a person at the exhibit

Artist Yun-Fei Ji grew up during China's Cultural Revolution. He ponders art as 'global citizenship.'

Ji produces paintings using traditional Chinese methods, such as calligraphy and ink painting, to address serious contemporary topics such as migration, the environment and social issues. 

The World

Yun-Fei Ji’s art story began as a child, at 11, when his mother allowed him to study with an officer who served in the People’s Liberation Army in China.

“I grew up partially in this army base, and there was an army officer there putting together this hand-to-hand combat manual. He told me to draw figures and still life[s]. And that's how I started,” Ji said.

flowers

Yun-Fei Ji, "Early Spring Bloom," 2020, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 in., 152.4 x 121.9 cm. 
 

Credit:

© Yun-Fei Ji 2023. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Matthew Hermann. 

Ji, 60, a self-described global artist based in New York, was raised during the Cultural Revolution in Beijing. The sociopolitical movement began in the 1960s to denounce capitalistic practices integrated into Chinese life and lessen Western influence, including cracking down on the art world.

sunflowers

Yun-Fei Ji, "Sunflower Turned Its Back," 2022, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 in., 101.6 x 76.2 cm. 
 

Credit:

© Yun-Fei Ji 2023. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Matthew Hermann. 

Eventually, Ji became a student at China's Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Though it was said that the academy only taught socialist realism — a politicized practice of art production enforced by the Communist Party at the time — Ji had a different experience at school.

“Actually, there was experimentation … We were encouraged to think for [ourselves],” he said. “I was very interested in contemporary or modern Western art at that time early on, and then, gradually, discovered the work of ancient cave painting, Buddhist painting fountain, along with ink painting.”

tent

Yun-Fei Ji, "Migrant Worker's Tent," 2022, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 in., 61 x 61 cm. 

Credit:

© Yun-Fei Ji 2023. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Matthew Hermann. 

Those interests in the wider world, plus the influence of his homeland, naturally carried him to Brooklyn, New York, in 1990, where his art developed further.

Today, Ji infuses Chinese traditional painting methods, such as calligraphy and ink painting on rice and mulberry paper, with contemporary themes that address environmental, social and political issues.

A common theme in some of his more recent work centers on displacement, like his acrylic-on-canvas painting from 2022, titled, “Everything Moved Outside.”

stuff outside and a man

Yun-Fei Ji, "Everything Moved Outside," 2022, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 in., 76.2 x 76.2 cm. 

Credit:

© Yun-Fei Ji 2023. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Matthew Hermann. 

It depicts a figure outside, surrounded by household objects — chairs, blankets and the like — in gestural strokes that suggest movement.

“It's still a continuation of my exploration of the idea of belonging to a place. The idea of home migration,” Ji said. “These people are, you know, sort of putting their belongings outside to get ready to move.” 

Ji’s work is often topical — another acrylic-on-canvas painting, “Migrant Worker’s Tent,” speaks to the ephemerality of home for those who’ve been displaced. Other pieces focus on portraiture (“The Man with Glasses”), the elements (“Early Spring Bloom”) and daily activities (“Sewing/High Noon”).

people sewing

Yun-Fei Ji, "Sewing/High Noon," 2022, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 in., 76.2 x 61 cm. 

Credit:

© Yun-Fei Ji 2023. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Matthew Hermann. 

Ji’s work is exhibited globally as he continues to expand his methods.

“I [have] spent a lot of time thinking about belonging in the world of art as a sort of a global citizenship, you know, idea of resistance, the artist's role, how to respond adequately to the challenge of our time,” Ji said.

man with glasses

Yun-Fei Ji, "The Man with Glasses," 2022, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 in., 61 x 45.7 cm

Credit:

© Yun-Fei Ji 2023. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Matthew Hermann. 

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