A schizophrenic success story
Rather than being an organised retrospective of a single artist's work over a number of years, this rather schizophrenic show by respected mainland artist Yuan Yunfu appeared almost to be the work of a dozen different painters, each with different mentors and experiences.
So, for example, looking at just one wall of the gallery, one painting is a fairly European depiction of flowers in a vase, the falling leaves and unstable bunch of bananas bellying the description of 'still' life.
Next to it is a watercolour of a Chinese river scene, with flattened, almost cartoon-like perspective, followed by the wonderful Elm of Tang Dynasty with its matted branches laced against a lemon moon. With its tiny door in a tiny wall, it reminded me of a John Masefield children's novel about a forest of witches on Halloween.
The next painting, Silver Mountain, is again completely different: more gnarled branches but this time in a much more traditional Chinese landscape, the trees standing against a mountain that doubles as a lightning storm. The drizzling grey is lifted by the brightest of blues behind the forest. Further on there are flower and bird drawings, brush paintings of Guilin, whispy abstract stems and fractured street scenes with goddesses and opera puppets.
One of the most surprising paintings is a marvellously dark, angry black ink depiction of iron architecture. With its sense of the oppression of urban engineering works, this could only be a picture of New York.
Among his best works are those which seem to show the influence of Zhang Daqian, including the large-scale Golden Blue, The Spring Morning with delicious blue mists scattered over mountains that luxuriate under a gilt sky.
It is a mystical imaginary land of white ghostly trees, and shows what is, perhaps, the one thing that pulls this divergent exhibition together: the consistently fertile imagination of its creator.
The Art Exhibition of Professor Yuan Yunfu, Pao Galleries, Arts Centre. December 25-30