Rong-Gen Yin: A Brush with Nature, Engine Room Gallery Belfast, January 2020


“Michael Rong-Gen Yin, originally from Shanghai, began painting in the traditional Chinese manner in the 1970s. During the 1980s he was a member of an artist collective and had occasions to tutor painting in Japan and Germany. Having come to Northern Ireland in 2003 Rong-Gen has continued to paint and teach traditional Chinese painting techniques.  Rong-Gen practises the two main techniques of Chinese painting – Gongbi, where intricate brushstrokes form detailed coloured landscapes, which can include narrative themes and Xieyi, which is much looser using bold brushstrokes and watercolour wash.  Rong-Gen currently tutors Chinese watercolour painting in the Chinese Resource Centre and the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast.” (

The exhibition is breathtaking for its sincere respect for tradition.



This artist feels no need to invent new ways of painting,  holding on to the two inherited techniques with discreet deviations.

Fish symbolising abundance

It is a different kind of freedom when you follow and respect your ancestors while making something that was not in the world before.  It is like growing plants from a seed.

Prawns having fun


On his website he has a comparison of  Gongbi

and Xieyi

Roses and Leaves

In comparison with the vast art market offers of Chinese art on ebay etc.,  this exhibition  offers commitment to poetic truth of the inherited themes, making the lyricism of the brushstrokes comfortable with absences.  Not so much a story – more reminiscent of Goethe’s Faustus selling his soul for the perfect moment. Yes, states of mind.

Fish of the good fortune

And economy of means.  From daring emptiness to noisily busy  composition the commitment to the just the right doses of forms, light and shadows, gets never betrayed.  Humour is allowed to puzzle the attention, here placing the singing bird into a  centre of the composition titled The Autumn Leaves.  Focus on the bird  may evoke the memory of a bird song, focus on the leaves, and the image evokes the smell of the wood in late autumn.

In comparison an image of man made habitat is saturated from edge to edge, cancelling  free space  that does not build the depth – all is a part of the utility  of nature. Anthropocentric motives nest in self-confident countryside.

Leisure Garden

Nature is to serve the mankind without getting completely tamed.

I appreciate this painter’s sincerity to deliver images that do not imprison the viewer’s habitual need for  detailed and complete story.  Instead he dares to outshine the beauty in observation with nothingness.

There is respect, discipline and wild flying away from both, in a superb harmony with empty ground.

Rong-Gen Yin gives demonstrations, teaches the how of his art.  The what  however is in the air settling on the paper with his first brush mark.  The why of his images has to do with his respect for his predecessors.  A very Chinese phenomenon.

The title A Brush with Nature is gentle play with double meaning:  art competes/brushes with nature or vice  versa; , or this is made by a painting brush and  observed nature.  I entertain both at once, with a smile.

The whole luxurious exhibition is on his website. In addition,  there is a charming pointed use of a green hue in otherwise black drawing/watercolour, on his contact us page; it would not let me copy and paste.

Images courtesy the  Engine Room Gallery and



The World Smallest Exhibition of Paintings (probably)

Fenderesky Gallery (Belfast, August 2 – September 7, 2018) has displayed paintings from 41 artists, the larger ones on Gallery Ground Floor, the small ones upstairs on two walls facing each other.

Fenderesky wall_20180815_002835
Photo credit Charlie Scott

Good eye and sense of adventure allowed the diagonals to stutter, turn back on themselves, make room for other lines of vision or just be confident to keep their initial direction.  Visual melody effortlessly issues, insisting that each painting submits its difference to connect to the others.  I see it as an installation, as a chorus of different voices harmonizing with the others.  Polyphony  – mute and visible.

Fenderesky second wall
Photo credit Charlie Scott

Compare the confidence of Dan Shipsides application of golden section

Dan Shipsides
Photo credit Helen G Blake

with Helen G Blake patiently breathing spirit into a pattern and repeat and willful red destroyers of the sameness. That hers is twice the size of the enigmatic three tones above seems to undermine the popular understanding of scale as determining aesthetic value. Both deliciously private,  to the point and without fanfare.

Helen G Blake yellow38444383_2180255065539859_2447020113241571328_n
Helen G Blake, Cake, 2018. photo Helen G Blake

The majority of paintings upstairs are the size of a postcard or a little less or little more.  They all are full blooded compositions, confident not to ask for more support than a holding palm.

Barbara Freeman feeds the hues with energy sufficient for a larger size of canvas. Yet – these are not miniatures.

Barbara Freeman
Photo Helen G Blake

A miniature refuses such promiscuity,  insisting on the chosen small scale.


Anja Markiewicz makes contemporary miniatures, which, like butterflies or flowers, are faithful to the determined size.  I noted few of the small paintings on either wall heading in that direction too but stopping just there.

installation shot Fenderesky
Photo Helen G Blake
Lisa Gingles
Lisa Gingles

It appears to me that the eye zooms on the size of the “brushstroke” to become convinced that the size is right.  The onscreen reproduction removes that certainty.

Pat Harris
Pat Harris

The intense open-ended scale allows intoxication by playful promiscuity. In the sense and to what extent mute poetry belonged to the audience,  numerous of these small paintings are sedulous.

Paddy McCann, photo credit Charlie Scott.

And immersive. Evocative like medieval portable small paintings can be.

Wilton Diptych 1395N-4451-00-000140-wpu
Wilton Diptych, NG London , 1395 – 9, egg on oak, 53 x 37 cm


Ronnie Hughes
Ronnie Hughes, Photo Helen G Blake


Tony Hill
Tony Hill, photo Helen G Blake

The promiscuity of scale in abstract paintings allows access to enjoyable insecurity –  it is not threatening.  Does it work differently in narrative, figurative mode?  Possibly –  the scale is internally bound to the size of the brushstroke in its descriptive mode.  If the canvas were bigger – the marks would need to be bigger – like in a  fresco. I recall that Goya preferred to use a sponge instead of a brush while working on the fresco at San Antonio de la Florida.

Peter Burns38405052_2180256172206415_2032583935573098496_n
Peter Burns, photo Helen G Blake

Whereas abstraction sits comfortably with brush strokes or stains of any size.

Louise Wallace at FDSC_4043
Louise Wallace, photo Helen G Blake
Helen G Blake 38403279_2180254418873257_5044939457136951296_n
David Crone, photo Helen G Blake

Whereas – when Sharon Kelly combines stains with writing the image gets locked in the small size.

Sharon Kelly at F

It is representational as well as autonomous.

In the space of several yards, the distance between Fenderesky and Engine Room galleries,  there were around 130  paintings on show.  Some harvest! Some trust in the mute poetry.