Ding Yi

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industrialisation, living, modernity, spirituality, time, tradition, trance, urbanity, vastness
Visual Arts (drawing, painting)
Asia, Eastern
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June 29, 2006
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Ding Yi


Ding Yi

Born in China in 1962 Ding Yi is considered one of the most important abstract painters in China. He is currently based in Shanghai and has exhibited internationally including participation at the Venice Biennale, Sydney Biennale and the Yokahama Triennale. He has had recent solo exhibitions at Galerie Waldburger, Berlin, Galerie Urs Meile, Luzurn and Ikon in the UK.
Ding Yi is known for his large-scale abstract paintings comprising of x and + symbols that produce dense formations and patterns. Since 1988 these symbols have been a key motif – a distinguishing trademark of the artist’s work.

‘In abstract terms, or better in terms of Ding Yi’s abstract painting, the cross is the most elemental pattern that, created by the orthogonal intersection of a vertical and a horizontal line constitutes the fundamental visual key marking his artistic creation so deeply that, throughout a fifteen year period it became an immediately distinguishing constant.’

Nataline Colonello, May 2003

Ding Yi’s formative study of painting was restricted to the political realist style approved by Communist China and he was able to learn about Western art only in the changed political climate of the 1980s. He graduated from the Fine Arts Department of Shanghai University in 1990. Significant to Ding Yi’s paintings are the dualities that exist within them particularly the presence of Eastern contemplation and tradition and Western painterly abstraction.

In 1988 the artist embarked on his signature series of paintings each one entitled ´Appearance of Crosses´ and individually identified by a date and serial number.

A reaction towards the conventional Chinese ´literati painting´ of his schooling, these paintings were a tightly regulated and repetitive geometric homage to Mondrian and De Stijl. Initially these were monochrome lattices of intersecting grids painted with the use of masking tape and a ruler. He removed any figurative elements from his work entirely, finding the limits of language liberating rather than restrictive.

Wu Guangzhong, the grand old master of modern Chinese art, stated that Chinese art often looks almost abstract. But, like kites in the sky, so he says, there has always been a string that binds it to the Earth, to a recognizable object. Ding Yi´s paintings are totally abstract, kites that fly without a string, beautiful, yet powerful.

Lorenz Helbling, June 1996 www.shanghart.com/texts/dingyi4.htm

From 1991 Ding Yi moved away from his previous rigorously structured compositions and began to experiment with materials, colour and technique. He continued to use the grid framework of earlier works as the basis of his composition but began to work freehand, loosening his technique. Adopting less formal materials he experimented with a range of media such as charcoal, chalk, watercolour, pencil and pen. Seeking an alternative ground to canvas he began using corrugated card, paper, folding screens, fans and tartan cloth. The use of Scottish tartan can be seen in ´Appearance of Crosses 1991 – 3´. Here the cloth adds an additional depth and concentration to the layering of grids creating an oscillation between the pattern and the ground.

"In my works the ´grid´ is something fixed", says the artist, "colours and internal forms, on the contrary, are those free elements able to create visual movements and tensions".
Ding Yi

Strips of corrugated card in ´Appearance of Crosses 1997 B21-B24´ make up the four panels of this piece and are painted with his abstract cross compositions whilst the support bears reference to traditional Chinese scroll painting.

The artist’s recent paintings from the period 2001 - 2006 use an increasingly brightly coloured palette. ´Appearance of Crosses 2005-1´ rendered in acrylic and tartan uses dense mark making and a dominating network of green and yellow paint that call to mind a landscape of lush and unspoilt foliage. Visible in ´Appearance of Crosses 2005-6´ is Shanghai’s transmuted boomtown landscape. The predominance of neon-like red, orange and yellow and the tiny regulated motifs marked out like road systems are a plausible mirror of Shanghai’s complex urban networks. The work is made up of six large panels hung in an asymmetrical formation. With distance the experience of these pieces changes as individual marks become elements of the composition as a whole.

"Ding Yi’s work is subtle and ambitious, an up to the minute Chinese version of what Baudelaire had in mind back in the mid – 19th century when he called for a ‘painting of modern life’".

Andrew Graham – Dixon Sunday Telegraph December 2005
Author: Cate Rickards
detail of one of Appearance of Crosses series
Appearance of Crosses 2001-B15, 2001
Appearance of Crosses 2005-1, 2005