One of the unfortunate things about genius is that it is often inextricably tied to madness in some form or another. Especially when it comes to creative genius. Some of the world's foremost leaders in fashion (Alexander McQueen), music (Kurt Cobain), and art (Vincent Van Goh) have also suffered torturous forms of depression and mental illness that eventually became too much to bear.
Only the latest example, sadly, is artist Ren Hang, an up-and-coming, provocative Chinese photographer who was only just beginning to gain worldwide attention for his boundary-pushing, erotic, challenging photography; work that so far stepped outside social norms in conservative China that Hang once had one of his exhibits shut down by the government on "suspicion of sex."
In February of this year, Hang committed suicide. He was never shy about his battle with depression, even penning a blog called "My Depression," on his website. At the time of his death, Hang had two exhibits of his work underway, one at the Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm and another at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam. He was also a contributing photographer to rapper Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Cry magazine.
Also happening simultaneously was the release of a book of his work by Taschen, which debuted in January and was that was incredibly well-received throughout the creative community. In one review, I-D London labeled Hang their favorite Chinese artist, while New York's Cool Hunting said "Few books have captured our attention as Hang’s has, for his fresh approach and eager eye, use of color, fluid and occasionally head-scratching compositions, expression and mystique.”
The best part of the book, however, might be the glimpse it gives into Hang's motivation. For instance, while he was remarkably unfettered by social or cultural norms, he admits that his goal with his art was never to spark social or political controversy. "I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context or political context," he tells. "I don’t intentionally push boundaries. I just do what I do." What he did just so happens to be pure genius.
Check out the book, and more reviews of Hang's work on Amazon, here.