Monday, July 07, 2014

Chinese Landscape - Tattoo

Looking at players in the World Cup this month I have wondered whether those reports last year that we have reached 'peak beard' can be right, and, if they are, whether we nonetheless still have some way to go before reaching 'peak tattoo'.  Sadly I have not spotted any landscape tattoo designs so far on the footballers' arms and torsos (although a quick Google tells me that a couple of years ago VfB Stuttgart's Julian Schieber got inked with a view of his home village of Weissach).  In contemporary art, Huang Yan has specialised in this kind of thing, although his work, beginning with Chinese Landscape - Tattoo (1999) is actually a form of body painting.  Here's how the Met describes that series: 'Huang covers his torso and arms with traditional landscape scenes, presenting his “reincarnation” of literati-style painting. The composition, modelled in ink and colors on a white ground by Huang’s wife, the artist Zhang Tiemei, follows the natural form of Huang’s body. In the photos, the artist’s face is cropped away and Huang’s anonymous torso becomes an emblem of the Chinese everyman who cannot be separated from his cultural heritage, which, like his racial identity, is as indelible as a tattoo.'

Over the last fifteen years Huang has produced numerous variations on this theme.  What happens when a landscape is painted onto a face?  In Four Seasons (2005) the model is expressionless under each seasonal view, although in two of them his eyes are open, making it much harder to regard his face as merely a blank canvass.  In Pine Landscape Dyptich (2007), a nude woman takes the leaves and branches painted on her body into the boughs of a real pine tree.  Dismantle Landscape (2005) begins with a photograph of another tree-covered model, posed against a landscape backdrop painted in more of a 'Western style'; as the camera zooms out we see her standing on what looks like the floor of a building site and in the last image she is surrounded by construction workers.  You can see others in the YouTube clip I have embedded above.  Huang has also made sculptural work in this vein: a ceramic landscape skull, busts of Mao decorated with traditional motifs (including a Landscape with Figures and a Boat, 2004), and Pork Landscape 1 (2001), which is, as the title indicates, a piece of pork - the fat redolent of swirling mist and the meat a backdrop for blue hills and a tree covered in pink blossom.

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