“Using a rational system of arrangement, the painting’s cross-shaped symbols are transformed into painterly brushstrokes. They are inspired by the ever-changing realities of daily life, encompassing the speed of development, the flow of crowds, realities of traffic, innumerable high-rises, flashing neon nightscapes, and moods of the surrounding people; their desires and ideals, their boredom and busyness, carelessness and conscientiousness, chaos and order, their clamoring and reasoning, the individual and the collective.”
— Ding Yi
A two-stroke surname, ‘?’ (“ding”) and a one-stroke first name ‘?’ (“yi”), the artist’s name is as abstract and mysterious as his distinctive work. During 1980s, Ding found the influences of the early Western Modernism and the traditional Chinese culture unnecessarily complicated. With that, he wanted to break the mold and go back to the very foundation of art and to forge a pure artistic language. In 1988, Ding began the series of Appearance of Crosses . To steer clear of any narrative or metaphorical associations with the caption, the artist named the series with the year of completion; at the same time, he eschewed the figurative contents, experimenting with the symbols of ‘crosses’ and ‘Xs’, which were systematically and repeatedly interlaced in a large expanse. Countless possibilities with the nonconventional medium, colour, line, and structure grant the works to form a visually dazzling composition.
In Appearance of Crosses 1997 , Ding used large amounts of greens and yellows with neon-like florescent paint on the red-and-green Scottish tartan, transforming the piece into a gigantic, multi-colored checkerboard. Once a status symbol for 19th century Scottish royalty, the plaid tartan gradually lost its cultural significance during the industrial revolution, ultimately reduced to another uninspiring, mass-produced industrial product. In 1997, Ding Yi attempted to paint on the checkered pattern of the Scottish tartan, giving a new breath of life and personality to the product straight off the automated assembly line; by adhering to architectural principles of balance and equilibrium, he extends, decomposes, reorganizes, shrinks and layers the crisscrossing X’s. Ding’s Appearance of Crosses 1997 echoes and channels, the Post-painterly abstraction artist, Frank Stella’s calamity and rationality conveyed in his work, Fez I. Yet, differing from Stella’s expressionist flat surface, Ding demonstrates his understanding of spatial conception; through his three-dimensional appearance that showcases a rich imagery and texture, the artist furthers the work’s illusion of spatial depth and visual vitality.
Born and raised in Shanghai, Ding Yi witnessed the mushrooming of skyscrapers and the intricate crisscrossing of city streets. The clean, sleek lines and blocks of the city structures left a profound impression on Ding. The rapidly changing and developing city as well as the constant bombardment of information in the digital age stimulated and inspired Ding Yi’s creativity. By using neon colors to capture those pulsating, bright city lights in the same minimalist spirit of Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light, Ding Yi tells the story of a metropolitan city of glimmering lights and bustling roads through his weaving of light and lines, reflecting the condition of city living that is constantly in flux and presenting a snapshot of this particular epoch. Ding’s painting mimics that of a computer programming matrix, constantly building upon itself and starting the next iteration until the encryption is decoded and disrupts the entire cycle. A departure from his earlier works - noted for their structure, logic and order - Appearance of Crosses 1997 engages with the multifaceted aspects of the metropolitan community and chronicles the chaos and stimulants of the city. Yet, Ding’s signature crucifixes remains, as well as his pure visual language and his desire to return to the essence and sensibility of art.