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Author: G. James Daichendt, Professor of Art History, Art Critic, and Dean of the Colleges at Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, California



From his velvety electric landscapes to traditional Chinese ink paintings, Beijing-based artist Jiannan Huang (b. 1952) is no stranger to experimentation or bold use of color. Trained in traditional brush painting techniques, Huang uses that skill set as a foundation for an experimental approach to building landscapes that are closer to science fiction than reality. Huang’s devotion to nature on canvas becomes a sensory experience as he layers abstraction within these structured scenes that results in something closer to a memory or recollection of an important moment more so than a particular place.


A survey of Huang’s landscapes includes locations like deserts, mountains, rivers, and fields that could be located almost anywhere in the world. The consistent softness of the atmosphere and the effervescent haze that hangs over many of his works is reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s block-like forms floating above complementary colors that almost seem to push away from one another in a mystical fashion. This seemingly simple quality is enough to captivate the viewer and force them to consider these abstract qualities that build upon one another and combine to create a temper or tone in each image.


Cascade et rivière aux arbres, 2016


The painting Lac au Crépuscule, (Lake at Dusk) achieves depth through the layering of pigment that creates an illusion of distance. However, Huang’s background imagery is hardly concrete as shades of blue and orange mix to establish a horizon line that appears and disappears depending upon where the viewer focuses their attention. Sprinkled within the landscape are more refined organic plants and the presence of a few camels that give us a sense of proportion and some potential ideas about the locale of landscape. Yet the vague title and the slight hints of the region imply that there is more to this image than simply depicting a location. Instead, the colors fuse together and imply the sun’s closeness to the earth which is contrasted by the coolness of the lake and the low cloud cover that seems to limit our ability to see clearly.


Lac au Crépuscule, 2020


In contrast, the painting 梦中的歌谣 (Ballad in Dreams) reaches beyond realism and enters into fantasy as Huang’s forms become looser and more gestural. Here, the foreground resembles an abstract expressionist painting; as the landscape recedes, it is stylized with bold contour lines that capture pink cliffs and rocky, black mountains. These disparate styles are separated by a river that runs between these dramatically opposed styles as if acknowledging their differences. Focus on the painterly brush strokes reveals a lyrical quality, almost like a dance as the shapes fly around the bottom of the composition. It is a cosmic dance that pulls the viewer in through movement yet holds them at arm’s length with an abundance of energy that seems unstable. Beyond this combustible collection of elements, the landscape is otherworldly and reminiscent of the Surrealism movement and worlds one might find in a Salvador Dalí or Max Erst painting. A landscape from within, the framing elements of order are present, but the artist’s vision is clearly determining the details.


梦中的歌谣, 2020

 

Ink wash painting is one of the oldest forms of art making methods, utilizing shades of black to call attention to the spirit of the subject represented. In China, ink paintings have a regal tradition and are often compared with poetry for their careful use of line, form and handling of space. Many of the ideas found in traditional ink paintings were utilized within the American Arts & Crafts movement propagated by Arthur Wesley Dow and have become commonplace in basic art and design education in America. Significant among these concepts is the importance of combining line and color to create a harmonious composition. Calligraphy is a great example of a harmonious practice and uses the same black ink, but generally has a longer history than painting. It was only during the Song dynasty (960-1127) when painting and calligraphy became more closely aligned - a relationship continues in Huang’s work.


Huang’s calligraphy practice emphasizes the importance of text in the Chinese tradition. The seemingly abstract lines and forms in calligraphy are just a sample of the tens of thousands of Chinese characters in existence. These symbols convey much more than simple words and can include characteristics like energy or vitality. The simplicity of the brush coupled with complexity in the interpretation enables the dynamic meaning of 行书“上善若水”, where the calligraphy can be interpreted to mean “The highest good is like water, the earth’s condition is receptive devotion.” Within these carefully constructed symbols, brush strokes have an order, and each character has its own personality and myriad of meanings depending upon how the brush is used to make each mark.

行书“上善若水”, 2019


It’s no secret that the Abstract Expressionists of the mid-20th century revered Chinese calligraphy, an aspect of Huang’s education and professional work that can be seen when re-examining his landscapes. Just as artists like Jackson Pollock or Joan Mitchell embedded their emotions within their respective marks on canvas, Huang likewise infuses each stroke of paint with a great deal of history, symbology, and expression. Rather than thinking of his landscapes as representations of something real, it’s more appropriate to imagine the fleeting smell of tall grass or the humidity one feels on their skin as hot air is trapped within a wooded area. Far from academic renditions, these are fleeting senses that arise as Huang layers his paintings with an encyclopedia of forms and colors.


Given Jiannan Huang’s revere for calligraphy and his penchant for balanced compositions with a firm foundation, one can see how structure becomes very important in his work. As each symbol of calligraphy represents so much, Huang’s landscapes become a type of folklore that can be pulled apart line by line only to be combined once again for a fuller experience of the natural landscape. The combination of early styles of painting mixed with the artist’s concepts is reminiscent of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and the emergence of mind landscapes, a style that mixed feelings with traditional techniques. From the dew hanging in the air above a lake to the crisp air flowing between the rocky ridges up in the atmosphere, the forces of nature rush forward in each landscape as they are built both internal and external forces. As Huang continues to cultivate an imagined world, he appears to long for an imagined retreat where all are invited.



G. James Daichendt is a professor of art history, art critic, and the author of several books including Robbie Conal (2020): Streetwise: 35 Years of Politically Charged Guerrilla Art; Kenny Scharf: In Absence of Myth (2016), and Shepard Fairey Inc. Artist/Professional/Vandal (2014). He holds degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and Boston universities and serves as Dean of the Colleges at Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, CA.



  • The Beverly Arts

Author: Joey Zhou

Translated from Chinese poem

When I am inspired, I feel satisfied, when I am satisfied, I feel empty, when empty; so I follow the music, and when the music plays, I feel lonely....


Clam Chowder in an iron pan in a clean kitchen

Groaning...,

The lemon hanging on the side of the transparent cup is soaked with ice tea

Looking out the window...,

Life is an ant slowly getting out of the gap in the sink

Creeping out...,

A daffodil stares at the shadow in the mirror

Lingering is shining


The shower head is pouring behind the faint bathroom glass

Raindrops and teardrops...,

A ray of sunlight shines into the memory behind the screen windows on the land

Even dust is flying with notes...,


At this moment, inexplicable autumn leaves are choked in his chest

Wandering, wandering, wandering again...!

Oh, Montage! I want to drink coffee and loneliness


A few flying bees shuttled back and forth among the wildflowers


Dancing to my heart's content, my dedication...,


Put on a beige windbreaker and shake off a breeze

Look, the German Wolfhound named Xiao Hei is staring at me...,

The engine finally broke the deadlock and started the behemoth

Winding up the mountain to the crossroad...,


It turned out that the clam chowder was scorched in the pot with red eyes waiting for me to clean up the mess.


Oh, Montage, I want to drink coffee and loneliness


When I am inspired, I feel satisfied, when I am satisfied, I feel empty, when empty, so I follow the music, and when the music plays, I feel lonely.

Updated: Apr 29

Princess Karen Cantrell, Chairman of the Royal Society of St. George California, Sandro Monetti, Member, Board of Trustees for the Royal Society of St. George California, and Christopher A. Chambers, Lord of Skighaugh and Vice Chairman of the Royal Society of St. George California


Los Angeles, California, USA. 7th April, 2021. Jiannan Huang, internationally renowned artist, was awarded with an honorary membership into the Royal Society of St. George (RSSG) California at a ceremony held today at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. Due to the travel restrictions for COVID-19, Huang could not personally make the trip from China to receive the award in person, therefore Sandro Monetti, Member of the Board of Trustees for the Royal Society of St. George California, accepted the certificate and honorary membership medal on his behalf.




Huang was honored for his many achievements and contributions to the art world, his charity and donations to many causes around the world, and his work internationally as the Overseas Art Advisor for the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022. As an honorary member of RSSG, Huang has become the first artist in the 127-year history of the Royal Society to receive an honorary membership award. The Royal Society of St. George in England was established in 1894. The Royal Society of St. George is recognized as the world's leading British patriotic society. Since its establishment, the Royal Society of St. George has attracted members from all walks of life, and promotes the sharing of culture and heritage among its members.



The award ceremony was hosted by the Royal Society of St. George California, and co-organized by the Los Angeles Beverly Arts (LABA) and the Los Angeles International Arts Festival Organizing Committee. Princess Karen Cantrell and international TV host Joey Zhou co-hosted the ceremony. Guests included former news anchor and President of BEYOND TV, Carlos Amezcua, his wife, Sharon Amezcua, and singer/philanthropist Laura Angelini, who is also a member of the Royal Society of St. George California.