When Belgian philosopher Patricia de Martelaere was asked to reflect on the wildly diverging styles of writing she used, she replied that style is not inherent to the writer but to the book.* In other words, you use the style that is best suited for the topic and story you want to convey. There is not one style that fits a person. There are many styles that fit different topics. The same holds true for the paintings and drawings of Cian ‐ Yu Bai. When you enter her studio, you see a wildly varying collection of paintings standing against the walls, against each other, lying on the floors and hanging in clusters on the walls. Most done in acrylic paint, some in oil paint, ink, biro or watercolors. There are rather aggressive paintings in which the human subjects seem to melt and succumb to whatever heaviness they have to carry. But there is also a more subdued style that is almost, but not quite, realistic. In the many drawings that are stacked rather haphazardly on top of the other, we find smudgy ink, black spots, the appearing and disappearing of forms and shapes.
For Bai, style or ‘handwriting’ comes naturally, it is not something she decides on beforehand. How she paints follows whatever she needs to paint or draw. The moment and body decide. The word “need” is used here consciously. Bai needs to paint when a moment, a feeling, a scene captures her. She doesn’t decide on a topic on beforehand, doesn’t spend time making sketches and preparations. She often finishes a work within a day. The painting is done when the moment is gone. In this sense, the process is more important than the end product. Her works are not representations but impressions of a moment. A moment that is always, indivertibly lost when the painting is finished. Painting and drawing are for Bai also a way to let go, to set free. Hence the sometimes violent works. Whatever she cannot control, she exorcises through her paintings. But there is also humor involved, or more quiet nature scenes. And sometimes the paintings are personal and intimate. When you see a collection of her works, you actually see a slice of her life. What we see is what she experienced over the last months. There is also something else going on in relation to the different techniques, methods and painterly conventions Bai uses. Bai paints against the expectation that what you paint and how.* Marja Pruis, Als je weg bent. Over Patricia de Martelaere. Prometheus, 2013, p. 112. Text by Maaike Lauwaert