Paging Heshi Yu


Dear Heshi Yu,

I am a fan of your art. I would like to say I am a collector, but I have only one piece so far. It is this painting, which I picked up for a fair price at a mid century design consignment shop in a suburb of Philadelphia. The shop did not know your name but simply described this gorgeous creation as “signed Yu”.

The price was high enough that I needed to do a little research to justify the expense. I am an art lover but not a real collector as I have a tiny budget.

After a number of false starts tracking younger Yu’s, a deep dive into Google images yielded a familiar aesthetic, your whimsical 70s-80s line-drawn cityscapes, some penned or painted onto brightly colored canvases, some in vivid lithographs and serigraphs, some etched into textured metallic paints like the one I was about to buy.

I was blown away!

With the name Heshi Yu, I was able to find auction records, eBay and Etsy listings, and even a companion piece to the one I was about to own. My eyes and heart were full of your creations: the steeples and houses and squares of town centers, the docks and boats of fishing villages, the firework trees, and the tiny figures you dropped into them walking dogs or skating. They speak to my love of cities and community and to the villages we all create and inhabit. I was drawn to their design but anchored by their simple humanity.

In case you haven’t noticed, this is a love letter.

These images were to me a little reminiscent of the Paul Klee paintings I adore, but with a modern design sensibility and an Asian flair. There is something about the gold leaf and the circles that feel Eastern, the floating borders and medallions. And I wonder if the fishing villages are memories of your childhood in China, before art school in Paris and your move to New York.

What was it like for you to move to Brooklyn in 1969? What was your life like then, and how are you now? I understand you are in your 80s.

The paintings I’ve seen from the late 80s onward are stunning and different than the earlier ones that may be considered your trademark. There is a mother and child that especially moves me. It is done in blues and nods gently to Gustav Klimt but has a look all its own and a sweet tranquility. Its tenderness makes me wonder if you married here. If you had kids. If you still live in New York or even in the US.

Do you ever google your own name?

If so, I hope you find this. Because I google you often and always seem to find the same brief bio, repeated verbatim across auction house sites. It lists schools in Taiwan and Paris but little else. I want to know more about you. 

Are you well? In good health? Do you still paint or draw?

I want to know what motivates you. I want to understand your creative process. I want to know what it was like to leave China, to boldly cross oceans and cultures. To grow in an emerging New York art scene. To move into the printing process and find acclaim. I want to know what meanings you have coded into your paintings.

You are a mystery to me.

And more than anything, I fear sometimes that one of my regular “Heshi Yu” googles will yield an obituary, maybe a small piece in the New York Times that lays out some personal details and context of a life that must be fascinating.

If you ever see this and wish to connect, I would love to learn more about you and to write about you. I would love to help tell your story to the cult of people who collect your work and to those like me who love it and are craving the back story. If you read this and care to, please drop a line! A simple email would blow my mind.

But either way, it would warm my heart just to imagine you somehow found and read these words. If you do, know how much I love your work. And if these words make you smile even momentarily, I will be glad to have in some small measure returned the favor.

I like to imagine the swollen suns of your paintings shining down on me. You are a brilliant artist, and your work continues to shed beauty, light, and human warmth in a world that needs it.

I love Yu,
Andrea in Philadelphia

Heshi info

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One thought on “Paging Heshi Yu

  1. Pat Szyper

    Love the painting, and your beautiful words to the very gifted artist. It would be thrilling if you heard back from this person you so admire.

    Reply

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