Capturing the essence of Tibet
Yu Hanyu (right) gives a calligraphy demonstration during the exhibition’s opening reception over the weekend. Hanyu described calligraphy as the oldest and most abstract art form in Chinese history.

IB/Perrotta

Capturing the essence of Tibet

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
2/14/2019


EAST ISLIP—The Islip Art Museum held the opening reception for its latest exhibition, “The Majesty of Tibet,” on Saturday, Feb. 9.

The solo exhibition features the work of Yu Hanyu, a prominent figure in Chinese landscape painting and calligraphy. He also serves as director of the Ben Yuan Academy of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy in Beijing, one of the country’s leading private art schools. 

“His style of painting—depicting the jagged convergences of nature—suggest the struggle against the elements while communicating the struggle within nature’s fierce forces of creations,” an Islip Art Museum brochure reads. “Some of  [his] paintings are in black and white, and some in vivid color—most likely based on the artist’s mood and reinforces the influence of Western abstract expressionists and impressionists.” 

Hanyu said during the opening reception that it was an honor for his work to be displayed at the same venue that in the past, featured the work of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. 

It’s clear that Hanyu loves Tibet. He travelled to the region more than 50 times in 13 years, often in difficult conditions. When asked what is it about the region that fascinates him, Hanyu said that Tibet has been largely “untouched” throughout art history. He even went so far as to say Tibet has the “most beautiful landscapes on Earth.” 

Hanyu’s son, Yu Mengeng, served as translator throughout the afternoon. When asked if his Tibetan landscapes have any political implications, given the tensions between China and Tibet, Hanyu acknowledged that the Tibetan sovereignty debate is a focus topic not just in China, but also throughout the world. 

“What I look to do [with my artwork] is capture the essence of the landscape,” Hanyu said, “and keep politics out.” 

Lynda Moran, the Islip Art Museum’s executive director, said during the opening reception that the exhibit has been nearly a year in the making. Moran explained that the exhibit’s curator, Gan Yu, once taught Chinese ink art and calligraphy classes and workshops at the Islip Art Museum for many years. 

So, being familiar with the museum, he approached her last spring with the idea of a solo exhibition featuring Hanyu’s work.  

The Islip Art Museum, Moran said, had never hosted a solo exhibition before. “So we really started looking into the possibility and what you see here today is a result of [Yu’s] proposal,” Moran remarked. 

Yu said the Islip Art Museum was appealing to him, as well as Hanyu, because of its work with international artists with unique styles. 

Yu previously curated Hanyu’s solo exhibition “Force of Nature, the Power of the Brush,” which was on display last summer at the Ethan Cohen Fine Arts gallery in New York City. When asked what he finds most interesting about Hanyu’s work, Yu said it “gathers the strands of aesthetic tradition and delivers them into realms of abstraction to achieve maximum expression.” 

Stephanie Lee, one of the co-curators, was first introduced to Hanyu’s work through Moran when she asked her to work on the exhibit back in April 2018. Lee said, upon seeing the artist’s samples, she was impressed with the scale of his work, which she describes as being “full of energy” and “rich in culture.” 

Lee has co-curated multiple exhibits at the Islip Art Museum within the last year that appeared in this newspaper, including “East Meets West” (March 15, 2018) and “Diaspora” (Nov. 15, 2018). 

Lee said she can easily relate to Hanyu’s work because her Asian background and Korean heritage are a main subject of her work. “I think it’s natural and genuine that artists seek deep inspiration from their cultural background,” she said, adding that Hanyu’s work has an authenticity that she feels appeals to audiences.

The first time Lee met Hanyu was at his solo exhibition at the Ethan Cohen art gallery. “It was interesting to meet Hanyu in person,” Lee said, adding that despite the energy and scale of his artwork, he was a “rather calm person with a gentle smile.” 

Mary O’Malley, another co-curator, said she was asked to come aboard because the museum felt they needed a native speaker. O’Malley was born and raised in Sayville, and has since moved to London for her various artistic endeavors. “I go back and forth a lot,” she said, adding that her work in ceramics has taken her to China in the past. 

O’Malley also echoed Lee’s previous comments regarding Hanyu’s reserved demeanor, adding, “but his work is quite powerful.” 

“The Majesty of Tibet” will be on display until Saturday, March 30 at the Islip Art Museum on Irish Lane in East Islip.