For the staff of the Maret restaurant at the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, art seemed something unattainable, the preserve of a chosen few. With no financial resources or cultural baggage, what prospect was there that they might one day rub shoulders with contemporary creative art? However, by expressing their desire to enhance the standing of their identity and create methods of social interchange, they were in fact conjuring up one of the use values of art. Other people were able to make them conscious of this and help them to find the means of achieving the fulfilment of their wishes. Existing for other people was truly important. The Université de Bourgogne was made aware of how they felt and of their request, and offered the restaurant staff partial funding to commission a work of art.
In the series of ten portraits carried out for the Maret restaurant, we again find the way of perceiving the human figure, between vitality and evanescence, that characterises his art. These paintings, measuring 180 x 220 cm, hanging on the wall alongside one another, now overlook the dining-room at the restaurant. The installation can be regarded as a monument to a story linking the individual to the collective. For Pei-Ming too the commission would prove to be a turning point. Prior to it he had in fact produced his pictures working from reproductions, but the need to come face to face with the living model was then thrust upon him. There thus emerged in his creative work an original conception of the portrait, effecting identification and anonymousness dialectically. Beforehand, the only paintings carried out by Pei-Ming where it was possible to give a name to the subject depicted had in fact been the result of a very specific official commission, one dedicated to celebrating Mao. Since the commission intended for the Maret restaurant, Pei-Ming has stuck to this new approach to the portrait in his work. A formative violence, he apparently said. Having one's portrait taken can perhaps also be quite violent.
The mediator suggested they should apply to the painter Yan Pei-Ming, a French artist of Chinese origin. Pei-Ming had lived and worked in Dijon since 1984, and while he was still a student at the city's Ecole Nationale d'Art he had in fact used the university restaurant and already knew some members of its staff. He wanted to paint the portrait of several of them. Ten of the new patrons volunteered. Since the mid-1980s Pei-Ming had been concentrating his artistic work on the portrait, a genre he tackled in series. Often in a frontal view the faces in his paintings convey an identity that is hard to grasp, between presence and absence. Produced in black and white, almost always in a large format, dense in substance and energetic in execution, his pictures have a strong presence, while at the same time being very austere. It is not irrelevant to note that as a child, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Pei-Ming painted a great many pictures of Mao Tse-tung for propaganda purposes.