Yue Minjun was born in Daqing in Heilongjiang, China in 1962. Yue moved from place to place for most of his life because his family had to move from oilfield to oilfield to find work. Before working as an electrician, he graduated from Hebei Normal University in 1989, where he studied oil painting.
What inspired him to create his laughing self-portraits?
1989 was the same year in which China was left shocked by the infamous student-led demonstrations and the suppression of such on Tiananmen Square. These movements played a large part in the inspiration and mood of Yue’s work. To fight the dark mood of the hour, the dark reality of the time, he created vibrant self-images embodying an almost mania - The laughing image.
The different meanings of laughter
The laughter never necessarily means happiness. Laughter can be nervous. It can be spiteful. It can be healing. A smile or a laugh can be genuine but can also be a mask. They can mask feelings of loss, feelings of helplessness, and feelings of confusion. Although the smile on Yue’s sculptures and paintings has often been interpreted as a joke or bliss, the meaning behind the smile often is so much deeper.
Yue was influenced by the Chinese modern art revolution, during which old ideas were being broken down and new thoughts were being created. He grew up when market economic policies were beginning to release and there was accelerated development. This was also a period of global economic prosperity. These social and economic changes that were happening globally, especially within China, pushed artists like Yue Minjun to quickly grow and evolve. Within this group of artists, Yue is without a doubt one of the most successful. He is also known as an influential member of the Cynical Realism movement.
Self-portraits & using humor as a tool
His famous self-portraits take place in various settings, with an infamous expression of wide-toothed laughter. The figures featured in these self-portraits with disproportionately large faces, gleefully open mouths, and eyes closed, have become recognizable to admirers worldwide. Throughout his work, Yue utilizes humor as a tool to convey a tempestuous stage in modern China.
In portraying himself within his paintings, he allows himself more freedom of expression. Through this expression, he can look at himself and society. He can question reality, and the laugh that is portrayed in his portraits and sculptures is relatable for his countrymen and women who have experienced the changes in society. The smile that is so large and convincing often has something else behind it. Sometimes in any given situation, all we can do is smile.
JM Art Management