The Solo Project Basel
June 13 - 17, 2012
Mao Yan (1968 Hunan) is a prominent Chinese painter best known for his skilful portraiture. His works are often very light coloured, like pencil sketches and show the human figure in almost psychological dimensions -- with elongated heads, sometimes portrayed from below, as if the artist is lying on the ground. His paintings of a Western man named Thomas are well known. Mao Yan is a graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. He now lives and works in Nanjing.
In 1990s he created a series of portrait paintings modelled on his friends around him, which in a way reflected his life in Nanjing. His friends there are mostly prominent figures from the avant-garde circles of literature and art and as well as his students. Whether Mao admits or not, taste and style of his works both perfectly match with Nanjing’s city character and its vanguard position in the Chinese avant-garde movement around 1985. One of Mao’s earliest works about the intellectual elites, “Portrait of Xiao Shan”, painted in 1992, earned him a “Scholarship Prize” in the “Guangzhou Art Biennale in the 1990s”, an event that greatly boosted his reputation. Around the year 2000, Mao’s works began to move towards even simpler a form. He began to replace whole-length portraits with half-length ones, or simply with mere faces. Representative works of that period include works like “Profile of Xiao Shan”, “My Poet”, “Face in Youth Time” and others. In these paintings, settings and clothes of characters were reduced to only the necessary outline. The list of painters he admires include 17th century Dutch school’s Johannes Vermeer, a Catholic living in protestant Holland, who depicted images of wealthy townspeople in fixed perspectives, and endowed the common with an aureole of permanent stillness, all of which resulted from restrained expression and proper barriers set in the pictures, while expressions and movements were simplified even more, without specific personalities. As other influences to his works, Mao Yan frequently likes to quote Albrecht Dürer, Eugène Delacroix and Francisco Goya.
A chance encounter with a foreigner in 1999 almost determined Mao’s later path of creation. During an ordinary dinning occasion he got acquainted with Thomas, a Luxembourger studying Chinese in Nanjing; their friendship evolved while drinking and playing football together. Thomas was a simple and quiet person with a fairly introvert character; Mao began to paint portraits of this friend, and this enterprise turned out to last a decade during which nearly one hundred pieces were created. Thomas became the sole object in Mao’s recent 10 years art experience, which turned “Mao and Thomas” into another topic of conversation.
Jorg Immendorff was born in Bleckede, in 1945 Lower Saxony. When he was 11 years old, his father left the family. This traumatic experience has been used to explain Immendorff's later feelings of inadequacy and emotional remoteness. He visited the boarding School Ernst-Kalkuhl Gymnasium. He studied at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf (Kunstakademie Düsseldorf) under Joseph Beuys. The academy expelled him because of some of his (left-wing) political activities and neo-dadaist actions. From 1969 to 1980 he worked as an art teacher at a public school, and then as a free artist, holding visiting professorships all over Europe. In 1989 he became professor at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main and in 1996 he became professor at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf — the same school that had dismissed him as a student.
His paintings are sometimes reminiscent of surrealism and often use irony and heavy symbolism to convey political ideas. He named one of his first acclaimed works "Hört auf zu malen!" ("Stop painting!") He was a member of the German art movement Neue Wilde. Best known is his Cafe Deutschland series of sixteen large paintings (1977–1984) that were inspired by Renato Guttuso’s Caffè Greco; in these crowded colourful pictures, Immendorff had disco-goers symbolize the conflict between East and West Germany, which main theme is the Café Deutschland, thickly applied, broken colours in various nuances of light and shade predominate; pure, brilliant, unmixed colours are nowhere to be seen. The diluted synthetic resin paint applied in several layers results in a smooth, almost textureless surface. Immendorff paints fast. Sections painted in generous, broad brush strokes which become almost unrecognisable, pure allusion at the edges, are combined with details applied with almost draughtsman like precision. Since the 1970s, he worked closely with the painter A. R. Penck from Dresden (in East Germany)