Young Artists 2023 Art

At 25, Artist Oscar yi Hou Has Already Had a Solo Museum Show—And Written a Memoir

Oscar yi Hou is in his poetry era. In his “poem paintings,” a private lexicon of hieroglyphs—cranes, the yin and yang symbol, Western spurs—serve as stand-ins for the artist.

“It’s the universe of the paintings, and it’s up to the viewer if they want to decipher it or not,” the New York-based, Liverpool-born painter says of the works, which have served as a means to document his relationships with loved ones over the years.

In one example, an ongoing conversation (and exchange of writing) between yi Hou and his close friend Elmo Tumbokon resulted in Old Gloried Hole, aka: Ends of Empire, 2022, an evocative commentary on American imperialism and queer identity that stands at nearly seven feet tall.

On the canvas, Tumbokon strikes a commanding presence: His shadow is cast against the reimagined American flag’s red stripes, which are rendered in obscured text (a reframing of the welcome letter that the Filipino-born Tumbokon received when he became a naturalized U.S. citizen).

“Historically, minorities have always had to operate with a kind of subterranean semiotics, language, or codes,” says yi Hou, who was born to Cantonese immigrants in England. The 25-year-old found a kindred spirit in the late Chinese artist Martin Wong, who shared an interest in subversive forms of language, homoerotic imagery, and cowboys.

“It’s important to keep Wong—who died of [complications related to] AIDS—and his generation of artists’ practices alive by reexamining them, by rearticulating them, by responding to them so that they still remain interlocutors within contemporary discourse,” he emphasizes.

The young artist’s mid-20s have been marked by a number of major milestones. Last year, he published an eponymous collection of poetry, essays, and memoir with James Fuentes gallery that posed the question: “What is art after representation?”

For his first solo museum show at the Brooklyn Museum, “East of sun, west of moon,” which ran until this September, he acted as the de facto curator, selecting works, writing wall texts, and fleshing out a thesis. With his premise outlined across museum walls, yi Hou freed himself from the burden of having to explain himself going forward.

Now, he’s beginning preparations for an upcoming show with James Fuentes in New York next fall. “My life this past year has been undergoing a state of expansion,” yi Hou says. What’s next? “I’m going to contract—hunker down and attune myself to the pleasure of painting.”

For more about CULTURED's 2023 Young Artists, read our features with Adam AlessiCharisse Pearlina Weston, and Adam Alessi.