Ding Yi: Lightscapes, Timothy Taylor New York
‘Although Ding is deeply embedded in the history of contemporary Chinese art and the avant-garde, his work goes beyond that. There are systems of thought and perspective that can shake our idea of a monolithic culture, and Ding Yi’s work is critical to this conversation: it has an insight that is unique, a sublime space and an emotion beneath the abstraction’
– Alexandra Munroe, Senior Curator, Asian Art
Ding Yi and Alexandra Munroe
Since the mid-1980s, Ding has created his own visual language centered around crosses and grids, using his abstractions to reflect alternately on the rise of Shanghai as a metropolis, the surface of the picture plane and the appearance of neon lights. In his latest body of work, Ding turns his attention towards the sky and its planets, examining one’s place within the cosmos and the mathematical geometries that unite all elements in the universe. Singular among contemporary abstractionists working today, Ding’s unique combination of sculptural carving and non-objective painting stands alone among both Eastern and Western art traditions.
Ding began working with wood in his current method in 2015 through a unique combination of sculpting and painting. His process begins by painting the surface, layer by layer, in several different colors, before outlining intricate grids in pastels. Ding then alternates between painting and cutting fine lines into the soft wood, rendering geometrically precise yet harmonious systems of interlapping lines and cuts. These cuts reveal the painted layers beneath the black or white base, creating an effect of perspective and depth through the seemingly flat surface.
His latest paintings, mounted on basswood, are dominated by the appearance of a new, star-like abstract form on a diagonal axis, the product of a technique pioneered by Ding over the course of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. Representing the apex of Ding’s sustained exploration of the medium, these paintings see the artist cut intricate dot-like crevices into the wood with an extremely fine blade, resulting in an impression of shifting, glistening lights in shades of vibrant vermilion, magenta, lime green and acid yellow. His drawings, crafted in colored pencil and acrylics on a thick Chinese rice paper, mirror this process without puncturing the surface. Building upon Chinese ink wash painting techniques, the drawings also reflect the material processes used in Ding’s painting practice: textural brushstrokes are swept across the abstract forms on the paper, lending the drawings a painterly, tactile quality.
Since the mid-1980s, Ding Yi has developed a singular method of abstraction based on a system of crosses and grids. Concepts of geometric beauty and mathematical rationalism are central to his work, which Ding has viewed in the context of rapid urban development in contemporary China, seen from an aerial perspective. Over the past thirty years Ding has experimented with every medium available, and his practice encompasses painting, sculpture, spatial installation, and architecture. His paintings, whether predominantly black, painted on tartan, or elaborated in intense fluorescent colors, all bear the title Appearance of Crosses with a date and a number.
Ding Yi’s work is held in private and public collections internationally including the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; The British Museum, London; Daimler Art Collection, Berlin; M+, Hong Kong; and the Power Station of Shanghai. Recent solo exhibitions for the artist include Ding Yi: The Cross Style at the Long Museum Chongqing (2020–21); Ding Yi at Timothy Taylor, London, UK (2017); +x30 Years: Ding Yi at Guangdong Art Museum, Guangzhou, China (2018); and participation in Art Basel Unlimited (2016).
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