Yan White is a London-born artist working across painting, printmaking and digital mediums. The overall approach is akin to alchemy, a continual process of exploration, discovery and refinement.
His analog work using acrylic paint, dyes and ink, is influenced by Zen And Gutai (Japanese postwar abstract ‘Concrete’ movement, that seeks to bring out the spirit of matter), exploring the nature of mediums through colour, texture and interaction.
By working with layers and cultivating process, surfaces evolve and express counterpoint between time, scale and depth. Current explorations include layering dye with monotype, combining analog and digital studio processes, and working with generative art and text to image algorithms. The work is always oriented towards balance, harmony and invoking positive stillness or energy.
“The philosophy of both Gutai (Japan) and Dansaekhwa (Korea) art movements inspire me, as do many artists working intuitively with a kind of slow or layered abstraction. I prefer to experience an open space for interpretation, and always appreciate artwork that allows that space for contemplation, which could be on something as simple as a single colour, or a juxtaposition.
I like to feel a certain tension when experiencing an artwork. For me it works best when there is an immediate attraction, and a subsequent pushing back, leading to questions, discovering new depths, looking again, so that I am in some way transformed.
I’ve always been interested in combining and connecting elements through visual language, and since I believe there is generally nothing in particular I want to say or depict, I focus on process, the studio and its’ inner life and resonances.
This leads to a process of experimentation and discovery, of reworking, covering or repurposing that leaves traces even when layers are hidden, then subtly revealed, for example through texture. I enjoy allowing chemistry, gravity, viscosity and evaporation to determine outcomes (A little bit of surprise is generally good I think). By-products of a particular process might also get repurposed and re-used, creating a feedback loop, and that creates a kind of language and conversation I find interesting.
Experimenting with prompt design in text to speech AI also fascinates me, and I believe this is a cultural and technological moment that is seismic in importance. It is a very different way of working, although curation of a process with unknown outcomes is common to both mediums.
Since the corpus of images these algorithms are trained on represent something like the sum of human-created imagery, the linguistic interpretation and recreation of this imagery represents something akin to Jung’s concept of the unconscious. In this case I call it the statistical unconscious, since it is through a statistical linguistic value system that the algorithm determines meaning and aesthetics. In a poetic sense, you could say the AI is dreaming.
While I consider myself spiritual, and certainly open to a sense of mystery, including both intuitive knowledge and a sense of unknowing, for me spirituality is perhaps a very general and possibly over-used term. We breathe, as does the natural universe, therefore we inspire. The Dao is lived quietly without explanation.
To align oneself with spirituality is often a position formed in relation or opposition to logic, rationality, science and order. Often these principles are encoded in maps and mental models, such as attributing certain qualities to either masculine or feminine, or observing phenomena through a lens of the chakras, or elements of Ayurveda.
I find all these to be beautiful and useful, yet my nature is evolving and rebellious, and so I prefer to find my relation to spirituality outside of systems and traditions, in art, music and relationship, through listening and working.
My own spiritual journey includes yoga and meditation. I completed 500 hours of yoga teacher training in Thailand, and then lived and taught beginner classes for a year in Chiangmai. This experience affected me profoundly, showing me another frequency and style of living.
Returning to London I joined a drumming circle (volunteering with an organisation working with special needs groups and care homes), got involved in improvising singing circles, and then sang with The Improvisers’ Choir. Myself and another singer set up alternative sound journeys using multi-channel speaker setups and vocal looping alongside the more traditional sound tools.
We explored and worked with facilitation of a liminal hypnagogic space and I provided live soundscapes for yoga workshops. Alongside these projects I studied Indian classical bansuri and visited Hariprasad Chaurasia’s gurukul in Bubaneshwar, India, which was a profoundly challenging, humbling and spiritual experience.
For me, spirituality in my creative output, whether art or music, means connecting to something authentic and truthful about who, what and where I am in this moment.
I find it it in a yearning for balance and harmony, in simplicity, in judging, editing and curating, in transcendence and dissatisfaction, in achieving a sense of flow (or no-mind, as it is sometimes referred to in Zen practice), in constantly exploring and pulling at threads, seeking towards meaningful evolution and progression in my practice, remaining both kind and hungry, and doing what I can to show up and do the work.”
Yan studied Art & Design at Chelsea College, Sonic Arts at London College of Communication, worked as a web designer, and is now returning to education to study an MA in Fine Art. He is also a musician, playing guitar in The Council of Neptune, and has self-released various recordings and projects. His latest album ’Spira’, inspired by the pandemic, geopolitical tensions and a return to the healing power of nature and breathing, is on Bandcamp.