A talented realist painter with evident fondness for the quotidian fantasias of Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Mary Cassatt, Huang Zhong Yang was schooled in a very different climate than that of his impressionist forebears. Born in 1949 in Guangzhou, China, the artist was forever changed by the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, which forced him, like so many others, to relocate to the countryside. There, and in subsequent years as an art instructor, Yang developed a seemingly dichotomous practice: on the one hand, contributing to large Maoist murals, and on the other, honing skills as a landscape painter and portraitist in the European tradition.
A new exhibit at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, “Huang Zhong Yang: The Shadow of Mao,” sees a fascinating merging of these two streams of influence. In 26 paintings, Yang—who moved to Regina in 1984—depicts Chairman Mao himself in a series of scenes that play ironically, both as socialist allegories and as placid, sun-dappled vignettes. Here, kitsch, bourgeois lyricism and brutal satire collide. Who Decides Who Rises and Falls? portrays the portly Mao moving through the Yangtze River, connecting him with the sunbathers trope of late-19th-century art and with against-the-current symbologies of political upheaval; Utopia shows a seated Mao looking at an idealized, industrialized panorama of his country through a gossamer haze of smog. Other works in the show include self- and family-portraits by Yang: loving views of the artist’s middle-class life before and after Mao’s decade-long “revolutionary” reign which, strangely and provocatively, are cast in a similar, otherworldly glow. (3475 Albert St, Regina SK)