While gathering together works for the Asia Week 2015 show, we wanted to define the meaning of “Contemporary Ink” in a way that would appeal not only to lovers of classical painting but also to fans of international contemporary art. We have pulled together several examples from eight different artists, all of whom use traditional paper and brush, ink and water-based colors. Contemporary ink encompasses a vast range of styles from the tea-stain Zen “enso” images of Liang Quan, to the opaque tempura lotuses of Shi Ze. What is so fascinating about ink painting today is the mélange of international and historical influences that are manifested in so many different ways at the same time. No longer are artists confined to a single style and subject matter nor are they expected to only study past Chinese masters for inspiration. All of the artists in the gallery, however, have mastered handling of the brush and control of ink and color on paper as a common denominator.
The paintings of Hsu Kuo-huang, who was steeped in connoisseurship of Chinese painting while working for decades at the Palace Museum in Taipei, have the deepest roots in classical painting because of this unique and profound exposure to masterworks of all periods. In his retirement from government service, just as scholar painters in past generations, Hsu has concentrated solely on painting and has drawn inspiration from his immediate surroundings in Eastern Taiwan, most especially the Taroko Gorge. In the past decade, Hsu has taken a leap into a more abstract, confident style, the results of which can be seen in pieces such as “The Pen follows Where the Mind Wanders.”
Huang Iming, a calligraphy artist, retired from government at a very young age, and has devoted the last 30 plus years to his art. A fellowship at the Central Art Academy in Beijing several years ago opened Huang’s eyes to the vital contemporary art scene in Beijing and also made him realize how fortunate he was to be educated and exposed to classical traditions from his youth in Taiwan. Because of his uninterrupted calligraphy discipline, Huang has a tremendous breath of styles from seal script to clerical script to wild cursive. Huang has developed a following internationally and particularly with a younger generation of calligraphy aficionado’s in China, evidenced by numerous solo shows in Nanjing, Suzhou and Shanghai in recent years.
Hsia Ifu, who is approaching his 90th birthday this year, is a quiet, thoughtful man of extraordinarily precise, consistent brush technique. As his good friend, and my former professor, the late Chu Tsing Li wrote, “Hsia does not perform; rather after much reflection, he slowly uses brush and ink to express himself…Hsia has his own point of view and uses all of his energy to work slowly and carefully to express it.” His unique style of dry brush and scorched ink are equally successful in intimate album leaves or large scale hanging scrolls; both formats are on view in our Asia Week show.
Jia Youfu, perhaps the best-known artist in the show, is a recluse who lives much like Hsia Ifu but in Beijing. Jia, now fully retired from the Central Art Academy, paints for his own pleasure as much as for livelihood. His “puddled ink and color wash” technique depicts pastoral scenes that border on the abstract. Jia is one of the few artists still alive that has been faked and sold during his lifetime. The “Landscape, Untitled” in the exhibition, obtained directly from the artist by Sutherland, is an unusual piece due to the pale coloration and silhouette of bridge and hills in the lower half of the composition.
Zhu Daoping, also a retired professor of classical Chinese painting, uses a pointillist-like technique with his brush for evoking landscape and atmospheric effects. Zhu hails from Nanjing but he paints from sketches from regions all throughout China. The scroll, “ Sunset View,” was based on sketches Zhu did on a trip with students to Inner Mongolia; the rendering of the mountains, however, are eerily similar to mountains found in Han tomb paintings that have been excavated in recent decades. The combination of influences in the painting make it thoroughly modern; no Chinese ink painters in the past would have taken the step to combine such disparate imagery and make it uniquely their own.
Fung Ming Chip, a calligrapher now living in Hong Kong, is the mastermind behind a variety of “invented” script styles. Ming first mastered the art of seal carving and then turned his attention to calligraphy. Ming brushes the same set of poems over and over until he is satisfied with the outcome of his efforts. The works in the gallery represent the pinnacle of creative achievement. An excerpt of a Buddhist Sutra was recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was shown in the recent “Ink” show in 2013-2014. The gallery is privileged to also have a version of the same sutra on display.
Shi Ze, the lotus painter, was a student of Jia Youfu, the master of splashed ink in Beijing. Shi Ze has taken his own path, however. As a devout Buddhist, he views his paintings as meditations and offerings of thanks for granting him the ability to create. His recent works, seen in the rear gallery, depict lotuses in traditional and Tibetan thanka paint. The results are technicolor jewels that take one’s breath away.
Finally, Liang Quan, a classically trained painter in the Hangzhou Art Academy, has lived and taught in Shenzhen for the past few decades. Liang studied overseas in the U.S. and Europe and developed a singular style pushing the limits of ink and paper media. Liang uses strips of paper, dipped in ink or tea and pastes them onto a base paper sheet using traditional mounting paste. The collages are completely international in tone; only the materials and the maker are recognizable as Chinese. The effect defies any link to one’s preconceived ideas of Chinese ink painting. The same goes for Liang’s Zen expressions in his tea-stain series. By piling up loose tea leaves on a gridded paper, Liang allows the absorption of various types of tea and length of absorption to create circles of pale, blush residual color. The act of creating the tea stain is akin to brushing enso circles to “harmonize one’s mind” in Zen or Chan practice.
M. Sutherland Fine Arts will be open for Asia Week 2015 March 13-21. The exhibition may be viewed by appointment thereafter until May 2.
CONTEMPORARY INK – Asia Week New York, March 13-22
M. Sutherland Fine Arts
55 East 80th Street, Second Floor
New York, NY 10075
Open House Weekend, March 14-15
Sat – Sun 11am-5 pm
Weekday Hours, March 16-22
(otherwise by appointment)