Art & Soul: Josh Yu's work challenges best of East and West in Savannah exhibitChinese painting
Josh Yu attended medical school in China, but he always yearned to be an artist.
“Before the Cultural Revolution in China, we had no choices,” he explains. “In America, I had many more choices, so I decided to move here and to become an artist and an educator.”
Yu moved to the U.S. 45 years ago and ended up becoming an artist at Epcot Center in Orlando, painting portraits of tourists and creating art at the China Pavilion for two years. After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in painting — and exhibiting his work in dozens of international shows — he began teaching painting at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 1992.
Over the years, Yu has skillfully blended Eastern and Western aesthetic influences, experimenting with various media, formats and creative approaches. He combines traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy with western approaches to abstraction and expressionism, offering a variety of interpretations of the natural world.
“Transformation,” a solo exhibit currently on display at Gallery S.P.A.C.E., showcases Yu’s wide-ranging approach to art over the past 25 years. The exhibition reveals his ongoing experimentation with oil paint, watercolor, gouache and mixed media. Unlike many artists who find one niche and stick with it, Yu loves to expand his repertoire and try new things.
“Creating art is my way of pursuing absolute freedom,” he says. “My whole process of making art is like meditation. It’s not just about me expressing my anger or my happiness.”
“Cloudy Mountain,” a 6-foot-tall Chinese-inspired painting, offers a dazzling view of clouds settling like smoke upon a verdant tree canopy. Using delicate brushstrokes and extensive use of green and white, Yu emphasizes the verticality of the trees, land and sky. In keeping with traditional Chinese painting, the human imprint is light and almost negligible.
“Chinese painting focuses more on natural elements than the figure,” he says. “In Chinese painting, connecting a tiny human figure with a huge landscape connects back to the Tao. The human imprint shouldn’t fight against or damage the natural order.”
One of the highlights of “Transformation” is Yu’s mixed media work, like “Impermanence,” which arranges a series of 30 oval “faces” in a geometric 6-by-5 grid that suggests the interconnection of human experience and hints at the fleeting nature of life itself.
“I always emphasize spontaneity, even thought the work is complex and has multiple layers,” he says.
Color serves as a critical element in Yu’s work, whether he creates Chinese fan paintings, watercolors, still lifes, Asian landscapes, abstract experiments or expressionistic compositions. He alternates between the deep, natural greens of the forest and more intense lime, magenta and crimson hues.
“Color is a very strong language for artists to use,” he explains. “It’s very important.”
The artist describes his “Bridge Series,” which focuses the eye upon the silhouette of bamboo leaves against topaz, emerald or raspberry backgrounds, as an attempt to connect Eastern and Western culture. A series of detailed, almost mythic portraits on the gallery’s south wall reveals thoughtful meditations upon Asian spirituality
Ultimately Yu’s training in the medical field has come in handy, although not in the ways he may have originally expected.
“My medical background helps me look at things in a scientific way, not a just in a romantic way,” he says. “It makes me a better observer.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Artist Josh Yu was born in China and graduated from medical school before moving to the United States and earning a BFA from the Memphis College of Art and an MFA in Painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He has worked as a painting professor at SCAD since 1992 and has exhibited his work in international solo exhibitions and group shows.