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Yuan Xikun - A Man for All Seasons.

The catalogue essay written by Jonathan Goodman

NEW YORK, Dec. 5, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Yuan Xikun's considerable oeuvre consists of portraits in ink, a wide variety of sculptural themes, and painterly studies of animals, the tiger in particular. With fierce energy he has sought to capture the spirit of our times, not only in China but throughout the world-his portraiture of such leaders as Deng Xiao Ping, Nelson Mandela, and Boris Yeltsin testify to his eagerness to use art for communication on a global level. Working figuratively, Yuan demonstrates the ability to capture his sitters in terms both soberly accurate and highly dramatic. In his public role as an artist, he shows us that it is still possible for technical skill and poetic insight to exist at the same time. The Chinese artist has often suffered at the hands of a rigid and even puritanical one-party system; however, it has become clear that an artist like Yuan represents the expressive energies of art when it is no longer closely tied to political moralizing. As time goes on, Yuan's achievement seems all the more admirable for having taken place over decades of cultural repression, and it is hoped that his example as an artist of the world will influence Chinese painters in the future.

One of the most important outlets of Yuan's imagination is found in his renderings of animals, especially horses and big cats. His ink treatment of horses brings to life the nobility of spirit and physical beauty we admire so much in them. Often portrayed in mid-gallop, the horses appear high born and free-as animals, they prove that their species can possess remarkable dignity, especially in light of the portraits drawn by the artist, who works effectively with darker and lighter washes of ink. There are paintings in which Yuan addresses the spirit of the animal; or, just as often, he pays close attention to its details: the mane and tail, the hooves, and the slope of the belly and back. Just as magnificent are Yuan's renderings of tigers, which emphasize the beauty of the beast, its markings and remarkable eyes. It is to the artist's credit that somehow he depicts not only the externals of the tiger, but also its inner majesty, which is as difficult to capture in art as the mood of a person in a portrait. Yuan also pays close attention to the lion, whose formidable aspect he conveys with startling economy. These cats, resting, sitting, or in mid-stride, are memorable for their physical vigor, which amounts to a statement of pride, not only in the animals themselves, but in the way that Yuan has drawn and painted them.

The plight of the polar bear is taken up by Yuan, who has touchingly rendered a mother and her cubs. Done in crystal, and rather small in its dimensions, the sculpture nonetheless shows the artist's typical attention to detail in a material well equipped to express the animals' particularities. Most of the world now knows that melting glaciers are causing a dangerous loss of habitat for the polar bear; and that this loss cannot be reversed in light of global warning. Although Yuan does not address the issue directly in this artwork, nonetheless he has chosen to bring the theme of the polar bear to light. His formal treatment of the bear and her cubs lends a dignity and sense of purpose of a great animal whose future is increasingly constrained. Other sculptures include individual studies of a rooster, a horse's head, a pig, and a dog-common animals who are caught in sometimes funny poses. Their nonchalance and innate attractiveness allows Yuan to show an engagingly humorous disposition, which I think is a perfect attitude to have toward the barnyard animals he sculpts.

Other sculptures are more serious, such as Yuan's studies of a woman breastfeeding, a patriarch, a dancer balancing on one foot. Yuan has even sculptured a larger-than-life-size, full-body portrait of Mahatma Gandhi reading a book, his pious and gentle nature remarkably conveyed by his demeanor and bow-legged sitting position. His studies, both in sculpture and drawing, of leaders from all over the world amounts to a pantheon of politicians, who are rendered as strong but accessible heroes. Yuan, it may be said, can be seen as something of a hero himself, so singlemindedly has he devoted himself to his craft. Yuan's feeling for a broad range of subject matter has resulted in art that represents people and animals as creatures worthy of study, no matter how high or how low they may exist on the ladder of our recognition. In the freedom of his art, we see someone who has something unusual to offer, and who is determined to share it with everyone he meets.

About Author: Jonathan Goodman has been writing about Chinese art for seventeen years. He is based in New York City, where he works as as a freelance writer and a teacher at Pratt Institute. Winner of a grant from the Asian Cultural Council to meet contemporary Mainland Chinese artists in 1999, he has written on Chinese art for such magazines as Sculpture, ARTnews, and Art Asia Pacific.

SOURCE Jonathan Goodman
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Date:Dec 5, 2011
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