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Insights of an Eco Artist

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In Conversation: Xiaodong YU

Insights of an Eco Artist Team

Xiaodong YU is a renowned Chinese artist who has made significant contributions to the world of printmaking and digital art. Xiaodong's artistic vision is deeply rooted in his advocacy for the balance between humans and nature and his works are a testament to his commitment to coexisting harmoniously with the environment, serving as a powerful reminder of the importance of environmental conservation.

21 March 2023

Xiaodong Yu, born in 1978, is a member of China Artists Association, and of the California Society of Printmakers. He received a bachelor's degree in 2002, and a master's degree in 2005 from the Department of Printmaking of Central Academy of Fine Arts. He is currently a teacher of the Academy of Fine Arts, and also serves as the director of the printmaking department of Qingdao University. He is a printmaker and digital artist, as well as the earliest researcher and creator of China’s digital printmaking, establishing the precedent of creating and teaching of digital printmaking in China. His works have received extensive attention and collection.

Artistic resume:

In 2023 ,Zero Space Solo Exhibition "Digital Illusion - Yu Xiaodong Printmaking  Exhibition"- Beijing 798 Art District——CHINA

In 2023, the work be selected for Camelback Gallery's Artist Choice X International Juried Art Competition——USA

In 2023, the work be selected for Fusion Art The 7th Annual Black & White Art Exhibition——USA

In 2023, the work be selected for The Printmaking Lab Online Gallery Presents “My World’ international print exhibition”—— Sri Lanka

Artist Statement 

"Plane and depth" means a transformation from a spatial definition based on clearly separated planes to a spatial understanding based on continuous receding. Traditional printmaking is a kind of plane art. Its depth of ideology and language makes it stand out from other paintings. Because it can transform the beauty of plane into a dynamic and profound beauty. This expression is due to the special language of printmaking. The artistic language of printmaking is characterized by generalization and refinement, and its artistic charm comes from the high concentration and conciseness of life. From the changes in woodcut techniques to the bedding of large color blocks in silkscreen, it undoubtedly shows the vocabulary of this art form. However, this form of graphic does not exist in real life, which belongs to a higher level of artistic generalization. Digital printmaking brings a visual experience to a higher level than traditional printmaking. The effect it creates expands the plane into a wider, deeper space because it is not limited by materials and technology - it creates a magical, virtual realm of illusion. Let imagination and artistry go beyond reality, bring the audience a montage of visual effects, this is the artistic charm of digital prints that I have been pursuing. Most of my works use a combination of digital images and silkscreen, presented through a variety of media materials.    

To begin, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into the arts? When you first became interested in art, did you realize you wanted to be an artist? 


My name is xiaodong YU. I am a university teacher and also an artist. After obtaining a master's degree in printmaking from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, I taught printmaking at the School of Fine Arts of Qingdao University. My research has always been focused on the related work of new media for digital printmaking and new techniques for silkscreen. I teach courses such as screen printing, digital printmaking, and creative thinking models at the university. I have loved painting since I was 3 years old. I remember spending most of my childhood painting. When I was about 8 years old, my dream was to become a professional artist, a pure painter. This idea was very clear to me when I was young. I have always loved this profession!


Why do you dedicate your practice to creating a discourse around themes of environmental justice and the value of life? 


What I advocate is the balance between human beings and nature, and I dislike excessive human interventions that damage the natural world. I believe that humans should coexist harmoniously with the Earth, treating every inch of land, every plant, and every drop of water with care and respect. Humans should not and cannot interfere too much with the natural world. Around 2005, China's environmental pollution reached a relatively severe level. The sky was often gray, and the pollution of rivers and oceans had become increasingly severe. During this period, I created some works related to environmental justice, including "The End of the World on Future Planets" and mid-term existential values. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, the changes in the world order have greatly affected me, and life has suddenly become so unpredictable. During this time, my works have focused more on the contemplation of life, including the praise of theology, religion, and poetry, the meaning of reincarnation, and the expression of finite individuals in the infinite universe, eternal space, and time.


Archaeology of the Planet by Xiaodong Yu. Image courtesy of Xiaodong Yu

One of your submitted works, entitled Archaeology of the Planet, is an immersive narrative with a futuristic feel, challenging the dominant narratives about our relationship with nature. What were the steps taken to develop this work? 

The work "Archaeology of the Planet" is a fantasy about the future world of humanity. Its starting point is based on the current state of human existence and the deteriorating ecological environment of the planet we inhabit. Human exploitation and abuse of natural resources have reached an unprecedented level. With the concentration of the population and the continuous development of cities, the living environment that humans must have is gradually being eroded and destroyed. People have become accustomed to living in the mechanical and electronic world they have created, and the proliferation of garbage continues to affect our lives. The work uses an archaeological approach to conduct a cross-sectional analysis of alienated trees and discovers that the appearance of the plants is still clear, but their internal structure has been altered. They have become mutated versions of objects that humans have used, intertwined with plants, and have essentially assimilated the plants and taken on their beautiful appearance. I collected materials using digital cameras, scanners, and handwriting tablets, imported them one by one into a computer, and synthesized them using various software to create this series of works.


You have been a printmaking pioneer for many years, developing and creating with this medium. What draws you to the printmaking vocabulary's simplicity? 


I entered the printmaking department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1998 and have been engaged in printmaking for 25 years. I persisted in printmaking creation because of its unique artistic charm, which deeply attracts me. First of all, we all know that printmaking has the most concise and generalized artistic language, and its unique medium characteristics mean that it will not have too many details and colors, pursuing the absolute overall picture and highly refining is the artistic charm of printmaking. This point especially touches me. 

Secondly, I believe that artistic creation cannot simply copy life. It requires artists to fully exert their subjective initiative and integrate their own concepts in order to produce artistic works with unique emotions. Because printmaking is an art form that is indirectly produced through printing due to its medium characteristics, it requires artists to have profound creativity to achieve success. 

Thirdly, printmaking creation is a very interesting thing. It is not just about drawing with a brush, but about using various materials to operate plate-making and transfer printing, which requires artists to have strong manual abilities. This process fascinates me.

Landscape with a Bird by Xiaodong Yu. Image courtesy of Xiaodong Yu


What has kept you motivated to pursue a career as an artist over the years? What are some of your sources of inspiration? 

Being a professional artist requires years of perseverance and dedication, as well as a great deal of accumulation to achieve a qualitative leap, which is extremely arduous. As I have had the dream of becoming an artist since childhood, I have always strived towards this goal. This profession is unique in that artists can bring more wonderful things to this mundane world and give life to more beautiful images. I can spread my thoughts, ideas, worldview, and philosophies through my artwork to the audience, allowing them to understand and feel through the images. It is a very magical profession. My inspiration comes from a wide range of sources, such as history, religion, theology, philosophy, poetry, movies, music, etc. For example, I am currently reading Symbolist poetry, which inspires me with many creative ideas.


In your statement, you talk about the height of artistic creation. Could you please explain what this means to you? 


Although art creation originates from life, it does not necessarily mean the direct depiction of life. I am rather opposed to works that describe every detail of reality. I advocate innovation, and the height of artistic creation should transcend the mundane world of reality. Artists should give their works more subjective and personal elements, add wings of imagination, and present a brand-new visual and sensory experience from a clever angle that has not been shown before by others. This is the true height of artistic creation.


Nirvana 1 by Xiaodong Yu. Image courtesy of Xiaodong Yu

You are a member of the China Artists Association. What can you tell us about this organization, and how do you incorporate yourself into it?


The China Artists Association is the largest official organization of artists in China and an important part of China's art industry. The association was founded in 1949 and is one of the earliest mass organizations in the Chinese art world. It is also the largest art organization in China, with more than 20 professional art committees under its umbrella. Joining the China Artists Association is both an honor and a responsibility for art professionals. To become a member, one needs to possess a strong artistic level and creative experience and pass through a strict evaluation process. I became a member through multiple selections and awards in national exhibitions held by the China Artists Association.


You have been immersed in the art world for years. How do you navigate the complexities of the art scene and market? 


I am not influenced by the art scene, and I am not very interested in what others are doing in the art scene. I believe that artists must remain true to themselves and not follow trends. I will not do what anyone else is doing, and I create my works entirely according to my own preferences and interests. I am also not very concerned about the art market because it is very unreal. Today, you may be highly sought after by collectors and auction houses, but tomorrow they may ignore you completely. Therefore, I do not care about them and just want to quietly create my work.


The Story of the Screen Final Chapter by Xiaodong Yu. Image courtesy of Xiaodong Yu

Being an artist means different things to different people. What exactly does it mean to you to be an artist?


Being an artist means different things to different people. For me, being an artist means being able to express myself through my creativity and create beauty. It is a highly personal experience that allows me to explore and express my thoughts and feelings while also being a way to share these ideas and emotions with others. Creating art is not just a job for me; it is a way of life, a passion that I cannot help but pursue. To be an artist means to have the ability to see the world in a different way, to be true to oneself, to express one's innermost thoughts and emotions through the medium of art, and to create something that has the power to move, inspire, and touch the hearts of others.


Lastly, is there any artist, podcast, book, or platform you would like to recommend?


I quite like Symbolist artists, such as Odilon Redon and Anselm Kiefer.


I quite like these art podcasts: The Lonely Palette and ArtCurious.


I highly recommend the books of these authors. Jorge Luis Borges."The Book of Imaginary Beings" and "Labyrinths". Arthur Rimbaud," Les Illuminations"

Art platform : Artsy and Artspace.

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