Interview | Tang Yongxiang

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T = Tang Yongxiang

RD = Research Department at the Magician Space


RD: We seem to be able to observe a special logic in your works, which grants your work (and you) a unique openness. Where does this quality come from?


T: I didn’t suddenly realize the logic of my paintings. I have been thinking about what a painting is and if it requires the use of representative images for a long time. For me, the indexicality of the image will provide the viewer with a distinct perspective. The content of the (representative) image is already perfect; it’s no longer necessary for it to become a painting.

The photos I choose are all casually shot with my mobile phone in daily life, they don’t have much indexicality and often present unexpected compositions or capture unanticipated moments. I use these photos as an excuse to paint. And my job is to seize these ungraspable images and reconsider them in my mind.


RD: As such, your work may be the moment when you wonder if an image can initiate (and lead to) a painting, but what do you think about the relationship between image and painting, and how do you work specifically?


T: I have always been in the process of mutually adjusting to each other with images. The information that the image brings me may point to a fixed way of thinking. During this process, I try to change parts of the image and cover the unsuitable parts with paint. But I do not forcibly change the image, since departing the image completely is another matter. That is re-creation. My painting is a procedure of constant questioning and finding answers by myself. For example, when I try to replace the colors in a work, these colors present new relationships, and I will be able to start new experiments. Human minds are not straightforward, sometimes I let my mind wonder, incorporating the influence of the outside world on me. Otherwise, all paintings will end up in a similar state.

When I work, I keep imagining, sometimes the consideration of color comes from minimalism, sometimes I treat objects as (pieces in) a collage or installation. I contemplate the arrangement of forms on a canvas. In this process I look for the contingency of the picture, like in the works I created for Art Basel Hong Kong this time. The original picture has many diagonal lines. I accidentally found a few points on one diagonal line, and finally followed this relationship and created the triangular structure of the painting.


RD: Accidents, or more specifically contingency, is an interesting concept. It seems to be the source of the possibility of your photos to become paintings. In particular, your paintings are not completely separated from the original photo. Thus, the accidents that lie in your photos gradually emerge as you work. Is there a meaning of time here? 
T: My repeated experiments are essentially waiting for accidents or the contingency. It is not my own to cover repeatedly, but the artist cannot simply wait. Coloring is progressing while waiting, it is the result of waiting for accidents and also the remnant of the process of waiting. When I keep working, I collide with possibilities in time. (If) I don’t capture the possibility of this moment, it might disappear and become something else. Therefore, from another point of view, possibilities are just (a form of) time, and the traces of time are all in my paintings. Conversely, if the purpose of painting is to complete an image, the image will attract all the attention. 
RD: Do you mean that your paintings have two layers — the surface and the interior? 
T: How does a painter understand art? If only as a painting, just look at the surface. (But) for me, I don’t paint for the sake of painting. It is a period of time, containing all the ideas in the process. The things formed within the frame during this period of time ended up being covered by white or another color. However, I believe that painting one color for ten times and one times are different. It’s like floating from the bottom of a pound to the surface. The surface of the water has the simplest line and the lightest color, but (underneath it) there are some lines and forms that cannot be obscured. As a painting, the surface embodies the aesthetic considerations, but the bottom is something that belongs to me, like the scent and temperature of the skin, although we all exist on the surface layer in the end. 
RD: What do you think of these paintings? You interact with images all the time; can we regard your paintings which are much more than surface layers as a part of your life? 
T: My relationship with images and the state of painting as understood with the metaphor of the skin will be blended together. These are what I have seen and am experiencing. I can continue to work on a painting as long as it is in the studio. The longer it stays with me, my understanding of it shifts at each stage. But (the painting) leaving the studio marks the end; it is no longer related to me; The other relationships that come next, such as display and viewing, are the ones in which I won’t participate. Even the naming of the painting can be left to others. It is all open for me. 

RD: Can we understand it in the way that you are experimenting with a type of painting that has no point and perhaps also no end? It begins with images of your daily life and moves towards your state of painting. However, the end of it is not determined by your judgment of the picture, you hand it over to a larger world. 
T: The result is uncertain. My previous works were in a known (or determined) state; once I finish painting, it was over. Now I leave more space for the unknown, only thinking about one part (at a time) or the work in the next few days. I treat these images in the manner of an hourglass. They first become very narrow, and then they enter the realm of my control and start expanding again. The state of creativity is linked to thought; works without thinking are meaningless. One must pay attention to this primary and secondary relationship. In this process, your past experience generates rationality that tugs at chance. 

RD: This state of non-attachment is not abstract. Your work and thinking both follow this coherent logic. But how can we describe this painting that is undergoing transformation? 
T: After a painting is completed, the audience sees a painting. But what is different about it? I hope to find a loop in the painting, like a spring, which is a circle when viewed from the front and another dimension when viewed from the side. This is my understanding of the picture, the pulling from the beginning to the end structures it. What’s in the middle is buried beneath (the surface), slowly revealing time.I want to build a platform in painting, placing myself in a state of constant changes and experimenting with unresolved problems and undetermined things.