A Recluse's Book of Time: the Art of Yang Guoxin

By Joshua Cawthorpe, September 13, 2023

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A short jaunt from the north gate of Yuexiu Park is the Harmony & Beauty Arts Centre, tucked away inside the Flower Pavilion. Until September 16, visitors can view a collection of paintings from Yang Guoxin. Now an art teacher at South China Normal University, Yang's work spans many mediums and has appeared in exhibitions all around the world. This particular show, however, has a more personal feeling.


The collection, titled 'A Recluse's Book of Time' began in the early days of lockdown in the artist's hometown of Wuhan. One enters the studio through the courtyard of a carefully manicured garden and is met by an open wall and a tree that lives proudly as the centerpiece of the gallery. Hung next to it is Yang's largest single artwork of the show, a scene of rich foliage through a quintessentially Chinese patio window. While the shapes are familiar, the deep and almost iridescent green the artist has chosen gives the comfortable image a surreal and worrisome tone.

tree-in-lobby.jpegThe centerpiece of the gallery is a living tree. Yang's largest piece is next to the open atrium facing the front entrance. Image via Harmony & Beauty Arts Centre

The majority of the show combines the shape of a traditional handheld fan with scenes and characters from Western history, culture and recent cataclysmic events. The divaricating arch of color spans the canvases with white backgrounds and superimposed calligraphy, often from top to bottom and right to left, describes the image in this most definitive characteristic element of Chinese art that can be seen in Song Dynasty paintings dating back a millennium.

Rarely did a Western artist inscribe the title of a painting directly onto the painting itself.

balloon-ocean.jpegMany of the paintings depict recent news stories. Image via That's

Referred to by Christie's Auction House as literati painting, the addition of a poem from the artist became popularized and coveted during the Ming dynasty in the 1400s. Furthermore, Emperors, noblemen and the cataloguers of the Imperial art collection all began adorning classic artworks with their own royal seals which, in contrast from the meticulous preservation and restoration of western paintings, seems to enhance the beauty and value of these cultural relics as all encompassing painting, poem and a record of the relentless march of time.

The painting 'Zhong Kui in a Wintry Grove' by Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) is adorned with multiple poems and seals. Image via Wikimedia

Yang's paintings depict elements of European art and scenes from famous movies. But the most eye-catching are the significant news stories that have squeezed their way into the images alongside pop culture. From the back of Boris Johnson's head to rafts of migrants seeking asylum in Europe, the exhibition carries us back over the past few years by way of news stories that may have seemed endlessly far away for those of us who stayed here. An entire corner of the gallery is dedicated to scenes from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

202309/Sri-lanka-pool-coup1.jpegOne painting shows protesters swimming in then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pool after storming the palace to protest the worsening economic crisis in July 2022. Image via That's

The gallery is wandering and well-lit, allowing guests to peruse and double back but the end of one long low room draws us in. The gallery's curator, Tie Shu, explains that these are the most personal of the artworks in this collection. One stands out more than any and Xie tells us that this is the artist's mother, 90 at the time of the portrait, with whom Yang spent many months sequestered. 

Image via That's

Yang painted animals roaming the empty streets of his city: coyotes, foxes and even a bewilderingly misplaced peacock in an empty laneway. 

Image via That's

This section of the exhibition is nearly all in grayscale and many of the pieces are small because, as Xie explains, the artist began to run out of painting supplies and needed to conserve the backdrops in order to continue capturing and creating.

Scan the QR code for more information or to book an appointment.


Harmony & Beauty Arts Centre(The Flower Pavilion of Yuexiu Park)


Hours: 10am to 5pm (Closed Mondays)
Show ends on September 16

Yuexiu-map.pngImage via Harmony & Beauty Arts Centre

[Cover image via That's]

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