Tempe resident Ziyun Xun’s work is inspired by both Chinese philosophy and the Op art movement of the 1960s, creating a unique artistic language that fuses the artist’s native culture within the context of contemporary international art.

Xun recently debuted her first solo exhibition, entitled Impermanence (on January 2, 2024), adding her name to the esteemed roster of downtown Phoenix’s Bentley Gallery, and marking a significant artistic milestone in her adopted home of the U.S.

Artist Ziyun “Zoe” Xun

Xun’s work strikes the viewer with splendid optical phenomena, often morphing in shape and color when viewed in motion. She developed her techniques over the past several years, during her master’s studies at ASU School of Art.

Her process is incredibly meticulous and involves applying thin strips of painter’s tape to raw canvas, leaving linear patterns across the surface. She then rolls on layers of acrylic paint, continuously revisiting the work to add more pigment, until significant sculptural lines have built up. Positive/negative space is revealed when sections of the canvas are scored and pieces of tape are removed.

Ziyun Xun, “Impermanence” installation view at Bentley Gallery, photography Clutch Photos

While perhaps difficult to imagine, the mesmerizing optical effects of the works are best experienced by walking around them. Occurring simultaneously with the viewer’s perceptual experience is an underlying philosophy of change that informs the work and adds depth.

Xun draws inspiration from both Buddhism and I Ching (also called Book of Changes), one of the oldest and most important texts in Chinese philosophy. Each of the artworks exhibited exemplifies Xun’s application of the concept of impermanence, drawing from substances in the universe, both material and non-material, that are non-static and change with the passage of time.

Ziyun Xun, “I – CHING 64″ 2022, 64 individual canvases (8″ x 8” each), acrylic on canvas over wood panel, photo courtesy of Bentley Gallery and Clutch Photos

Among the works in the exhibition, I – CHING 64 is a representation of the 64 hexagrams that serve as the basis of the Book of Changes. The artwork encompasses an array of 64 individual pieces representing Yin lines (broken lines) and Yang lines (solid lines). In the I Ching, a combination of six lines delivers a virtual meaning related to natural phenomena like wind, thunder, mountains, etc. There are total 64 hexagrams that construct a massive set, representing a comprehensive system of Chinese wisdom. Each interdependent element in nature operates through changes to reach a balance.

Ziyun Xun, “I – CHING 64″ 2022, 64 canvases, 8″ x 8” (each), acrylic on canvas over wood panel, photo courtesy of Bentley Gallery and Clutch Photos

If you walk straight up to the paintings GUA – 55 FENG, MIND (four) and 9 XIAOXU, you will see plain surfaces of raw linen embellished with pigmented sculptural strips – that’s it. However, when you step away and move around them, the canvases start to change visually and dimensionally – a vibrant mirage is created by the physics of color interaction – science that overwhelms the mind toward enchantment.

“GUA – 55FENG” 2022, 36″ x 36″ inches, oil and acrylic on raw linen, photo courtesy Bentley Gallery and Clutch Photos
“MIND (four)” 2021, 60″ x 52″, oil and acrylic on raw linen over wood panel, photo courtesy of Bentley Gallery and Clutch Photos

I inquired about the subject matter of Xun’s art, besides its kaleidoscopic effect. “I create moments,” she said – an enlightening statement. A moment can be tangible and intangible. It can exist while disappearing. One can absolutely grab a blessed moment, when viewing Xun’s work (or any other experience), while missing that moment at the same time. One of the essential teachings of Buddhism is that existence itself is non-existent. Inner peace is the everlasting goal.

When you have fully immersed yourself into Xun’s work, you might say that the eternal is no longer eternal.

Ziyun Xun, “Impermanence” installation view at Bentley Gallery, photography Clutch Photos

Ziyun Xun


Through January 27

Bentley Gallery