Yan Pei-Ming (b. 1960), Grand Timonier. photo Christie's Ltd 2011
signed in Chinese, signed, titled and dated 'Grand Timonier 2000 Yan Pei-Ming' (on the reverse), oil on canvas, 98 3/8 x 98 3/8in. (250 x 250cm.). Painted in 2000. Estimate £250,000 - £350,000. Price Realized £529,250
Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2000.
Notes: 'When, for example, I paint the portrait of Mao, I am painting a father figure, someone who is strangely close, but also distant from me' (Pei-Ming, interview with O. Sand, Asian Art Newspaper, 2004).
Executed in 2000, Grand Timonier or the Great Helmsman radiates from the massive canvas with bold strokes of red vermillion oil paint. Rich with the broad, expressive gestures Yan Pei-Ming is renowned for, Grand Timonier depicts the iconic leader of the Chinese communist revolution, Mao Zedong, in the symbolic colours of his Little Red Book. Yan Pei-Ming's painting joins the stable of other artists who have looked at the despotic ruler as a source of inspiration for their works. In the hands of Andy Warhol, Mao's portrait becomes a celebration of media celebrity and hard power. In Gerhard Richter's, his image becomes a historical artefact. In Yan Pei-Ming's painting, there is a new dimension. Mao's portrait, whilst projecting an aura of authority, offers an original commentary on the questions of Chinese identity, grappling with the legacy of the Chairman as an icon in the artist's homeland and as a human being.
Yan Pei-Ming grew up in a Buddhist monastery in China during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In the 1980s, he moved to Dijon, France where he began his formal artistic training and encountered the works of Western masters, amongst them: Vincent van Gogh, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock, whose expressive works greatly influenced Yan Pei-Ming's own innovative use of paint. Using brushes sometimes as wide as 20 inches or 50 inches across, the artist harnessed the skills of traditional Buddhist calligraphers to incorporate elements of chance in a spontaneous form of creativity. Yan Pei-Ming has always gravitated towards the portrait, returning again and again to the genre in order to depict himself, the people of his past, and the venerated visages of people such as Pope John Paul II, Bruce Lee and Chairman Mao. In Grand Timonier, Yan Pei-Ming adopts his tested approach, restricting his palette to the red of communist China and transposing the fullfrontal composition of Chairman Mao's official portraiture. Tightly cropping the compositional frame around his head and eliminating all contextual detail, Yan Pei-Ming objectifies the image as if in a common identity photo. This allows the viewer to evaluate the visage in an unconventional and un-idealised way, rendering Mao an imperfect and mortal being: lugubrious, aged, and with a disinterested gaze, subject to the same fate as everyone else.
Christie's.Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 16 February 2011 , London, King Street www.christies.com