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"Needle Paintings" Shed New Light on Subjects


If painting a replica which can be mistaken for a genuine masterpiece demands nearly equal art skills, it is even more arduous to re-create it with fine stitching, or silk embroidery.

This is what Yang Yixin is committing his life to. The 55-year-old American Chinese prefers to call his works "needle paintings".   

He developed a random stitching technique using nearly invisible silk yarn, which enables Chinese embroidery to re-create photos and paintings with fresh tone and clarity.

Yang's needle paintings are influenced by western oil painting and photography, and pioneer a style of realism or "life-like needling paintings".

He started with re-creating such famous oil paintings as the Mona Lisa by Leonardo di Vinci, Water Lilies by Claude Monet and Outdoor Cafe on a Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh.

He has taught and guided other talented Chinese stitchers in the art over the past six years. Yang has sold his garment business in the United States, and spent some 6 million yuan of his own money in teaching and collecting needle paintings.

Although mainly used for replicating, needle painting has its own flexibility and creativity. With the effect of stitching, pictures are multi-layered and three dimensional. The special light effects reflected by silk thread can lighten the tone and luster of needle paintings, creating subtle changes of color.

Yang and his co-workers found these advantages in developing needle painting portraits and photos, which can pass for real when seen from a distance. Among his collection, there are portraits of American talk show star Oprah Winfrey, basketball king Michael Jordan and Princess Diana.

Yang now uses his own photographic works as a chief source for recreating needle painting. Born in China, the embroidery lover is a true New Yorker after living in the city for over 20 years. He is working on several pictures of New York's Twin Towers taken by himself.

"I hope to use Chinese embroidery to demonstrate the past beauty and grandeur of the landmark buildings. It is a Chinese gift to New York," Yang said.

In his opinion, it perfectly blends Occidental and Oriental art.

Yang's plan is to put on show about 100 of his works in New York this fall, including 10 needle paintings of the World Trade Center Twin Towers.

More importantly, he has a larger vision of his career -- to revive the Chinese cultural heritage of embroidery and help it into the mainstream of contemporary art.

"The genre of the embroidery art is waiting to be rediscovered with these needle paintings. Like other painting styles, it is a work of elegance with value as a collector's item," said Yang.

The earliest existing examples of embroidery were removed from tombs dating from the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). The resilience of the technique is that these needle paintings still retain their original colors and patterns after over 2,000 years.

Yang said that a good needle painter shares every common characteristic of an artist: dedication to his study and practice, the spirit of joy in the art, and most importantly the soul of an artist who strives for perfection and a fulfillment in what they do.

The art of needle painting demands a concentrated artistic endurance as much as a master's craft and talent, since a real-life needle painting photo usually takes a painter one or two years to accomplish, he said. Each of Yang's works carries his signature.

Yang has found it very hard to find other true embroidery artists, although the hometown of Chinese embroidery, Suzhou City in east China's Jiangsu Province, alone boasts some 100,000 women with the skill.

In this industrial era, Chinese embroidery can be mass-produced in factories, which was responsible for a price dip of over 50 percent on both export and domestic markets over the past decade, and falling quality.

The fashion for Chinese silk jackets, which prevailed last Spring Festival in February, seemed to be a rare chance for many embroidery producers on the brim of bankruptcy to struggle for a living. Some smart garment businessmen staged embroidery exhibitions in shopping malls to appeal for buyers. Nowadays, few people living in cities have a chance to see the creation of a work of embroidery.

Yang's task not only to convince foreigners, but also remind Chinese that embroidery-making is not for production, but an art waiting to be rediscovered.

(Xinhua News Agency April 9, 2002) 

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