Düsseldorf-based artist Yang Qi is an important member of the Chinese creative diaspora living in Germany. With a PhD in ancient Chinese idiograms, as well as lecturing in the subject since the 1990’s, Yang’s work explores the idea of Chinese graphic symbols. The powerful thick, black, brush strokes in the artist’s work seem familiar to the viewer as they bare a pictorial resemblance to Chinese calligraphy. However, these strokes are in fact independent of any language. Yang’s work significantly experiments with the semiotics of cultural language with particular reference to Chinese pictograms and German expressionism; merging his native cultural identity with his adopted homeland.
The artist has developed a unique artistic concept he calls “Zen with German expressionism” that he applies to his work; uniting a German sense of rationalism and passion for expression with the Chinese philosophy of Zen. Zen is an ancient pillar of Chinese belief, encompassing a Taoist view of nature which practices rigorous meditation in order to appreciate our deepest human qualities in the minutiae of daily life. “When I paint, I do not mean to express a figure who has some kind of conceptual specification or a special character. I start from my heart to describe all kinds of people quietly and prominently”, Yang expresses. “In other words, I want to express the colourful society in today’s world, but I have never thought it has to be a specific person because all humans resemble the entirety of our kind”.
Yang uses his experiences of the East and the West to realise these philosophical significances which he then applies to his work. Adopting ideas from German expressionism, which emphasise emotion in paintings through particular qualities of line, colours and technique, Yang’s ceramics stir up feelings of emotive dynamism. At the same time, the work is full of zen-like, philosophical thinking around the awe of life.
Yang is a key artist in the conversation exploring West European-Asian cultural identity at the moment. Working extensively within German academia around themes of identity as well as exhibiting around the world, Yang’s work embodies the stylistic characteristics of both Eastern and Western art. Drawing similarities between the universality of humanism and commenting on the undeniable overlapping of cultural influences that have, and will continue, to take place in the creative industries. Yang’s artistic philosophy of “Zen with German expression” is a great example of how a dual cultural identity informs a creative practice through emotion and rationale.
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