This is the first exhibition in the UK of work by Shanghai-based Chinese artist Ding Yi. Consisting of seventeen works, dated from 1989, it follows the development of his career since he became expressly preoccupied with the simple cross motifs, 'x' and '+'.
Early attempts at more expressionistic figurative painting were superseded by a constant use of grid structures, articulated by the intersection of lines at 90 and 45 degrees, painted in various colours. The technique was hard-edged and the overall effect, pictorially democratic, absolutely compelling at once in its breadth and detail. Acrylic on canvas, this kind of work in turn gave way to a practice that involved a range of non-art materials and a more informal style. Instead of using masking tape, which gave the work a seamless quality, Ding Yi now paints by hand every mark that's made, slowly criss-crossing the surfaces of his paintings without taking any short cuts.
By the late 1990s Ding Yi's preferred medium support, instead of plain canvas, was check and tartan cloth. His mark-making thus resonates with the patterns, his applied colours playing off those in the cloth left exposed, the repetition of a craft-like activity superimposed on that of an industrial weaving process. The result is as aesthetically rich as it is conceptually satisfying, the crosses articulating basic truths in shimmering pictorial fields.
Crosses, as the intersections of two lines, such as longitude and latitude, are often the means by which a precise location is indicated. In Ding Yi's work they take on an existentialist significance, as mantra-like gestures they reiterate the fact that the artist physically "was there'. Without being particularly religious, the artist acknowledges the influence of Taoism, especially in his aspiration to simplicity and the blurring of boundaries – signified, for example, by a transparency of process and confusion of motif and ground. Yet, at the same time, Ding Yi asserts the metropolitan nature of his work, its increasingly bright colours being inspired by the neon quality of Shanghai at night. His new work is at once a kind of a meditation and a contemporary Chinese rejoinder to Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie, beautiful and thoughtful, quite unlike any other painting being made today. Seen here, in the context earlier series, it makes an interesting case for the continuing relevance of abstraction in contemporary art.
The project overall could not have been realised without the enlightened support of Visiting Arts and Birmingham's 2005 Urban Fusion Programme, in turn supported by Arts Council England and the Millenium Commission. This catalogue, in particular, results from the constructive collaboration between Ikon and Shanghart. Our thanks to many individuals whose goodwill and enthusiasm has made all the difference, especially Dao Bing, Huang Du, Hou Hanru, Lorenz Helbling, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Shen Ruiye. Above all, to Ding Yi, for his unique vision.