December 5, 2022

Various Small Fires presents an exhibition of new paintings by American painter, Mark Yang, at No. 9 Cork Street, London, on view until November 26thThe exhibition, Lucid Dream, represents the artist’s first European exhibition, and the first exhibition of his works on paper. The artist was born in Seoul, South Korea. He grew up in California, and lives and works in New York.

Mark Yang paints the figure but isn’t interested in building narratives. Instead, he uses the human body as a conceptual jumping-off point to explore how we entwine, interact with, and read other human beings.

Yang renders his forms in an idiosyncratic, angular, graphically stylized manner, treating body parts as sculptures to be painted. His palette consists of dark purples, acid greens, bright pops of yellow, orange, and red. He uses fluid gestures and undulating lines to create entangled, mysterious, asymmetric compositions that don’t immediately give away the plot.

Frequently, the viewer can’t discern which limb is connected to which body. Gratuitous legs wrap around a single butt while numerous arms writhe in a tangled mass. These nonsensical knots communicate volumes through style, body language, and other visual codes unique to human beings.

Yang typically avoids depicting faces in favor of ambiguity and a slow visual read. When faces do appear, they often sleep… or sleep eternally. Yang paints what he knows, using himself as a quotidian model. His figures – male, female, and gender neutral – serve as intellectual clay for their maker, not sexualized amusements. In fact, he exaggerates male nipples, turning them into formal elements, which resemble eyes and “look” back at the viewer.

For his Cork Street exhibition, Yang grapples with several new themes. He considers the magical process of creating new life, in Yeondu and Lucid Dream. He continues interpreting canonical works such as Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ, Michelangelo’s Battle of the Centaurs and Bartolini’s The Demidoff Table. Finally, in Anterior (night) and Posterior (night), Yang explores the spectre of the pandemic, as well as other recent world events that have brought us images beyond comprehension.

Body language can be ambiguous, as can humans. At the end of the day, Yang’s paintings explore the complexities and challenges of understanding other human beings – a conceptual puzzle most of us confront on a daily basis.