Young Bay Area artist Wayne Jiang was born in Guangzhou, China, and came to the United States at age 15. He earned his degree in illustration at SJSU and works as a fine artist and graphic designer. He now lives in Pacifica, but his period of residence in San Jose has resulted in a group of loving images of the city that are now on display at the Leonard and David McKay Gallery at Pasetta House in History Park.
In his work showing in the exhibition Everyday San Jose: Paintings by Wayne Jiang, the artist successfully channels the influence of his beloved 17th-century Dutch Masters into two dozen or so portraits of contemporary life in our city. The pictures are also imbued with the spirit of Jiang’s native China’s heritage and visual aesthetic. In short, Jiang is a thinking-person’s painter with an abundance of talent, which makes the trek out to History San Jose’s headquarters well worthwhile.
The combining of a classical Chinese aesthetic with the style and techniques of the Dutch Masters might seem an odd juxtaposition at first, but, in fact, it makes perfect sense when you see it through Jiang’s eyes. If, for instance, you consider the very small extant body of work by Johannes Vermeer, the majority of his 30-plus masterpieces evoke a Zen-like stillness, as if a small, insignificant, single gesture were to be infinitely slowed to a blink-of-the-eye split-second of midmotion frozen in time forever. This, in effect, is what one sees in a myriad of Chinese and other Asian artworks going back for centuries. Then there is the matter of how seemingly insignificant objects from daily life become emblems of importance in both traditions. These interesting convergences, and others like them, are what I see in every one of Jiang’s paintings.
The exhibition also displays the range of Jiang’s work, which is quite impressive for such a young artist. He employs many of the major traditional “art groups,” from portrait and still life to cityscape. Like Rembrandt, he also loves to explore the chiaroscuro netherworld between light and shadow. Interestingly, in employing this technique to his outside portraits of suburban homes, he gives his pictures a twist that reminds me of some of Edward Hopper’s landmark works. (In fact, I have since noted that Jiang acknowledges the importance of American Realist painters as well as documentary photographers to his work.)
However, to me, the painter that Jiang evokes more than any other is Vermeer’s more prolific contemporary, Pieter de Hooch, one of my personal favorites. For instance, observe Jiang’s camera-obscura-style depiction of the corner of San Carlos and Bascom, looking south toward Babyland in the center of the picture, but fanning out 180 degrees to east and west along the horizontal axis on a panoramic canvas. (There are a few similar and very absorbing horizontally extreme pictures in the exhibition.) If you look at some of de Hooch’s paintings and drawings of the streets of Delft, Leiden or The Hague, you see this same “stretching” of two-dimensional space, as if the artist were trying to reach a mythical third dimension out there somewhere on the edge of infinity. You also get the same “frozen time” effect with de Hooch’s work as you do with Vermeer, and in Jiang’s work you can easily see this in his intimate pictures of restaurant interiors, for instance.
One unusual item at the exhibition that was most interesting to me was a graphic description in full color of Jiang’s working method, which is to build up layers of paint by serially placing individual hues of color from across the spectrum over the entire surface of the canvas one at a time. To me it seemed almost like the way printers work when they prepare individual printing plates of each basic color and black for a four-color printing press. Jiang explained that this method works well for him because he uses quick-drying acrylic paints on canvas, which allows him to move rapidly from one layer to the next until completion. This technique can readily be detected in his finished pictures once you know about it, and I assume that this is how the artist develops his chiaroscuro effects.
Once again CEO Alida Bray, curator Sarah Puckitt and the staff at History San Jose have produced an extremely interesting exhibition that should win the admiration of everyone who goes to see it. The exhibition continues until May 30, 2010, and the details of opening times and other information can be accessed at: http://www.historysanjose.org.
For more information about Wayne Jiang, go to: http://www.waynejiang.com.