Poolside daydreams

Society & Culture

Fan Yang-Tsung captures the summertime bliss

This article was originally published on Neocha and is republished with permission.

The paintings of Fan Yang-Tsung are technicolor visions of poolside life created with crisp lines and geometric edges. Vacationers lounge along abstract decks, tanning in the sun; others swim weightlessly in hypnotically crystal-blue water or peer out from hidden vantage points behind lush green foliage. The Taiwanese artist’s work seems to balance many alternating views at once: natural and artificial, pleasure and discomfort, cleanliness and filth. And he doesn’t seem too concerned with resolving any of this, which gives his work an uncertainty that’s compelling.

Some of Fan’s work is painted from a bird’s-eye view, with pool-goers splayed about at random below. Sometimes he gets up close and personal, with a focus on someone’s sunburnt back or calves. Others are painted from an voyeuristic perspective from behind the bushes. There are paintings set inside the pool and below the water as well. All together the variety of angles and viewpoints of the same scene gives his work the feel of a photo album of an overzealous cameraman. It’s pretty much all men in his works, and he’s straightforward about the meaning behind this: “It’s because I’m attracted to men.”

Fan was born and raised in Hsinchu, a province about an hour southwest of Taipei where he still lives and works. Outdoor pools aren’t very common there, but in the capital, they’re regular and affordable. Fascinated by public pools, he realized they would make for great subject material about ten years ago. “Swimming pools are a public space where everyone can show off their bodies and express themselves,” the 40-year-old artist says. “People really enjoy being seen and seeing others. The desire of watching others’ bodies is at the same time fulfilled.”

Sometimes nature is prominent in Fan’s paintings, with vibrant green trees scaling high or large verdant leaves taking up most of the foreground. But it’s always contrasted with the built environment. Sterile blue water, unnaturally green-painted surfaces, bright towering spotlights. Even his style of linear gradient shading seems to refer to the artificial, the digital. This is contrasted with a swirling paint effect used for foliage and waves. Geometric patterns are paired with curvy bubbles and wavy leaves. The pool is, after all, a human recreation of something we’re drawn to in the natural world: “People are trying to recreate this environment where they relax and interact with each other,” he says. The results are not always great though, and oftentimes he depicts the pools and surfaces as being dirty and unkempt.

Contrast is central to most of Fan’s work. A sharply delineated horizon line; a pool’s edge in a diptych that switches up colors on each side but shares a common through line; the tanlines. From pale white, to lobster red, to dark umber, he relishes differences in skin tones that he paints. He says that while tanning is often frowned on in East Asia, especially among women, it’s considered healthy and attractive for gay men. He portrays his characters lying prone in every corner of the pool, exhausted by the heady sun or happily relaxed. Awkward tan lines with pasty white flesh starkly juxtaposed alongside freshly burnt skin is a regular feature as well. “This is just a normal feature at the pool, but I try to exaggerate that aspect,” he grins. “Tan lines show off what areas are usually concealed, which suggests a sensual desire of peeking at what’s not usually available.”
While Fan paints mainly in cool colors, pastels, and pared-down tones, a sense of warmth still radiates from his canvases. Clear blue skies, dripping sweaty, and well-cooked skin imbues an unmistakable summertime vibe. He also manages to avoid easy categorization, constantly readjusting the way his work could interpreted, all the while remaining laser focused on his subject material. It makes his work instantly accessible while still encouraging deep viewing—a difficult balance that he pulls off with ease.

Like this story? Follow Neocha on Facebook and Instagram.


Contributor: Mike Steyels
Chinese Translation: Olivia Li