Throughout fifty-plus years of creation, Marlene Tseng Yu has consistently expressed her love of nature, and has steadfastly shown it in her own multi-dualistic style of art on canvases as large as 54 feet in length. This exhibit commemorates her 80th birthday and the Marlene Yu Museum’s mission to preserve, present, document, and interpret her life and works.
Yu is a pioneer in the environmental green movement in art. Her works give honor to the beauty of nature, and call for heightened awareness and appreciation of our environment. Her prolific career includes over 4000 nature-inspired works across more than 35 series. In 2001 Yu founded Rainforest Art Foundation to find other artists who share her desire to preserve Earth.
In a revolutionary style of art, Yu’s paintings illustrate multiple dualities. In her artwork, she mirrors themes in nature, blends physical and emotional subject matter, applies techniques she has developed from her Eastern and Western backgrounds to highlight global concerns, and provides opportunities to appreciate her paintings from different points of view.
Like patterns in nature that remain the same, yet are also constantly changing, Yu stays true to her remarkable style. Each of her paintings is at the same time as fresh and original as it is recognizably a “Marlene Yu Painting”. For example, her signature white spaces can be seen in all of her series, and yet represent airy, sometimes quick-moving forms like clouds, foam, and bubbles, or slow-moving solids like ice, coral, and stalactites.
Yu purposefully synthesizes themes in Chinese landscape painting and American abstract expressionism. By regarding nature with respect and awe, and personifying the subject matter with what she calls the “rhythm and movement of moods”, she establishes what some critics call “a dreamy borderline” between realism and abstraction.
Yu has taken painterly skills that traditional art is known for and bridged it with the contemporary art community’s first steps towards ecological betterment. Before “activist art” became its own style of art, she had gently, yet persistently planted seeds of “awareness art” through boldly colorful and detailed compositions, with a passion for technical precision. She integrates ancient Eastern philosophy of art, such as representative negative space and yin and yang balance, with her own modern and masterful application of acrylic. Her compositions extend past the edges of the canvases, and often on a grand scale, allowing the viewer to be immersed in wonderment of her vast, imaginative portrayal of nature.
Spatial relativity in nature is evident from within her nature-based oeuvres, besides where the viewer is standing, and even in how they are displayed. The same painting may be concurrently interpreted from a “bird’s eye” aerial view, within the natural subject itself, and yet also under the microscope. Additionally, Yu’s compositions can be viewed from far away as well as up close in detail. Furthermore, her art is communicated from several perspectives—straight on versus from elevated viewpoints, on flat versus curved walls, and hung vertically or horizontally (which is why she autographs many of her works diagonally).
Yu’s artwork truly needs to be experienced in person, up close, from various angles, and in living color. Though photographs of Yu standing next to her mural-sized paintings to show their scale still do not do them justice, we attempt to give you a snapshot of some of her simultaneously enveloping and expansive masterpieces in this book.
Director, Marlene Yu Museum and Rainforest Art Foundation
July 6, 2017