Ethnic Culture and Contemporary Spirit

The Art of

by Eva Tang

Chinese folk art is expressed in many different ways: embroidery, textiles, paper-cuts, masks, wood-carving, ceramics, and more. Each minority group has its particular way of expressing these art forms, but there are many common characteristics: strong colors, solid images, auspicious themes, rich and genuine compositions, exaggerated expressions, and metaphors. Shanye Huang expresses all these elements in his art, which retells the legends, themes, and customs of the people through colorful symbols.

Having grown up in Guangxi where there are many minority nationalities, Huang's passion for Chinese folk art—especially that of Zhuang, Miao, and Dong folk art—is so strong that he has felt compelled to integrate them with his concepts of contemporary art. Chinese folk art is a world of mystery and aesthetics, originating from ancient primitive art forms which symbolize the mysterious and haunting power of the supernatural. This art form carries over from generation to generation and perpetuates unity among the people.

In one of the articles that he wrote for Guangxi Art Newsletter, Huang stated: "The reason that I have been studying folk art is to observe and absorb the energy from the original source. Through its concept, aesthetic, and creativity, I looked for the areas that meet the view of modern society. Using it as the basis, I continuously create new art concepts and art work."

In his Love Songs series, Huang portrays the spirit and customs of his people, the Zhuang minority, by employing various symbols within his new technique of implication to glorify love, to praise life, and to convey a lively and energetic world. Viewers share the energy of the young men and women, musicians, dancers, and singers, feeling the romance, yearning, and other emotions of the characters.

Huang uses for his Miao/Hmong Theme the rich colors, embellished texture, and ancient symbols to carry the viewers into an infinitely mysterious territory of fantasy. The longer one looks at the paintings, the more one can see in their rich contents.

The Los Angeles Times described Shanye Huang's work as "lavished with vividly-colored decorative patterns that echo and ripple over the compositions." The Daily Sundial stated that Huang "created a colorful array of highly-stylized and spiritual work." Deriving from the patterns and motifs of his native minority and reflecting the symbolism and mythology of the ancient and rich Chinese culture with contemporary concepts, Shanye Huang has definitely created a unique style. Some say it reminds them of surrealism; others say that it is as mysterious as Indian art. While his work is sometimes perceived as derivative of Chinese paintings, it can also be described as new images of patterns and decoration. Huang has created a style that may be called a marriage of Western and Chinese folk art.

In short, Huang's unique style is a combination of realism and abstract, old and new, Eastern and Western, and that which is timeless. It reminds people of the post-modernism era where many different ideas and styles melded together. Shanye Huang is diligently and enthusiastically using this unique cultural identity to express his feeling for the new era.

To the galleries:

The Love Songs Series

The Miao/Hmong Theme


Shanye Huang grew up in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of Southwest China. He began drawing at age five. To encourage his son's talent, Huang's father used his hard-earned money to buy him paper, pencils, and other items and encouraged him to draw and paint. His talent was also recognized by his teachers at school. He would be asked to stay after class to decorate classroom bulletin boards while other students were told to do the cleaning chores on campus. After high school, he decided to pursue his studies in art. He was accepted at Guangxi Art College, and he graduated with outstanding achievement. His award-winning painting A Happy Miao Family was chosen for the National Youth Competition Exhibition at the National Art Museum in Beijing.

Upon graduation from college, he taught at a middle school in a minority village. There he was enchanted by the customs and folk art around him and determined that the modern education he was receiving would reflect this folk art. In 1987 he studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. He then perfected his style by employing the folk art elements of the minorities and the skills that he had developed in western painting. Huang's art was well-received when he was a lecturer at Guangxi Art College. In 1993, he was invited to England for a solo exhibition. He has been invited by the Philosophy Department of Loyola Marymount University to lecture on Chinese culture and art. He was also invited by California State University, Northridge (CSUN), to hold a solo exhibition, but the earthquake in 1994 postponed this project. In 1998, his work received acclaim at his solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of CSUN. This year, 2001, again, he has shown his work at CSUN.

Huang's art has been collected by and shown in museums and galleries in Asia, Europe, and the United States. His work is also in private collections in Chicago, Hawaii, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, England, Holland, Sweden, and Taiwan.

Shanye can be contacted at:
(replace [AT] with @).

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