Returning to Nature through a Reclusive Life

Artist: Yu Peng (Chinese, 1955–2014)

Date: dated 1996

Culture: China

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: Image: 91 5/16 x 20 7/8 in. (231.9 x 53 cm)
Overall: 117 x 22 in. (297.2 x 55.9 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of David Solo, in honor of Maxwell K. Hearn, 2007

Accession Number: 2007.482

Rights and Reproduction: © Yu Peng


Yu Peng belongs to the first generation of artists born in Taiwan after the Nationalist government reestablished itself on the island in 1949, and his art, like that of many of his contemporaries, often addresses the politically fraught issue of cultural identity in Taiwan. Yu lives in Taipei but has asserted his mainland Chinese heritage by naming his residence the Pingyang Studio, after his ancestral hometown in Hebei Province. In exploring the legacy of his historic homeland, he has constructed his own interpretation of a "literati" way of life. Adopting an approach that is both whimsical and satirical, Yu selectively evokes the ways of the ancients while simultaneously acknowledging the blend of nostalgia and modern, middle-class taste prevalent in metropolitan Taipei after its rapid economic growth during the 1980s and 1990s.

Employing a traditional medium and format, Yu divided his composition roughly into thirds. The central section is dominated by a red ground, where a figure dressed to resemble a scholargentleman is seated. He is surrounded by ten mannequin-like figures and backed by a painted screen—elements that may allude to the artist's interest in shadow puppet theater. The crowded lower third of the painting presents a fantastical garden bustling with curious figures and objects associated with Chinese antiquity. The landscape in the top third of the composition similarly references traditional styles.