Chiang Yomei's abstract paintings draw on her Buddhist beliefs, presenting their deeply reworked surfaces as meditations on impermanence.Read More
Yomei was born in Taipei, Taiwan. Yomei's childhood was defined by the rise and fall of her family's political power. Her great-grandfather was Chiang Kai-shek, the president of Taiwan/the Republic of China throughout the 20th century. As a child, Yomei went through a traditional Chinese education, learning landscape painting under Hu Nian-Tzu, life drawing with Li Der, and watercolour painting with Wang Lan, all celebrated masters of their medium.
Yomei obtained a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kent at Canterbury (1984) and continued to study Chinese Art History at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. In 1994, Yomei received another Bachelor of Arts with a focus on Fine Art from the Winchester School of Art.
Chiang Yomei's painting process alternates between building and disintegrating, manifesting elemental works that reflect a transitory in-between state.
Yomei's work echoes her Buddhist beliefs, in that their abstraction borrows elements of spiritual and esoteric philosophies, symbols, and rituals. Working across poetry, painting, and installation, Yomei challenges the permanence of materials and, more broadly, our existence.
Yomei's process involves building and stripping layers of materials to create canvases that have an alchemical relationship to Buddhist chanting. In Heart Sutra (2015), Chiang wrote the Sanskrit text of the eponymous Buddhist scripture across five sheets of canvas, before submerging this in layers of materials. The symbolism of materials used—incense ash, hair, feathers, burnt fabric, sand, and dried and crushed seeds—refers to the natures of death and rebirth, fundamental tenets of her Buddhist beliefs. As Yomei explains, she is interested in the 'point of tension between absence and presence,' where 'boundaries and identities are just illusions.' Her processes of erasure and overwriting echoes the repetition of meditative chanting, where the form and syllable is abstracted into a mass of energy, imbued with Yomei's intention.
Her ink paintings on paper also explore repetitive marks, although here subsumed in washy blooms of water. A series of such works called 'The Spell of the Sensuous' (2019) demonstrate her parsed visual language—only a few fluid strokes of ink define the compositions, each painting appearing as a ritual of process and meditation.
Yomei's installations and poetry are similarly motivated to her paintings, with references to Zen concepts like transcendence and spiritual awakening. The installation I can see what I am (2013) from the 'Famen' series creates an illusory space between two parallel mirrors, where the viewer's image becomes inverted and endlessly repeated, revealing the cyclical nature of the viewer's 'relative reality'.
Her desire to communicate the ephemerality of life is also manifest in Crossing (2016), an installation where hundreds of white paper slippers were suspended in a sweeping flutter across the gallery. Each fragile slipper was handmade from Chinese Xuan paper and inscribed with the Sanskrit syllable 'AH', a primal chanting sound which itself symbolises the breaking of barriers. Yomei relates this installation to the period following the death of her grandfather, whose housekeeper kept his worn slippers and a glass of water beside his bed for 49 days, following a Chinese tradition that welcomes the spirit back home. In Crossing, Yomei felt like 'the only that thing that connected me to his essence was the last pair of slippers he wore.'
Yomei has published two books of poems, Every Now and then a Solitary Bell (赤裸的心) and In Vishnu's Dream (2013).
Chiang Yomei has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions worldwide.
Select solo exhibitions include Doors of Perception, Tina Keng Gallery, Taipei (2018); Other Realms, Sotheby's, Hong Kong (2016); The Hidden Heart, Elena Shchukina Gallery, London (2015); A Space Elsewhere, Tina Keng Gallery, Taipei (2013); Spark, Tina Keng Gallery, Taipei and Beijing (2011); and On Board the Lotus Express, Gallery Maya, London (2007).
Select group exhibitions include Frieze London 2021 (2021); JingArt, Beijing (2019); ART021, Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair (2018); Plus2, TKG+, Taipei (2015); The Golden Party: Transformation and Alchemy, Gallery 100, Taipei (2008); Olympia Art Fair, Bernard Chauchet Contemporary Art, London (2002); and Panorama of a New Generation, Bernard Chauchet Contemporary Art, London (2001).
Peter Derksen | Ocula | 2022