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