Yu Hong, “Ever Higher, Ever Further,” 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 600 × 250 cm (composed of three panels, 200 × 250 cm each). Shanghai Himalayas Museum installation view, 2017


Yu Hong’s “Ever Higher, Ever Further” intermingles the real with the surreal to explore questions of environmental and social transformation, utilizing a telephone pole as the unifying perch for figures escaping a rising tide.

Reflecting the birds flocking nearby, the human figures roost on a series of three poles jutting out horizontally. A pair of legs peeking from beneath a nest structure in the top panel also plays with this dueling human v. bird existence. The presence of megaphone speakers is a reference to the artist’s childhood, indicating a torrent of broadcast information, perhaps in the form of propaganda slogans or announcements of the rising water. A cluster of surveillance cameras, ubiquitous objects in the framework of daily life, are exposed amidst a vibrant background of blue and orange. These allusions to the world beyond the painting – potentially one in which the reality of an impending tide is known – adds to its surreal impact.

Impressive in scale, the vertical triptych demonstrates Yu Hong’s unique visual vocabulary. Whimsical and rooted within a global contemporary context, the piece speaks to doubts about a promising future. Even the telephone pole on which the entire composition depends is hanging on by mere wires. The suspense in this contradictory, yet ordered universe, belies the rosy colors and fantastical elements wielded by the artist. As a lone figure on the bottom panel looks wistfully out over the surging ocean, the viewer is left to wonder if or when help will ever come.

Yu Hong was born in 1966 in Xi’an, China. In the 1980s she studied oil painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing and graduated with a post-graduate degree from the oil painting department in 1996. Since 1988 she has been a teacher in CAFA’s oil painting department. From the start, Yu Hong received training in realist painting, which over time would translate into her own individual aesthetic language. The core subject of Yu Hong’s paintings has always been human nature, and how human beings grow and exist in this society, in this world. Those figures, painted down by her brush express the feelings and self-analysis of people thrown into the reality of society. The spirit of Yu Hong’s creation most often arises from her personal life and the surroundings of quotidian existence, constructing a world which ingeniously fuses together perceptions of time and memories through art, as well as adeptly seizing the sporadic evolution of the emotions of human self-experience.