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Ding Yi: A Pursuit of Individuality
Ding Yi: A Pursuit of Individuality
Video Transcript

(Original language: Mandarin)

DING YI: I think the most precious quality in an artist is having their own personal judgement rather than conforming to someone else’s. I want to distance myself from that kind of conformity and remain independent.

I did not intend to bestow any particular meaning to the cross, as a geometric shape. I became familiar with this symbol when I was designing packaging for factories. There, it was just technical signage. I found that it was also a universal sign of intersection. When using a symbol like this, there is no ambiguity. People generally don’t associate it with any physical object. I wanted it to be entirely abstract.

So I began to make art with a ruler and ruling pens. This way, all my passion, everything that I wanted to express, was suppressed and turned ice-cold. I also wanted to subvert typical ways of using colours. I adopted a way of colouring inspired by automatism, painting in whatever pigments I could get my hands on and creating works in those colours.

In my artworks, I want to express myself through rationality and irony. So back [when creating the 'Appearance of Crosses’ series'] I had a very clear idea: to make art that doesn’t look like art. Therefore, I intended to make paintings that have no semblance of paintings; to make my paintings devoid of any meaning.

There were two major schools during the ’85 and ’86 New Wave movement; namely, Expressionism and Surrealism. They were both well suited to a newly opened China and to ways of thinking across all walks of life. There was a lot of frustration and dejection that needed to be expressed in an Expressionist manner. The ’85 and ’86 New Wave movement and the 1989 China Avant-Garde Art Exhibition were events that we experienced and participated in. The artists from the ’80s had a collective mission, hoping to change the course of history so that contemporary Chinese art could germinate and develop.

The most precious quality in an artist is having their own personal judgement.

Ding Yi

Artist Ding Yi explains his methods and aims behind consistently using geometric plus signs and crosses in his abstract paintings

The plus signs and crosses in the abstract paintings by Ding Yi (born 1962, Shanghai) are intended to be universal symbols of complete abstraction, allowing him to move away from any social and political contexts. Through careful execution with a paintbrush, ruler, and tape, the ‘+’ motif is articulated in a structured and disciplined manner.

Ding Yi participated in China’s 85 New Wave art movement, which took place in the beginning of the mid-1980s. In this movement, artists advocated for departure from the official standard of Socialist Realism and experimentation with new artistic languages. Their goal was to renew Chinese art.

M+ Magazine

In this video, Ding explores his work in the context of the two art styles that dominated during the New Wave: Expressionism, emphasising subjective personal expression, and Surrealism, which channels the unconscious through, for example, automatism. However, Ding’s paintings reject symbolic content and narrative meaning as defined by Western expressionism and abstraction. Instead, he pursues an artistic purity and openness free of the perplexities and burdens of traditional Western theories.

Video Credits

Produced by





Anafelle Liu

M+ Video Production

Chris Sullivan, Jaye Yau, Elaine Wong

M+ Curatorial Research

Isabella Tam, Ethan Cheng

M+ Transcript and Closed Captions

LW Lam, Ellen Oredsson, Amy Leung

Special Thanks

Ding Yi

This video was originally published on M+ Stories.

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