Spotlight: Chinese Artist Yafeng Duan Translates Qi Into Color and Canvas in Her Newest Body of Work

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About the Artist: Originally hailing from Hebei, China, Berlin-based artist Yafeng Duan (b. 1973) has an artistic practice that synthesizes both Eastern and Western aesthetics and traditions. Duan’s father was an artist, and he introduced her as a child to the tradition of ink-wash painting. The artist first formally studied Chinese painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing before studying Western style painting at the University of the Arts Berlin. Nature and spirituality, as well as classical philosophy, are frequently found at the conceptual core of her work. Qi, meaning breath, can be understood as a flowing life force, and the idea of breath and breathing is commonly reflected in the compositions of Duan’s oeuvre.

What You Need to Know: Galerie Michael Janssen of Berlin is presenting a solo show of Yafeng Duan’s most recent body of work. On view from January 28 through March 18, 2023, the exhibition, “Yafeng Duan: Form of the Formless” illustrates the artist’s singular approach to color and composition. The phrase “form of the formless” refers to the work and ideas of philosopher Laozi, who is considered the father of Taoism. “Form of the formless,” both in the Taoist understanding and within the context of this exhibition, refers to a nebulous and limitless space through which absolutes of any kind are unattainable but possibilities are endless. Using this as a starting point, Duan’s work in the show explores the unbounded possibilities of abstraction and the way the artist can employ it to visually interpret ideas around Qi, nature, and physical existence.

Why We Like It: The confluence of Duan’s formal training experiences is clearly manifest in the works of the present exhibition. The blooming layers of sheer color recall traditional Chinese ink-wash painting, while the compositions and intervention of lines and textures are reminiscent of 1990s New Abstraction. Devoid of any narrative qualities or figuration, each work offers a glimpse into Duan’s internal world, and brings to the forefront the intuitiveness that drives Duan’s practice. They also provide a meditative space for the viewer, one connected back to the title of the show and its Taoist inspiration. The paintings operate as windows into the undefined yet full of possibility space that can only be found through breath and a deep connection with nature.

See inside the exhibition and featured works below.

Installation view of "Yafeng Duan: Form of the Formless" (2023). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Installation view of “Yafeng Duan: Form of the Formless” (2023). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Installation view of "Yafeng Duan: Form of the Formless" (2023). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Installation view of “Yafeng Duan: Form of the Formless” (2023). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Yafeng Duan, Untitled No.70 (2022). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Yafeng Duan, (2022). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Yafeng Duan, Untitled No.64 (2022). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Yafeng Duan, (2022). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Yafeng Duan, Untitled No.67 (2022). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Yafeng Duan, (2022). Photo: Studio Lepkowski. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Janssen, Berlin.

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