Exclusively for the Esprit Dior exhibition, running at the MoCA Shanghai until November 10, the portraitist Yan Pei-Ming has created a monumental painting: a work that pays homage to Christian Dior in close-up, in a tonal range of reds, the couturier's lucky color.
Monuments - a word that might be used to describe the canvasses of Yan Pei-Ming. His portraits are of colossal dimensions, the colors (black and white usually, sometimes red and white) are severe and raw, the brushwork seems to have been hurriedly applied, almost violently so, with great strokes. And all his works, often created and exhibited in series, are striking in their similarity. Even if each painting has its own unique poignant expressiveness, the faces in them remain stern and serious. They all share the same over-riding codes, the better to play with and subvert them: that of state-sanctioned art that glorifies the leaders in close-up portraits.
Yan Pei-Ming has mastered these codes from having grown up surrounded by them. A child of China's Cultural Revolution, it wasn't long before his artistic gifts were noticed, resulting in his being assigned to paint a portrait of Mao. Though the artist left his native China for France in the 1980s, he continues to explore this notion of a leader figure, developing it over the years through a series of black and white canvasses. His handling of paint has become more and more precise, to the point that the face is freed from dimensional constraints in order to convey an arresting and brutal sense of truthfulness.
Favoring political figures and news-making personalities, Yan Pei-Ming has notably painted Barack Obama's portrait, but his work also includes many unknowns, some of his friends and acquaintances, and even appropriates such iconic images as the Mona Lisa and Buddha. More recently, in his sculptures, he's carved heads out of resin with knives, an act filled with the same sharpness and urgency that characterizes his painting. His portraits are exhibited the world over, from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, to New York, via Venice and Abu Dhabi.
The painting Yan Pei-Ming produced for the Esprit Dior exhibition is very much within the same powerful vein as the other portraits for which he's so celebrated. Both historical figure and legendary personality, Christian Dior is represented without artifice, in a manner both imposing and intimate, engaging the viewer with a gaze of unprecedented directness.