COVID-19 has swept into all of our lives to such an extent that it looms like a prefix to almost every aspect of existence. I can’t go to a café because of COVID-19, can’t catch a flight, can’t go to the gym, and so the list goes on.
Unsurprisingly therefore, COVID-19 was one of the first things that came to my mind when looking at watercolour paintings by Xueyang Hu, produced in her single-room apartment in Melbourne, Australia, during the lockdown of the city. Studying these small scale works it is impossible not to perceive the conditions of isolation that have become so prominent in our lives today. While at the time of writing this article, Xueyang was still studying at RMIT School of Art, the artist that springs to mind is the more senior Scottish painter Peter Doig. Doig paints on a larger scale, but his tranquil scenes are oftentimes populated by singular figures; Doig is also a point of inspiration for this artist and there is something of the older artist’s painterly touch and maturity that emerges in the paintings presented here.
Xueyang, who goes by her preferred name of ‘Bess’ has created multiple images of singular figures that blend into their surroundings as if they are on the verge of a lost self-identity or are ensnared in dreams of solitude and disconnection. Her colour palette traverses pastel hues, though with a serious intent that undercuts the potential sentimentality of this selection. Figures walk into mountains, they ride bicycles through veils of rain and fall lifeless on the roadside. In others, a swan glides across a pond; a frog sits motionless in the rain. All are moments of introspection.
While for the most part Bess’s figures are anonymous, one is decidedly specific, being a portrait the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). Famously, Wittgenstein sought isolation on a craggy promontory overlooking Norway’s Lake Eidsvatnet, where the philosopher built his refuge from the world. Wittgenstein’s singular focus has been a point of inspiration for Bess, who in 2019 departed her home in Hunan Province, China to study painting abroad.
Bess’s works are accompanied by a free-flowing personal reflection that accounts for her interest in art. Both her paintings and journal are here presented as an online exhibition at ACAE Gallery, in lieu of our regular opening hours. All works are for sale and can be delivered to your door.
DAMIAN SMITH, APRIL 2020