemic,” Ye explains about the shift in his style.

That said, the discerning visitor will discover a silver lining on the dark cloud, as evidenced in “A Blow of Life” (oil on canvas, 2021), according to Ye.

The painting depicts a boy, set against a dark backdrop, blowing a colorful breath out of his mouth, symbolizing his yearning for a better future.

“I’ve always attempted to empower my paintings with story-telling capabilities,” he says. The fascination with stories is deep-rooted in Ye.

Ye Xiaokai’s paintings are on display at the “Cloud in Pants” exhibition. 

His grandpa, after retiring from his teaching post in a university, became a volunteer at the auditorium showing films for students. So he got the opportunity to watch a lot of films as a child, and had discussions with the old man about the films they watched together. Such film terms as montage and monologue have been inscribed in his memory.

“When I became an art major, learning painting in Nanjing University of the Arts, the things I learned from film had an influence on my works,” he says.

“When I paint, my eyes become a camera; the objects on canvas become actors in a film, and I am the director.”

Painting is a decoding and encoding game that the artist really enjoys.

However, Ye also admits that painting becomes increasingly difficult for him, not only because it’s a physically challenging job, as it takes a lot of focus and energy, but more because it requires the artist to give an innovative perception and interpretation of art, humanity and the society. The latter task demands not just innate gift, but also long and unremitting effort.

Painting is a career in which the artist trusts time as a loyal friend.

“Like film, painting is an art form with the concept of time at its core, which requires the artist to present their unique perception formed through strenuous effort,” he says.

The exhibition is part of the Young Artist Project at the culture and art center, which endeavors to promote contemporary art and empower young artists by providing them with opportunities to display their works, exchange with peers and reach out to the public.

Ye is pursuing a doctorate degree in art history at his alma mater.