Mao Yan

Mao Yan
b. 1968, Xiangtan, Hunan
A virtuoso portrait painter, his fascination with technique is apparent from his remarkable untitled early self-portrait imitating Rembrandt’s portrait of himself as a young man. Opting for the subtler, classical and tranquil techniques of painting, he seemed to unearth fresh possibilities, imbuing the stillness of his subjects with contemporary edginess. Graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1991, he was assigned to teach at the Nanjing Academy of Art. Mao shot to national attention soon afterwards at the 1992 Guangzhou Biennial with his humorous portrait of the art critic Li Xiaoshan and a screaming doll sidekick.
His later portraits tend to tone down both the range of colours and the subject’s expressiveness. Mao’s preference to work from photographs keeps the subject at a controllable distance, as if he is not so interested in his or her personality or individuality, but in interacting with the process of painting human beings. Such speculation is borne out in titles such as The Nature of Portraiture (1998). Despite his seemingly unfashionable choice, the timeless approach of Mao’s hermitic exploration seems to slip him to the forefront of contemporary Chinese art. Mao Yan’s paintings have been shown at, among other venues, the 1996 Shanghai Biennial and the exhibition ‘One Hundred Years of Chinese Portraiture’ in Beijing (1997).
Li, Xianting (1997). ‘The Boundary between Language and Craft—In Reference to the Works of Mao Yan and Zhou Chunya (Yüyuan yü shouyi de jiexian). In The Nature of Portraiture (exhibition catalogue). Beijing: Gallery of the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.