ARTIST YAHON CHANG WAS BORN IN 1948 IN NANTOU, TAIWAN, AND STARTED PRACTICING CALLIGRAPHY AT THE AGE OF 7.
He studied art and calligraphy at the National Taiwan Art College, and practiced his skills on architectural and landscape design drawings as well as experimenting with various mediums which included texts, colours, brushes, rice paper and much more. Thanks to curator Johnson Chang, who first invited him in 1996 to a group exhibition at the Hanart TZ Gallery in Taipei, his work was first shown in such a prominent setting. A series of group exhibitions soon followed, making way to individual exhibitions from the year 2000 in museums across Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Beijing, Hannover, Hamburg, Barcelona, Venice and Rome.
Chang doesn’t have only one influence, rather many underground sources of inspiration. Chinese calligraphy, for example that of Wang XiZhi, who lived during the Jin dynasty (ca. 265–420), and the ‘mogu’ technique of Shi Tao and Bado Shannen, can all be found in his work. Since his childhood, Yahon Chang has been involved with the art and history of China and relates his explosive drawings and paintings to the Zen paintings of the Qing dynasty. The western art of the 20th century has also taught a lot to Chang: take the paintings of Picasso, Matisse, de Kooning and American abstract expressionists such as Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock.
Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti represented a torn and individual depition of the human body and soul with his elongated sculptures. The existence of mankind, its pain and sorrow, its relation with life and death are all existential topics reflected in western and eastern art since the start of history of art.“ In 2015, Chang created a huge, extensive room installation titled The Question of Beings for the Biennale of Venice, a work typifying his production and his thoughts on art. The installation featured shapes and faces that had a gloomy, ascetic and estranging effect on the viewers. Chang recently told me during an interview that, ‘It’s even more difficult to paint an ugly painting, that it is to create a beautiful one. Extreme ugliness is the beginning of beauty.’
The artist also says the following about his technique, which mostly sees him working on the floor on a large rice paper surface, ‚ ‘I am good at using odd brushes. The way I wield, use and control my brush has never been seen before.’ Now and again, work reminiscent of American artist Jackson Pollock crops up. He used to produce his paintings with big, expressive movements, by flicking paint on the ground and allowing abstract forms to melt into one another. Pollock created a new, expressive form of painting with his Action Painting from 1946 onwards by shaking and throwing streaks and splashes of colour across the canvas placed on the ground using the motion of his body. This grand, physical, gestural experience is similar to that of Chang’s; however, he wields his larger than life tailored brush in his hands to transpose the rhythm of his body onto the paper with the same grand and great movements.
Religion and spirituality are important themes for Yahon Chang. As a Buddhist, he studied, among others, Zen Buddhism and tantric Buddhism. His series of well-known monks painted on rice paper, which include Jianzehn and Kukai, pass on the teachings of Buddha, while Master Chan Yin, who convinced the artist about Buddhism, gave him spiritual enlightenment and knowledge underpinning his work. When speaking about Christianity, Chang says, ‘I trust in God, not in my own abilities. Jesus shares my burdens and relieves me of my stress.’ In Chang’s Faces, viewers will glimpse all kinds of faces. From painedwrecked people to evil grimaces, the dark and white play of light frees their fears, emotions, and insecurities. Often, their eyes come across as empty or dead, out of reach for the viewers, mystical and limiting. Even the colourful groups of faces are an impressive unity. The compositions thicken thanks to the colours used, the specks of abstract botches of colour conceal the facial expressions and turn them into a nearly unrecognisable mass.
Often gouache colours mix with black ink and the colour textures overlap. A turbulent mix of parts of faces, puddles of colour and abstract forms emerge. ‘For the Venice Biennale exhibition, the four walls along with the ceiling and the floors are all black and white, while the pillars are colourful I continued to paint for over 14 days. That summer in Venice was incredible humid, my painting was soaked in moisture and failed to dry properly. My last resort was to transfer the canvas to a Hotel room, where I blasted the heating fan to dry the painting; only then was I able to complete this grand project in time.’ Yahon Chang ’s new projects will take him to southern Italy where he will paint in cursive calligraphy. His inspiration originates mostly from Asian art which is different from the western art of abstract expressionism due to its meditative component. ‘The focus of my creation will be to reflect the spiritual euphoria and emotions, using bold strokes and vivid splashes of ink to capture the dynamic of joy within.’