The Mixed Identity of Wei-An Huang

Wei-An Huang is an abstract painter with a bachelor's degree in studio art from Hunter College in New York. Like many Asian artists who have decided to stay in the United States, she has been concerned to find a hybrid style that would reflect the brush culture she grew up in and the freedoms of Western painting, in particularly those of abstract expressionism. Remarkably she has effected a merger between these two very different kinds of art, finding a manner that is both contemplative, in the Asian sense, and expressive, in the Western. One finds, then, in Huang’s paintings a double identity subsumed within an art whose lyricism is foremost, demonstrating an affinity for the poetry of things. This is not to say that there is always a recognizable object in Huang’s art—many of the works evoke moods without necessarily providing specific things to identify and see. Instead, the artist seeks a merger, in acrylic on canvas that would do justice to her experience of moving permanently to America. Living on Long Island’s North Shore, near the Long Island Sound, Huang may well be affected by the beautiful surroundings she finds herself in. At the same time however, her light blues can suggest the sky as well as the sea.

Sometimes, though, the references to nature are so oblique as to challenge Huang’s viewing audience. For example, she has painted a black-and-white work that reminds us of the paintings of Franz Kline, yet the title, Nothing…Silence…Waves, reminds us both the emptiness central to a Zen epiphany and the actual waves that come in on the shore so close to where the artist resides. The names of her paintings bring us close to Buddhist meditation, a contemplative outlook Huang is comfortable with and follows to some degree. But like most good artists, she has been careful not to literalize spiritual conditions, looking instead for an imagery that uses spirituality as a way of forming an inspired body of work. Her colors, often gray, look to the middle ground of the Buddha’s mind, something her titles suggest in their underscoring the states of silence and emptiness. We know from the latter that all material things arise from the void, and it is fair to say that the artist wants to include Buddhist thought in her work without literalizing it. Instead, she seeks an equivalence between mind and image, the physical and the ephemeral in ways that do justice to both dichotomies.

Indeed, the point Huang makes has to do with the essential unity of the world, namely, the recognition that we are participating in something spiritual. But she is determined to make her vision available through art and not according to any particular dogma. In fact, it is clear to any viewer that Huang is seeking an intuitive merger of the influences in her life: bodies of water, Buddhist tenets, a sense of shared cultures. It is particularly accomplished of the artist to work out a language that can support open relations to the spiritual life, and it is exactly her ability to do so that makes the work so evocative—long after the paintings have been seen. Sometimes the canvases seem ordered, and sometimes they seem deliberately messy—as if Huang wished to refer the seemingly random nature of experience, what the Buddhist calls “the world of ten thousand things.” One hesitates, though, to emphasize Buddhism too much, in part because the paintings play out their American abstract allegiances in highly original ways. With No-Mind 3, one sees Huang creating a densely built surface that is entirely abstract—it is as though we are experiencing density and darkness as a material, an experience the painting generates with its overlapping, dark-toned forms. Huang, a painter of high technique and intelligence, regularly manages to accomplish a floating world, where insights and visions are following by more of the same. She is to be congratulated on her tenacity and her lightness of touch.

Jonathan Goodman