Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s mixed-media paintings are comprehensive and wry studies of contemporary society and human behaviour. Wang was trained in traditional Chinese painting and literature in Nanjing before she moved to Europe for postgraduate studies at the Städelschule in Frankfurt and De Ateliers in Amsterdam, a city in which she has been based since 2012. Her expansive practice, which crosses media, offers fragmented views of her external and internal fantasies and realities from the estranged place of an outsider. In her video series Reflection Paper (2013), made during her first two years in the Netherlands, we are presented with a litany of callous imagery: caged animals in zoos, and actions in which the artist cuts off the legs from newspaper images of footballers, and pierces gold-painted eggs with scissors. Over the top of these images, in her Chinese-accented English, she disquietingly quotes Eileen Chang’s writings on romanticism and femininity, interspersed with the artist’s own observations on class, taste, gender and cultural upbringing.
In Wang’s series of ongoing paintings Massage near me (2015–), a selection of which were first exhibited during Manifesta 11 in 2016, she mines stories from her experience of working as a masseuse in a Chinese massage parlour in Amsterdam for four months. Her narrative paintings crisscross Chinese, Japanese and Western painting traditions and depict her and her colleagues’ daily dealings with male customers. With idiosyncratic titles such as Tracy and Yang was Kicking A Older Male client out, Because of He was Trying to Jerk Off on Towel (2015), the paintings portray monstrous male naked bodies in absurd scenes of attempted physical interaction with the reserved, clothed staff in a lush draped setting. By becoming a masseuse, a job that she has described as “confronting people with their own identity” – customers and herself, in this case – Wang comes face-to-face with cultural clichés and the sexual fantasies regarding Chinese female immigrants. Daringly, she moves through charged and, at times, alien domains of intimacy, desire and gender in her personal quest to shape a new subject.
Based in Amsterdam, Wang recently exhibited at Carlos/Ishikawa, London. A new exhibition will open at Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam, in November