Yidan Guo is an artist who is combining ancient traditions with breathtaking examples of modern life. Her watercolor exhibition at Finch Lane Gallery, East vs. West, is just that. In the exhibition, the SUU professor presents a skillful mastery of Chinese Gongbi style painting, creating meticulously detailed portraits on Xuan paper or silk, and capturing a gorgeous sense of serenity within her subjects, each looking pensively into the unknowable distance.
In her artist statement, Guo says, “My portraits are a way of revealing a state of mind that is shared by every human being, a common concern about the meaning of happiness, fulfillment, morality and eternity.” One of the most striking examples of Guo’s ability to capture this moment within a portrait can be seen in the piece “A Buddhist Monk.” In the image, a young man in traditional red robes, called jiāshā, looks caught in a moment of reverie, possibly about to speak, but equally at a loss for words. Guo has captured the complexities of a deep human moment in this painting, as she has in many others.
In “Back to Then (Self-Portrait),” another rare moment is beautifully captured by Guo. A moment that is frozen in time, in a more rich and complex way than a simple photograph. This image is also done on silk using the traditional method, but contrasts “A Buddhist Monk” in several ways. Guo focuses on more elements of the scene instead of solely the main subject of the portrait, and captures a still frame of a day, offering the viewer a glimpse into her past.
The way that Guo contrasts East and West, however, is by exploring Western art in an equally masterful and poignant way. Opposite the traditional Chinese paintings in the Finch Lane Gallery space, a row of plein air watercolor paintings exhibit another layer of Guo’s skill. These paintings focus on the scene instead of an individual. Some show places that may be familiar to people in the Utah area, as in “Mt. Timpanogos,” and “Morning Light on Cedar Breaks,” but Guo also infuses her Western style with Eastern themes, however. Some of them feature Eastern architecture, such as “Spring Buddhist Temple in Morning Light,” a piece that is a celebration of colors and graceful spires rising into the air, the contrasts between light and shadows giving it the aura of early morning.
Whether it is her skillful use of traditional Chinese methods, her fantastic application of Western style, or her fusion of the two together, offering them the chance to play off one another in theme and influence, Guo’s ability to display different kinds of watercolor painting is a delight not to be missed.
“East vs. West,” watercolors by Yidan Guo, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Sept. 22, Gallery Stroll receptions Aug. 18 and Sept. 15, 6-9 p.m.
Andrea Wall is a graduate of Southern Utah University with a BA in Creative Writing, and minors in both Ceramics and Theatre Arts. She completed an honors thesis that focused on the synthesis of literature and ceramics. She plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Master’s degree in ceramics, and to work as a studio artist and writer.