Cian-Yu Bai

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Blue Butterfly – Red Mystery 2021 Acrylic on linen 200 × 160cm 5

Healing Dream 2021 Acrylic on linen 90 × 100cm 6

A Song for Swan 2021 Acrylic on 160 × 200cmlinen 7

We 2022 Acrylic on linen 90 × 100cm 8

The Past 2022 Acrylic on 200 × 160cmlinen 9

Seven Days in Nature 1–7 2021 Ink and oil on paper 32 × 24cm each 10


Lions in the Blossom 2021 Acrylic on linen 90 × 100cm 12

Fleeting things 15

Cian-Yu Bai, born in Taiwan in 1984, moved to the Netherlands in 2012 for a residency at De Ateliers, having completed her MFA in painting at the Taipei National University of the Arts. In the decade since then, she has found a home in Amsterdam, describing the city as having unleashed a freedom in both her daily life and her painting practice. Bai says she has been painting ever since she could hold a paintbrush in order to escape the expectations and discipline ingrained in her by the educational system – the canvas lets her wander off into the Noëlle de Haan introduces the dreamworlds of Cian-Yu Bai


imagination. She regards the moment she came across André Breton’s 1928 Surrealist book Nadja as pivotal to her practice. Late at night, following her daily routine, she would visit a library that stayed open after-hours to look at art history books. This is where she was introduced to Impressionism and Surrealism, two key movements that shaped her perceptions of concept and technique. Drawing on the Impressionists’ idea of painting rapidly on the spot to capture the fleeting moment they were witnessing, and the Surrealists’ approach using chance and association, Bai has created her characteristic, almost calligraphic style. Key themes in Bai’s work are the experience of desire and the matter of perception. She states: In my work I’m always interested in depicting the elusiveness of fleeting things, the fact that we can’t keep or preserve something. ‘Desire’ is a big part of that notion. Desire is so fragile – it’s about something separate from you, at a distance. It’s something you don’t have, and that something really exists in your imagination. In this ambiguous sphere, Bai invites her audience to project their inner longings and questions. She describes her work as ‘representing life without an

answer’. Bai starts her paintings in an abstract manner, mixing and applying acrylics combined with retarding liquids until they form the shapes and questions that prompt her to continue. The hybrid human and animal figures show themselves to her as the first layers of paint come to dry and textures appear. She describes her use of acrylics as contributing to the notion of perception. When her works are completed, it looks as if she has used oil paint in a conventional manner to create natureinspired organic work. However, she amplifies the perception that things are not what they seem. Acrylics, she insists, are cold and impersonal, and what we are looking at is an illusion.

Characteristic of Bai’s paintings are the natural elements she merges into patterns. Butterflies, birds and trees are recurring elements across her works. When reflecting on the inspiration for this, Bai recalls, like a Surrealist, her most important childhood memory. Growing up in the countryside in Taiwan, she was surrounded by mountains. One day she turned a corner and found thousands of yellow butterflies flocking around her. She has used the mixture of emotions she experienced in that seemingly everlasting moment as a central setting for her dreamworlds.


The works she has created during her residency in Cape Town, exhibited in her solo presentation The Breath in the Mind, are a direct reflection of her new surroundings, she says: The colours of the mountains, the ocean and the sunsets of Cape Town have influenced my practice to be very different from my previous Amsterdam-created works. My work is always showing elements of expansive growth and simultaneously fading moments and brushstrokes. However, my previous work has been more static and leaned towards fading, whereas this new work is more vibrant and active, filled with warm energy. I’m feeling very alive and adventurous


Spring with an Angel 2022 Acrylic on 160 × 200cmlinen 21

The Moment of Meeting and Parting 2022 Acrylic on linen 160 × 200cm 22

Whisper to the Ocean 2022 Acrylic on linen 160 × 200cm 24

Every Now Becomes the Past 2022 Acrylic on canvas 41 × 31cm 26

The Mystery in the Garden 2022 Acrylic on canvas 41 × 31cm 27

The Shapes of the Mountain and the Ocean 2022 Acrylic on linen 90 × 100cm 28

Published by Stevenson  © 2022 Cover:TheMoment of Meeting and Parting 2022 (detail) Inside cover:  View of Cian-Yu Bai’s Amsterdam studio, 2021, with works in progress –left to right, The Moment Petals Fall, Dream of Desire and Lost and Gained in the Garden Design:  Gabrielle  JonathanPhotographs:GuydeWaart (Amsterdam) Mario Todeschini (Cape Town)

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