Yang Shibin, FACE No.1, 2018, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 cm
YANG SHIBIN: UNVEIL THE DUST OF THE FORGOTTEN
We can feel the hidden hint of tension, threat and unease in a dull expression, a dislocated gesture and a frozen light in the picture.
Filippo Vanni lives between his native New York, Paris, and Rome. He grew up around art as the grandson and son of painters Gian Berto Vanni and Ruggero Vanni. As a poet with a major in comparative literature, he sees his role of critic and curator as the continuation of the historic relationship between writers and artists to appreciate and use one another’s work.
“We can feel the hidden hint of tension, threat and unease in a dull expression, a dislocated gesture and a frozen light in the picture. All this is caused by my special attention to things, which turns my personal memory into an unexplainable and unbreakable emotion, into a metaphor and a symbol, as if I want to capture the eternal things in a flash, to read the mysterious nature of the world in the ordinary objects.”
– Yang Shibin
In the atmosphere of Yang Shibin’s work, even floating dust notes are put to a still. The viewer is intimately reconnected with all that is forgotten and abandoned. Muted tones of grey and brown, like cracked earth or arid air, give his subjects a concrete sense of immateriality. One feels they have stumbled upon the icon of a Byzantine cave or a desert chapel, discovering each detail of the artist’s “quiet and thin” brush strokes in solitary contemplation. Recent series’, such as Figure, Face, and Still Life, seek “the spiritual sublime from this barrenness of material expression, to express a kind of reality behind the objects that is not visible visually but exists with spirituality, to make this rustic painting language form a visual connection with the simple spirit, to seek a spiritual sublime and to convey a quiet power".
His slow and methodical process sculpts away the living qualities of an object to reveal the eternal essence of a moment: disintegration, abandonment, hope. Chipping away some of the dried surface of the paintings, exposing various layers and the threaded canvas beneath melds the immaterial and its opposite, a “rustic” and ancient form, spirituality.
An ideological crux of Shibin’s recent work can be recognized in “Gift” (2021). A nostalgia shop vitrine is populated with sculpted memorabilia— plastic dolls, stone busts, and a plethora of owls. The artist has ingeniously included his name at the top of the shop’s adhesive sign: “Restauri Artisti […] Porcellane, Madre Perla […] Yang Shibin”, laying claim to the world beneath. The subjects exchange dazed looks in their jumbled mass, all while bathing in a lazy haze of gentle sunlight. What was once a novel invention of modernity—the shopping window—has fallen out of fashion, and the sign looks more like the cracked parchment of an ancient scroll than a newly glazed ad. The successful enterprise has now become the shop of a chiffonier; meaning “ragpicker” or a “drawer for odds and ends” like those that populated the late 19th century. The artist’s technical mastery—alluded to by the ancient specialties advertised in Italian, can breathe spiritual significance into the nihilist material culture the objects below represent—Saving them from the dark oblivion creeping upon their calm outlines.
For Shibin, the Chifonnier is an alter ego, a metaphor for his work. Like Joseph Cornell, he looks for ephemeral objects that are lost and forlorn, revealing in them new qualities that give off the aura of hidden treasure. In this case, the precious details of a piece unveil themselves in what seems like the nuanced light of a dutch master. His collection of Faces could be forgotten portraits leaning against one another on a dusty shelf, now wiped clean and brought to light, or an Al Fayoum sarcophagus brought out from centuries of burial. When displayed next to one another, these intimately sized paintings are devoid of individual personality. As Shibin says, he removes “too many emotions” from his works; “the barrenness of expression” becomes a “spiritual sublime”, giving each piece the awe of an icon. The works of the series, having no individuality, bear numbered titles. “Face no.5” wears a crown that has faded to the color of the greying hair and its moth-wing background. The veiled figure of “Face no.1” is pierced, leaving no texture and a dulling rosy complexion. The gazes of numbers 4,6, and 7 are steely and blunt.
Steadfast and ambiguous, the figure series presents unchanged subjects that could exist in the present or centuries past. Their outlook shows no energy, like the “frozen” dusty light of the landscape’s disappearing perspectives. However, the pointed brushstrokes penetrate their figures. In their immutable attitude, their selected immateriality, they share an eternal resonance.