Yifeng Tan

Yifeng Tan

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

Yifeng Tan
Black Apple 17, 2017

Born in 1960 in Nanjing, China, Tan Yifeng’s development as an artist began as a propaganda officer for the communist government, producing works that extolled the ‘proletarian virtues’ of a fighting spirit, tenacity, and loyalty.

Despite seemingly limited opportunities for creativity, Tan Yifeng was able to use the freedom the role of propaganda officer afforded him to explore and examine both a wider aspect of life than he might otherwise have experienced and his own artistic sensibilities. His eye for beauty even in the mundane as well as his innovative techniques quickly brought him acclaim and prominence in the Nanjing art establishment.

With the coming of the 1980s and the loosening of communist control over artistic expression, Tan Yifeng embarked upon a more subversive path, creating images that challenged traditional Chinese aesthetic sensibilities, as well as Confucian social values. With this new sense of freedom, however, also came a desire to explore and seek out new challenges – and with that in mind, Tan set out to see the wider world. He arrived in Canberra in 1990, ostensibly to learn English, but with the greater goal of expanding his artistic and cultural horizons.

Gaining a scholarship to the Canberra School of Art, Tan at first found the sudden diversity and freedom of artistic expression available to him somewhat daunting. Nonetheless, he quickly won recognition in the local art scene, winning several prizes in Canberra and becoming a finalist in the 2006 Sulman Prize.

While Tan Yifeng may have begun his career creating propaganda with woodblock prints, he now uses acrylics and canvas, as well as creating small bronze sculptures. His artistic themes have similarly changed and developed – with communism no longer a central issue, Tan has shifted his thematic focus to the plight of the individual in society, human greed, and the struggle of life against the odds.

Deeply symbolic and spiritual in outlook, Tan Yifeng’s two major series of images – ‘Apples’ and ‘Big Bowls’ – feature groups of people locked in desperate struggles to escape an inhospitable environment, pitted not only against their surroundings, but also each other.

The apple – a common symbol of human cupidity and foolhardiness, holding connotations of expulsion from paradise – is used by Tan to illustrate the precarious position of humanity as it battles for survival. His evocative imagery details human figures – agonised and indistinct, but clearly desperately clinging to the shiny surface of the apple. Tan Yifeng’s stark visual language draws the reader towards such themes as the human desire to survive at all costs, the struggle of mortality, and even the meaning of life itself.