Craggy mountaintops bathed in glacial moonlight are an unusual sight on Long Island, but there's nothing usual about "The Majesty of Tibet," a new exhibition featuring the works of renowned Chinese artist Yu Hanyu that runs through March 30 at the Islip Art Museum.
More than a year of complicated arrangements among museum director Lynda Moran, Long Island curator and Oriental art scholar Gan Yu, co-curators Stephanie Lee and Mary O'Malley, and Yu Hanyu went into the making of the show. Yu Hanyu, a master and teacher of traditional brush art, flew over with the paintings from Beijing. Seeing them on the walls is the culmination of a longtime dream.
For the past 13 years, Yu Hanyu has made more than 50 trips to the isolated plains and mountains of Tibet. The Himalayan landscape provided an "ecstatic experience" he wants to share with Long Islanders, he says through an interpreter. "The Holy Landscape" is a black and white ink painting stretching 14 feet that dominates a large gallery. Its jutting, ice-capped mountains are so visually overwhelming, it's possible to miss a tiny cityscape at the bottom left or the waterfall crashing behind a forest at the right. Unfurled above the painting is a poetic verse from the ancient Song dynasty titled "The Moon at Dawn," rendered in elegant, flowing calligraphy.
Those fluid calligraphic lines inspired Gan Yu to approach Moran about curating an exhibition. He cites Long Island's history as home to great American artists, particularly Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, as key to why he thought the exhibition would be a fit. Beyond drips and lines, these works are about changing time-honored styles. "The abstract strokes of Yu Hanyu are related to the Abstract Expressionists," Gan Yu explains. "He creates work that breaks tradition and extends a new path to new possibilities. … As Jackson Pollock did."
Standing before "The Red Cloud," a painted scroll that soars to the ceiling, there's a sense of mankind's scale and nature's grandeur. On an adjacent wall, "Sunset" expresses ideas of nature, but through an altered language. Bands of green, blue and metallic gold with jagged edges that crackle like lightning rush together in controlled chaos. "The idea of the awesome power of nature, the artist is capturing that," says Matthew Migliore, an art student from Islip visiting the exhibition with his parents, Lynn and Joe. "The concept of the sublime. … The balance of nature."
Moran was enthusiastic about the exhibit, which marks the first time the entire museum has highlighted a single artist. To celebrate the exhibition, an artist's reception on Feb. 9 will be joined with Lunar New Year festivities, including classical Chinese musicians performing on traditional instruments, a costumed dance performance and Chinese delicacies from a local chef.
The main draw, though, will be a chance to meet Yu Hanyu, who will create a traditional ink painting, hoping to bring a unique artistic expression to the audience and share the experience of the Himalayas. "Artistic language is universal," he notes. "Art has no borders."
"Everyone should come," Moran says, "to meet the artist and see his works. It's going to be spectacular, with the backdrop of his pieces and the traditional music and dance. We feel that the energy will be very special."
'The Majesty of Tibet: A Solo Exhibition of Chinese Art by Yu Hanyu'
WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and noon-4 p.m. Saturday, through March 30 (opening reception 1-4 p.m. Feb. 9), Islip Art Museum, 50 Irish Lane, East Islip
INFO $5 suggested donation; 631-224-5402, islipartmuseum.org
WHAT “Legend of the Demon Cat,” a film set in China's Tang dynasty. The Feb. 7 screening will be followed by a discussion with Professor Peter Mascuch.
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 and 10:30 a.m. Feb. 9, Plaza Cinema & Media Arts Center, 20 Terry St., Patchogue
INFO $9, $7 students, $5 ages 12 and younger; 631-438-0083, plazamac.org
WHAT Winter Concert Series: Lunar New Year Celebration with Chinese music
WHEN | WHERE 2 p.m. Feb. 10, Bayard Cutting Arboretum, 440 Montauk Hwy., Great River
INFO Free; 631-581-1002, parks.ny.gov/events/event.aspx?e=95-24065.0
WHAT Shanghai Opera Symphony Orchestra in concert
WHEN | WHERE 3 p.m. Feb. 16, Tilles Center, LIU Post, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville,
INFO $40-$80; 516-299-3100, tillescenter.org