Chinese artist finds success with melancholy scenes

Updated: 2016-01-29 07:51

By Cecily Liu(China Daily Europe)

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Chinese artist finds success with melancholy scenes
Song Yige's works, praised for her universal themes, are on display at London's Marlborough Fine Art gallery. Provided to China Daily

Song Yige's paintings may not be cheerful, but her deeply emotional depictions of the modern world are certainly powerful.

The 35-year-old Chinese artist often partially obscures the subjects of her work - people, animals and objects - to create scenes of deep melancholy.

"My works aren't political or critical, but they do address emotions like loneliness," says Song, whose paintings are on display at London's Marlborough Fine Art gallery until Feb 27.

The solo exhibition is her first outside of Asia and is curated by Zeng Fanzhi, one of China's best-known contemporary artists.

Among the works on display will be Dance Party, in which six figures in long dressing gowns stand in a row against a dark background, their arms tightly linked and their faces mostly blocked by balloons. Another, 43 Matchsticks, shows upright matchsticks positioned loosely in the shape of a heart.

Similar examples of dark and melancholic scenes are easy to find in her work. Most objects look out of place, arranged in a way that reflect Song's sense of humor.

The artist says her paintings simply jump out of her mind. "Like memories, they're just some sort of abstract extract, a purification of real life."

Born in 1980, Song grew up in the northeastern industrial city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province. As a child, she would forgo candy in order to instead buy water colors, brushes and drawing paper.

Now the child's-eye view of the world continues to influence and inform her work.

"I've enjoyed painting ever since I was little. Every time my grandmother asked me what gift I wanted, the answer was painting books and crayons," she recalls. "While at university, I gained a real understanding of art. A love of art is instinctive and very natural for me."

Song graduated from Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, Liaoning province, in 2007 before moving to Beijing where she now lives and works. Over the years, her work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at prominent institutions and galleries across Asia, including the Artmia Foundation in Beijing, Gallery Hyundai in Seoul, and Hanart TZ gallery in Hong Kong.

Song suggests the reason her work is popular among Chinese and non-Chinese audiences is her ability to address universal themes.

"There are no distinct regional characteristics or prevalent national symbols. I've always created work using my own distant visual language rather than to please others, and it seems to appeal to both Western and Asian audiences."

Alexander Platon, senior director at Marlborough Fine Art, says he came across Song's work while visiting Zeng in Beijing and immediately found it "magical and arresting".

"He (Zeng) was showing me new work in his studio and I saw a painting by Song that was part of his personal collection," he recalls. "Although much smaller than the monumental canvases that Zeng was working on, it was powerful and intriguing, and it really captured me."

Marlborough Fine Art has been engaged with Chinese artists since it opened in 1946. The gallery was one of the first in Europe to show contemporary Chinese art, and in 1953 it hosted Chinese Paintings, an exhibition by Chao Shao-an and his student, Lydia Chao Ling-Fang.

"Looking at a painting by Song doesn't necessarily reveal her nationality, and I think that's a great quality," Platon adds. "Song is an exceptional painter; her works are powerful and leave a long-lasting impression."