Untitled, Smile-ism No.16, 2006
Sea of the Brain
Lovers, Hats Series, 2005, oil on canvas, 170 x 140 cm
Backyard Garden, 2007, oil on canvas, 400 x 280 cm
Armed Forces, 2005, oil on canvas, 170 x 140 cm
Inside and outside the Stage, 2009, oil on canvas, 336 x 267cm
I am Dragon – 2, 2008, oil on canvas, 220 x 200 cm
The Execution, 1996, 0il on canvas, 150 x 300 cm
“I’m actually trying to make sense of the world,” he said. “There’s nothing cynical or absurd in what I do.”
Mr. Yue was born in 1962 in the far northern Heilongjiang Province of China and as a child moved to Beijing with his parents. He studied oil painting at the Hebei Normal University and graduated in 1989, when China was rocked by student-led demonstrations and their suppression on Tiananmen Square in June of that year.
“My mood changed at that time,” he said. “I was very down. I realized the gap between reality and the ideal, and I wanted to create my own artistic definition, whereby there could be a meeting with social life and the social environment.”
“The first step,” he added, “was to create a style to express my feelings accurately, starting with something that I knew really well —myself.” That was the first step toward forging what has become the image that has now made him famous. The second step was to devise the laugh, which, he said, was inspired by a painting he saw by another Chinese artist, Geng Jianyi, in which a smile is deformed to mean the opposite of what it normally means.
“So I developed this painting where you see someone laughing,” he said. “At first you think he’s happy, but when you look more carefully, there’s something else there.”
“A smile,” Mr. Yue said, “doesn’t necessarily mean happiness; it could be something else.”