Saturday, May 2, 2009

Yuming Zhu

The April, 2009 art show at the Solovei Art Gallery, was entitled Vision Passion” is devoted to the paintings of Yuming Zhu.

Zhu, originally from Shanghai, China, is accomplished in the style and technique of traditional Sumi painting on silk and rice paper with ink or Chinese watercolor. He has taught many classes and workshops around the Puget Sound area on these topics. Zhu is also adept at calligraphy and he often adds Chinese characters to paintings in this style.

This show contains a few of Zhu’s paintings in this Eastern style. “Go-Green” depicts radishes and calligraphy. “Singing Silently” depicts a floral scene with bold and expressive color: red blossoms surrounded by leaves in a turquoise blue

Most of the paintings on display are oil paintings. Zhu sometimes refers to his art as Lyrical Impressionism. This label gets at the Zhu’s underlying aesthetic struggle. The predominate subject matter in this show is the musician in the act of performance. Most commonly he shows us women with cellos. Zhu also refers to his work cryptically as “Tans-ism”. His work bridges East and West, and with these images he is also attempting to translate music, an auditory experience into two-dimensional artwork, a visual experience.

Zhu works with bold color and strong, often-indistinct shapes as he searches for a painting that shows us how music sounds. Borrowing from his Sumi paintings, the brushwork in his oil paintings is deliberate and intentional. I want Zhu to succeed. As I stand in the center of the gallery space I attempt to listen to rather than look upon the paintings. What I “hear” is something akin to an orchestra warming up, rather than a melody; individual, rather than congruent. Perhaps this is because his women with their cellos are usually depicted alone. Perhaps the song is something deeper than the music: the deeper voice of the figure and the cello is just Zhu’s way of reminding us how beautiful that voice can be.

The painting, which had the greatest impact on me, was an oil painting he calls “Red Passionato”. This oil painting is one of the series of women playing cellos. The figure of the woman, composed in reds and blacks merges with the shape of the cello, which is arranged in golds and oranges. The woman and the cello are hopelessly commingled. The woman’s black hair flies off to the side as if carried on the notes of music. Yet in the center of the image the hand of the woman on the cello’s fingerboard, that part of her which rightfully should be filled with momentum and activity is gracefully poised and still.

While I cannot say that I have come away from this show with an understanding of the relationship between two-dimensional art and sound. I can say that this show allowed me to listen to paintings in a new and rewarding way.

Mike Mallory

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