A highly versatile artist who has experimented with a wide variety of media and styles in the course of his 30-year career, Yang Gang is best known for his distinctive works in Chinese ink on rice paper, executed in a bold, calligraphic style. The grasslands of Inner Mongolia are a favourite source of inspiration: works depicting horsemen beneath lowering skies, camel trains and herdsmen evoke nostalgia for the beautiful wide-open spaces of the prairie. More recently, Yang Gang has also revealed other passions in his paintings of musicians and sportsmen, always characterized by powerful brushwork, which creates strong, yet sensitively rendered images.
Yang Gang was born in Huaiyang, Hunan province, in 1946. In 1963 he entered the high school of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, but in 1966 the Cultural Revolution halted his education. In 1969 he realized a childhood ambition by going to Inner Mongolia, where he lived for a year as a herdsman in a tent, herding sheep and horses and enjoying the quiet solitude. There and later, while on farm labour in Hebei and Shaanxi, he built up a rich fund of memories and sketches. After graduating in 1973, he returned to Mongolia, again drawn by the beauty of the landscape and affection for the people. In 1978 he entered the Masterís programme at the Central Academy, focusing on various periods of Chinese painting, calligraphy and music. Han dynasty (206 BC-AD220) stone carving and murals, Northern Dynasty (420-589) music and Tang Dynasty (618-907) line tracing have all influenced his work. Yang Gang has worked at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing since 1981.
As a contemporary Chinese ink painter, Yang Gang sees himself between the extremes of realism and abstraction. In the 1980s, he gained recognition as a gongbi painter with minutely executed works in bright colours. Later he moved towards xieyi or free-hand painting in ink and wash. A further development has led to his current paintings of figures and horses in a forceful, energetic style. With deft brush strokes and sharp contrasts in black and white that recall the cut-out works of Matisse, his free, semi-abstract paintings are full of life and movement. Recently, Yang Gang has also been working in oils, adding new variety to his artistic repertoire.