Yifeng Tan Essay

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Yifeng Tan

Born in Nanjing, China, 1960
Lives and works in Melbourne

Having left China 18 years ago I had to confront a number of obstacles – learning English, earning a living and coming to grips with a different culture – but I had the freedom to paint how and what I wished. Hurdles faced by a migrant in a new country, and difficulties generally encountered in life, are played out in many of my paintings with a tongue-in-cheek, sardonic sense of humour some might perceive as being Australian in character, but which no doubt find their real impetus in my experiences of a politically straight-jacketed, tradition-bound Chinese art world.

My art is personal and is a means of understanding what was originally for me an alienating and disturbing environment.

The big bowl motif is central to my latest series of paintings. In this series, a number of pink-faced men (as seen in earlier works) are crammed inside and spill over the edge of the bowl. Their situation is precarious and uncertain. It is difficult not to parallel these scenes with the desperate journeys made by refugees.

The figures in my paintings interact in environments in which they are obviously not comfortable. The atmosphere is charged with a continual sense of imminent but understated action. I endeavour to convey this sense of expectation to the viewer so that they may determine the when what and why of the action. The allusory network each viewer brings to the work is as important as the contents of the images I place before them.

My art is characterised by ambiguity. I pictorially pose the viewer with a list of unanswered questions (or at least intimate the possibility of questions) and yet find the viewer poses their own.

The world I paint is one that speaks of my Chinese origins and of my current home in both Australia and China. I use ambiguity to assist in the articulation (although full articulation is not a desired outcome) of the individual’s place in a multicultural world.

– Yifeng Tan, 2008

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