One autumn afternoon in 1978, artist Yang Yanping was passing by a farm’s neglected pond with fading lotus flowers on its surface. Struck by the appearance of the wilting flowers, she took some crumpled paper out of her pocket and started sketching them. Yang began studying how these flowers changed with the seasons, closely observing how the shifting elements affected color and light. Thus began Yang’s forty-year fascination with the lotus, a classic Buddhist symbol of purity, strength and enlightenment, and a frequent subject of traditional Chinese painting. Like the scholar-painters of eleventh-century China, Yang believes that art need not realistically represent the natural world, but rather painting reflects the inner mind of the artist. As an art student, Yang was similarly influenced by Western modernism, which also embraced tenets similar to Buddhist ideology: the expressionist primacy of the artist’s mind or subconscious, and an embrace of “chance” in the life of the artwork.
Yang employs a brush as well as more non-traditional techniques, including pressing crumpled and inked paper onto her paintings. In Autumn Morning (1999) we see the textured and luminous effect of Yang’s masterful handling of her medium: the ink gently shifts from purples to reds, reds to yellows, greens to blacks, creating a dynamic yet harmonious composition. In this rich spectrum of colors, Yang captures the shifting phases from life to death, as the lotus represents “transience, the fragility of nature, and the potential for regeneration” (Michael Goedhuis, “Yang Yanping,” http://www.michaelgoedhuis.com/Yang-YanpingDesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=45&tabindex=44&artistid=106481). According to the Buddhist core concept of presence, inner peace is achieved by being as present as possible in the very moment. Yang’s art exerts a powerful presence, and in our quiet exchange with it, the viewer achieves peace, wholeness, and presence of being.