Issue 1: Research Festival

Spirituality and Poetry in Painting

An essay analysing the role of spirituality and poetry in my own painting practice and other artists’ works.

“Reclaiming the sacred in our lives naturally brings us close once more to the wellsprings of poetry.”                                                        

Robert Bly

I have been interested in poetry and sacred things since I was a child, like churches, forests, candles, moonlight, God, and although I am not a religious person, I revere these things. I believe these things have a special power that guides humanity.

In my research, my works mainly explore the spirituality and poetry in painting as well as the symbolism and mystery of things. The following article combines my own paintings and the works of different artists to analyze the spirituality and poetry in paintings.

Figure 1, Wei Huang,  Holy Light,  2022
oil on canvas

In Holy light (Figure 1), I painted a candle that I lit. What attracts me is not itself, but the divine light it emits, as Mehmet Murat ildan said, “What distinguishes candle from other lights is that it appeals to our soul, not our eyes!” The light emitted by the candle is like God guiding human beings. However, when I light a candle, I am sad because it keeps burning and will eventually burn out. Paul Celan’s poem in front of a candle inspired me “of chased gold, as you instructed me, Mother, I shaped the candlestick from which she darkens up for me in the midst.” (Celan, p85)

Figure 2, Wei Huang,  Candle,  2022
oil on canvas

Another painting that I painted about candles (Figure 2) which make viewers may think of Richter’s Candles (Figure 3 and 4), indeed, the candles he painted gave me some inspiration. In the heyday of Dutch still life painting in the 17th century, burning or extinguished candles were associated with the transience of life and the emptiness of the material world. Therefore, Richter’s Candle was also interpreted by most critics as a symbol of “transience of life” or “thinking about death”. (L I, 2012)

Figure 3, Gerhard Richter,  Candle,  1982
Oil on Canvas
Figure 4, Gerhard Richter,  Two Candle,  1982
Oil on Canvas

His work candles have been used throughout art history as unforgettable souvenirs, the ephemeral reflections of their flames reflecting the ephemeral nature of all life, but also representing the ardent spiritual power of man. Although Richter has always considered himself an atheist and anti-thinker, this image is a perfect tribute to his continued affirmation of his art to “the highest form of hope.” Perhaps importantly, Richter was only fifty years old when he created his first painting of a candle. At this moment in his life, a burning candle is a means of harmony over time.

Figure 5, Wei Huang,  The lights are burning like life,  2022
Oil on canvas

Next is The light is burning like life (Figure 5), I painted a chandelier which is same as the last painting about light, for me, things that glow will convey a sense of holiness to me. I continued the symbolic exploration of the everyday objects around me in Unit 1 and Unit 2, exploring the inner spirituality and symbolism of the objects. A very ordinary object that I face every day, I try to dig its inner extraordinary side. When night fell, it brought me light, which gave me a sense of holiness and religion.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
Figure 6, Vincent van Gogh,  Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888
oil on canvas

The ceiling lamp I painted it all night. When I finished, I used a scraper to scrape the surface of the painting to make everything in the picture seem more virtual, breaking the edge of the picture, which makes this lamp look like it’s burning. Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone (Figure 6) depicts the starry sky illuminating the night and the river water as day. This painting touched me not only by Vincent’s clumsy and sincere brushstrokes, but also by the starlight full of holiness and hope.

 “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

Vincent van Gogh
Figure 7, Wei Huang,  False prosperity,  2022
oil on canvas

In False Prosperity (Figure 7), I painted a banquet hall, the hall is brightly lit and full of tables, but there are not people appear, it’s a huge contrast, a false prosperity. I used a balanced and symmetrical composition to express the solemnity and sanctity of the banquet hall. However, there was no one person in the banquet hall, and I wanted to express a sense of alienation and difference. I dealt with this painting relatively imaginatively, I wanted to express a feeling of time passing and things being different. It used to be prosperous, full of seats, and very lively, but now it is empty, false, and prosperous. The element of lights also appears in this painting, which may be understood as a clue and intention of mine in Unit 3. What I want to express is that all the prosperity created by people is false prosperity if no one appears. There is a lot of light in this painting, it is on the luxurious ceiling like light from heaven, symbolizing God and hope.

Figure 8, Wei Huang,  Mid-autumn,  2022
oil on canvas

In Mid-autumn (Figure 8), I painted a streetlamp, its shape is as round as the moon in mid-autumn, this lamp emits a charming warm light, the reason why I am so obsessed with light is not only because of bringing light and holiness to me was also influenced by an artist, Eliasson. He is good at using light to flood the entire exhibition space, making the audience awe-inspiring.  Eliasson let 2 million people walk into the museum just to witness a huge “artificial sun” in London in 2003 (Figures 9 and 10), experience a “sunset twilight” that will never happen. People came to this “red sun” one after another like a pilgrimage, sitting, watching, lying down, crying, dancing… Facing the mirror on the ceiling, they looked at their tiny figure dozens of meters away from themselves.

Figure 9, Eliasson, The Weather Project , 2003
Figure 10, Eliasson, The Weather Project , 2003

“Optics is an art in itself”

Olafur Eliasson

People stand in front of such a huge round of the sun that always emits light and heat, and they feel awe, and may also be infected by sentimental or nostalgic atmosphere. Everyone is a participant in this work. This may be the charm and holiness of light.

Figure 11, Wei Huang,  Church,  2022
oil on canvas

The next painting is Church (Figure 11), as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the church is a sacred thing to me, and I have always been in awe of it, not only for its unique and beautiful architectural style, but also Because of the deep religious beliefs behind it. The church in the painting is a church opposite my home, and I can see it through the window in my room. Every day I see the change of light and color from morning to evening, I feel quite touched. Whenever I face it, I feel peace inside, which remind me of what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.” The sunset light that day shone on this church, like a holy light, like a flame, which is very beautiful. I used strong subjective colors to express it on the canvas. The holy light shines on the holy church. This scene is like a gift from God. 

Figure 12, Monet,  Church 1, 1872
oil on canvas
Figure 13, Monet,  Church 2,  1872
oil on canvas

In the next painting Belief (Figure 14), I did not depict light. On the contrary, I depicted a person in darkness. What I want to explore is the psychological state and spirituality of the characters in the darkness. The determined eyes are like a kind of belief and waiting for the light. Darkness is temporary, light will always come. Instead of painting a frontal portrait, I painted a portrait between one side and the back, which makes it more difficult for the viewer to figure out the emotional and psychological state of the characters in the painting, giving the viewer a sense of mystery and imagination space. I was inspired by an artist Michael Borremans, his works Automat and The Ear (Figure 15 and 16) evoke reverie by showing the backs of characters without seeing their faces, because people often feel mysterious about the unknown.

Figure 14, Wei Huang, Belief, 2022
oil on canvas

“My work combines two aspects at the same time: it not only reflects the complex and dark side of human nature like a mirror, but also draws lessons from the common elements in classical portraits. This contradiction will bring a sense of alienation to the viewer, which is exactly where the interest of the work lies.”                            

Michaël Borremans
Figure 15, Michaël Borremans,  Automat,  2008
Oil on canvas
Figure 15, Michaël Borremans,  The ear,  2011
Oil on canvas

Brymans’ paintings are extremely diverse, uncertain, with a sense of quiet mystery, humor, obscurity and anxiety. the sense of tranquility, mystery, humor and obscurity conveyed in borymans’ works have given me a new understanding of realistic painting and also inspired me.

Figure 16, Wei Huang,  There is not her mom’s poem and song in the forest , 2022
oil on canvas

In There is not her mom’s poem and song in the forest (Figure 16) (also showed in the November exhibition). As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the forest is a scene that brings me a sense of sacredness and mystery, so I firmly believe that there are still many unknown mysterious things in the depths of the forest. In this work, I started some new explorations, the subjective processing and control of color, weakened the color inclination of the picture, and made the picture show a gray tone.

Figure 19, Theodoros Angelopoulos , Landscape in the mist, 1988
Figure 17, Luc Tuymans,  Baby
oil on canvas
Figure 18, Luc Tuymans,  
The forest 
oil on canvas

I was influenced by Luc Tuymans in the color of the paintings. The greys and monochromes in his paintings appeal to me (Figure 17 and 18), there is a quiet and solemn vibe. I deliberately reduce the details of the picture and reduce the contrast of the picture, in order to create a special and mysterious atmosphere. The inspiration for this painting comes from a movie I once watched called ” Landscape in the mist ” (Figure 19). In addition, I added the element of sound to this work, so that the audience can strengthen the sense of mystery and poetry. Before I make this work, I constructed a story of a little girl in the forest looking for her mother who is a musician and poet.

I made the character smaller and the trees in the forest are huge, to enhance this visual contrast, the forest ahead is unknown, mysterious and even dangerous, this forest in front of her is a symbol of the different things we encounter in our lives. Certainty and danger, and the mother the little girl is looking for is a metaphor for the precious and beautiful things she is looking for in life.

“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.”  

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Figure 19, Grunewald Matthias,  The Crucifixion, 1515 
oil on canvas

I painted this little girl in the center of the picture to enhance the balance of the picture, reflecting its sense of eternity and sacredness, just like many early religious paintings, the artist painted Jesus in. And this little as shown in The Crucifixion (Figure 19) In my painting, this girl is a symbol of ourselves. She is beautiful and brave. It’s like a state of life for everyone. Putting the main object in the middle has a religious sense of eternity and sanctity., my previous works also have the same exploration. For example, the Lost series I created (Figure 20 and 21) also explores about people themselves, searching for the meaning of life, and the composition is similar to it. I think the forest can be used as an extension of my lost series.

Figure 20, Wei Huang,  Lost-snow mountain,  2020
oil on canvas
Figure 21, Wei Huang,  Lost-Wilderness,  2020,
oil on canvas

In this work, I was also inspired by a misty poem Mountain Shadow by the poet Gu Cheng (1956-1993):

Mountain Shadow

In the shadow of mountains

Emerging an ancient warrior

Who drawing a steed

When road disappears from all sides

He becomes a relief sculpture

Becomes various tales

a devil to-day

an angel tomorrow

Gu Cheng

The mood in this poem inspired me. So, I express this mood in my works. Because I am interested in the hazy, vague, mysterious things in poetry, I try to translate it into a pictorial language and express it in my work. In the final analysis, it is still to return to the exploration of human beings, the exploration of each independent individual.

In my opinion, when the viewers stand in front of my work, I want them to think of themselves, their own experiences, their own past and future, like reading a poem about themselves, which takes them into their inner world.  As Alexander said, “into the middle of an intimacy, an interior moment” (Alexander, 2020, p. 89). It is what I want to see that the viewers have different interpretations of my works. Because everyone’s experience, education and family are different, so different viewers have different understandings and thoughts on my works. I think painting is different from writing, writing needs to tell the reader specific thing, whereas painting is visual, it should convey something visual to the viewer and then touch them. As artist Xiaodong said:

My hope is that viewers looking at my art will think of themselves. And maybe they’ll have their own associations, because everyone has different life experiences. Maybe they’ll be reminded of their own childhood, or think of their friends, or parents, or consider our social systems. (Xiaodong, 2020)

In short, I hope to convey to the viewers a mysterious, poetic, quiet, eternal, and solemn visual experience and resonance through my works, and inspire the viewers to think about time, existence, the philosophical meaning of realism, and the poetic and spiritual nature of paintings.


Gerhard Richter (1982) Candle [Oil on canvas]. Location of the work (Viewed: date).

Celan, P., Hamacher, W., & Menninghaus, W. (1988). Paul Celan. Suhrkamp.

Washington, JM (1986). A testament of hope: The essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Harper.

Vincent van Gogh (1888) Starry Night Over the Rhone [Oil on canvas]. Musée d’Orsay (Viewed: date).

Eliasson (2003) The Weather Project [Mix medium]. Location of the work (Viewed: date).

Monet (1872) Church [Oil on canvas]. Location of the work (Viewed: date).

Michaël Borremans (2008) Automat (I) [Oil on canvas]. Location of the work (Viewed: date).

Michaël Borremans (2011) The Ear [Oil on canvas]. Location of the work (Viewed: date).

Landscape in the mist (1988) Directed by Theodoros Angelopoulos [Feature film]. Greece

Tuymans, L. (2004) Baby [Oil on Canvas]. Available at: (Accessed: date).

Grunewald Matthias (1515) The Crucifixion [Oil on canvas]. Musee drUnterlinden, Colmar (Viewed: date).

 Bbs.yzs (2009) Available at: date).

Alexander, E. (2020), ‘Inside the Order Is Always Something Wild’ , in Maidment, I. & Schlieker, A. (ed.) Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night. Tate: London

Xiaodong, L. (2020) ‘Liu Xiaodong in “Beijing”‘, art21. Available at: (last accessed 24th May 2021).

About the author

Wei Huang is a Chinese artist who graduated from MA Fine Art: Painting at Camberwell in 2022. His work forces on exploring the inner spirituality and symbolism of the objects and special moments in his life. Follow his work at @alex_hw_art or