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Yang Yanping [Yang Yen-p’ing]free

(b Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, July 26, 1934).
  • Ann Barrott Wicks

Chinese painter and calligrapher. Yang graduated in architecture from Qinghua University in 1958 and worked for the Chemistry Industrial Bureau. Her marriage to the artist Zeng Shanqing in 1956 introduced her to China’s leading painters and awakened her own desire to paint. In 1966, a few months before the advent of the Cultural Revolution, Yang was able to secure a position in the Beijing Art Company. As a relatively new and unknown artist, she escaped the persecution endured by established painters in the turbulent decade to follow. While officially painting portraits of Chairman Mao and other government-commissioned subjects she privately practised her craft. In 1980 she was appointed Professional Painting Master at the Beijing Painting Academy.

Yang’s earliest works are oil landscapes that evoke the mystical terrain of ancient Chinese mountains (see Cohen, fig.). She turned to traditional Chinese materials – brush, ink and water-based pigments on paper – soon after she transferred to the Painting Academy. Her first works on paper were figures delineated with delicate, hair-like lines. She used the same line sparingly in early landscapes (see Lim, fig.). In 1984 she began to explore the muted colours and subtle textures of the lotus plant in autumn and winter, juxtaposing slender, delicately outlined stems bent in angles against wide, soft-edged leaves. At the same time she experimented with new ideas for calligraphy, adding features to the characters to form her own versions of word pictures.

Yang and her husband emigrated to the United States in 1986 after an invitation to come as visiting artists to the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After her move, her fragile, subtly coloured landscapes and lotus paintings gradually gave way to bolder strokes and more vibrant colours. Brilliant Autumn shows deep red and gold lotus leaves with a bright touch of blue splashed across a light-suffused textured background. The abstract shapes are close-up and directly on the surface, daring and immediate. Her later landscapes are likewise infused with colour, energy and complicated textures.


  • Sullivan, M. “The Calligraphic Works of Yang Yanping.” Apollo 291 (May 1986): 346–349.
  • Cohen, J. L. The New Chinese Painting, 1949–1986. New York, 1987.
  • Wicks, A. B. “The Modern Brush: Traditional Chinese Painting Since the Cultural Revolution.” Twentieth-Century Art and Culture 1, no. 1 (Fall 1989): 46–56.
  • Cahill, J. “The Paintings of Yang Yan-P’ing.” Hsiung Shih Art Monthly (Dec 1990): 146–153.
  • Lim, L. Six Contemporary Chinese Women Artists. San Francisco, 1991.
  • Smith, K. L. “Language, Landscape, Lotus: The Art of Yang Yanping.” MA thesis; Tallahassee, FL State U., 1999.
  • Yang, Y. Yang Yanping. Shenzhen, 2004. Exhibition catalog.
  • Yang Yanping: Forms of Idiosyncratic Joy. Essay by Jonathan Goodman. New York, Goedhuis Contemporary, 2007. Exhibition catalog.