Temporary Display: Ding Yi’s ’70 circles’

16 May 2017 –28 May 2017

Gallery 10 | Admission Free

Artist Ding Yi in front of his album “70 circles”on diplay at the Ashmolean Museum in May 2017.

Abstract artist Ding Yi came to visit the Ashmolean Museum on the 17th of May 2017 for an “In conversation” event with Chinese painting expert Professor Shane McCausland from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

70 circles (detail), 2013, accordion book, pencil and acrylic on rice paper, 35 x 648cm © Ding Yi. Courtesy Timothy Taylor, London.

Born in Shanghai in 1962, Ding Yi is a leading contemporary artist in China. He has been making abstract paintings using crosses and grids since the late 1980s. He spent his early years learning traditional Chinese ink and oil painting at Shanghai University before becoming interested in Western modernism. After experimenting with different painting styles and studying the works of French painters such as Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse, he settled on the crosses and grids as his signature style. Ding Yi often works on large scale paintings.

Display of “70 circles” by Ding Yi , Gallery 10, Ashmolean Museum.

The discussion around Ding Yi’s artistic practice took place to celebrate the temporary display of Ding Yi’s work  ’70 circles’ (2013) in Gallery 10, 16–28 May. This accordion album is 6.48 meters long, comprising monochrome series of varying circles with abstracted grids.

The display is a temporary continuation of the Beyond the Brush display in Gallery 29.

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Beyond the Brush—Abstract Ink Painting since 1960

Exhibition dates: 4 April  to 28 August 2017

Gallery 29 | Admission Free

The New display Beyond Brush—Abstract Ink Painting since 1960 in gallery 29 explores abstraction in Chinese art. The paintings, selected from the Ashmolean Collection, combine elements of Chinese and Western art. Ink, acrylic and collage were used to create vibrant images, steering traditional Chinese ink painting towards Abstract Expressionism. The artists include Liu Kuo-sung (b.1932), Chen Ting-shih (1913-2002), Chuang Che (b.1934) and Fong Chung-ray (b.1933), all leading members of the Fifth Moon Group, representing a new wave of modernism that began in the 1960s in Taiwan. Their paintings depart from the Chinese artist’s conventional relationship with the brush, and emphasise the importance of personal expression and individual style in search of a new modernity.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View

The Modern Art Movement in Taiwan Part I

In the 1960s a group of young artists in Taiwan believed that Chinese painting frozen into formality on the mainland and hidebound by conservatism in Taiwan, was at a standstill, and it was their mission to bring it to life. Abstract Expressionism, which was developed in New York in the 1940s, became a major source of their art creation. The Fifth Moon members met regularly to appreciate and critique one another’s work, including Liu Kuo-sung, Chuang Che, Chen Ting-shih, Hung Hsien, and Hu Chi Chung. They also exhibited their works at art shows held in May. They were not restricted by medium or technique, and used oils, acrylic, collage and Chinese ink to create a new Chinese painting responsive to the challenge of Western modernism. These stylistically diverse paintings illustrate a variety of new ink language in modern Chinese painting. Since 1960, a number of innovations initiated by a group of Taiwan artists have introduced new themes, techniques and ideas to Chinese painting, at the same time they serve to reaffirm the strength and vitality of the tradition itself. Although the Modern Art Movement began in Taiwan, its outlook from the very beginning was international.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View – On the left: Liu Kuo-sung, Abstract landscape, 1966,  Sullivan Bequest  © the Artist. EA2015.223; On the right: Chuang Che, Abstract, 1967, ink and colour on paper,  59.9 x 46.3 cm,Sullivan Bequest  © the Artist.  EA2015.77.

Liu Kuo-sung is one of founders of the Fifth Moon Group and a leading painter in Taiwan. Born in Bangbu, Anhui province, Liu began learning Chinese painting when he was fourteen years old. He moved to Taiwan with the National Revolutionary Military Orphan School in 1949. He changed his area of study to Western painting after entering university. During 1958 and 1959, he experimented with a number of Chinese and Western styles, feeling the influence of Cézanne, Klee, and Picasso. Since 1960 he has abandoned oil and canvas, and returned to the world of ink and paper. As early as the 1970s, Liu developed his theory about modern ink art, in his own words, “A brush is but dots and thread; ink is but colour and surface; light-ink strokes are but a way of creating texture.” His individual creative technique was marked by bold, sweeping brushstrokes and calligraphically-inspired lines. The two landscape paintings on display show results of Liu’s early experimental ink art. He invented Guosong paper made with coarse fibre to create white lines by stripping off the top layer to expose the rougher surface beneath and pulling out the fibres. He combined paint with collage and the calligraphic brushstroke to create his own vision of the natural world.

Liu Kuo-sung, Blue and black abstract landscape, 1970, ink and colour on paper, 270.7 x 16.6 cm,  Sullivan Bequest © the Artist. EA2015.224

Chuang Che, born in Beijing, was introduced to art by his father when he was little. Chuang’s father was Chuang Shang-Yen (1899-1980), a scholar and calligrapher who worked at the National Palace Museum in Beijing. Chuang Che moved to Taiwan in 1948. After graduated from Taiwan National Normal University in 1958, Chuang taught at Tunghai University. He joined the Fifth Moon Group and actively pushed the modernization of Chinese painting. He introduced lines, shapes and structures of calligraphy into his painting.

Chen Ting-shih, Black and white abstraction, 1968, fibre-board with string print, with oil-based ink, 27 x 19 cm, Sullivan Bequest © Artist Estate. EA2015.421.g

Chen Ting-shih (1913-2002) was born in Fujian, China. Although deaf at a young age, Chen studied Chinese painting at thirteen and taught himself oil painting. He left China for Taiwan in 1948 and has participated in various artistic circles such as the Fifth Moon Group, the Modern Graphic Art Association and the Modern Eyes Group. He was known as a representative of the abstract style. Chen created his signature technique using bagasse plates, the natural cracking of which became his unique artistic style. The painting Abstraction is created by pressing inked fibre-board over loosely coiled string. The entangled and spiralled threads are set afloat against a solid ink background, like sparkling in the dark. This album was circulated among artists of the younger generation whom Professor Michael Sullivan (1916-2013) met during his visit to Hong Kong in 1968. All were painters, except for the sculptors Cheung Yee  (b.1936) and Van Lau (b.1933).

Yan Liu, Christensen Fellow in Chinese Painting.

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Beyond the Brush—Abstract Ink Painting since 1960 part II

Exhibition dates: 4 April  to 28 August 2017

Gallery 29 | Admission Free

The Modern Art Movement in Taiwan Part II

Fong Chung-Ray is a distinguished artist best known for his unique abstract painting. In 1949 he went to Taiwan where he received formal art training at the military’s Cadre College of Arts and Crafts. After graduation, he worked as an officer and created art works for the Navy. In 1956 he abandoned realistic descriptive style and became more interested in abstract painting. In 1961 he joined the Fifth Moon Group and his work was influenced by Liu Kuo-sung.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View, works by Fong Chung-Ray

Upon emigrating to America in 1975, Fong Chung-Ray became more interested in mixed-media and collage. In 1989 Fong introduced collage into his ink painting, and developed his distinguished style that blends the essence of Chinese literati painting and the spirit of modern Western art.  He applied acrylic onto thin sheets of plastic to produce unpredictable patterns, and these patterns in turn are transferred onto papers or canvas. Such a process produced ragged, geometric shapes which blended Chinese calligraphy, European Cubism and paper mounting. His paintings blended the brush strokes of Chinese calligraphy with Abstract Expressionist features.

Fong Chung-ray, Blue, green, and black composition, 2008, ink and acrylic on layers Japanese paper, 27.1 x 24.3 cm, Sullivan Bequest, © Fong Chung Ray. EA2015.119

The paintings in this display were created by the artist in the last decade. Inspired by Liu Kuo-sung’s encouragement, Fong Chung-Ray frequently uses Chinese calligraphy as visual elements; these paintings are excellent examples of turning Chinese calligraphy into expressive images through collage. Fong Chung-Ray names his works with numbers of production rather than more descriptive titles. He was recognised as the most sophisticated colourist of the group. Fong’s colourism is distinguished by its subtle values and delicate hues. In the choice of main colours; he prefers black, pale grey, blue and violet.

Fong Chung-ray, Green, red, and black composition, 2008, ink and acrylic on layers Japanese paper, 24 x 27.2 cm, Sullivan Bequest, © Fong Chung Ray. EA2015.118

Chu Ge (alternative name Yuan Dexing) was a central figure in Taiwan’s modern art movement as a poet, art critic, painter and sculptor. He went to Taiwan in 1949, in 1957 he joined in the modern poetry and painting movements, and used the pen name of Chu Ko.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View with two works by Chu Ko

In 1965 Chu Ko started working at the National Palace Museum, his research on prehistoric artefacts and Chinese history became some sources of his artistic creation. In Herdsman’s Song, the entangled calligraphic lines present artfully tied knots which were often used by people in ancient China to keep records before writing. From Chu’s view, the aesthetic of Chinese art lies in the simple beauty of knots full of transformation.

 

Yan Liu, Christensen Fellow in Chinese Painting.

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Beyond the Brush—Abstract Ink Painting since 1960 part III

Exhibition dates: 4 April  to 28 August 2017

Gallery 29 | Admission Free

Experimental ink art in the Mainland and beyond

This exhibition also showcases a few experimental ink paintings by contemporary artists from mainland and Hong Kong whose works blend the spirit of Western Abstract Expressionism and an oriental aesthetic.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View

Qiu Deshu (b. 1948), who is a gifted painter and calligrapher, began experimenting with ink on paper in creative ways when he saw Jackson Pollock’s abstract painting at an exhibition in Shanghai in 1979. In the same year, he organised the Grass Society (Caocao huashe), one of the first dissident groups. After a year in America (1985-1986) he returned to Shanghai, and developed his unique technique “fissuring”, or “transparent paper tear method”. Qiu’s experiment in ink painting began in the end of 1970s. Inspired by the crack in a flagstone by change in 1982, he started his “Fissure” series. He uses ink, colour and paper in a collage-like process indebted to the techniques used for mounting scrolls. In the painting Ghostly figures and cracks, he introduced graphic composition into ink painting, and the red marks in this image recall the collector’s seals on ancient Chinese calligraphy and paintings (Image 2015. 267).

Qiu Deshu, Ghostly figures and cracks, before 7 May 1989, ink and colour on paper, 34.4 x 48.3 cm, Sullivan Bequest © the Artist. EA2015.267

In his later work, he does not directly use ink and colour to make forms and draw line, but instead he applies ink and colour onto canvas and board before mounting the broken rice paper. By hitting and rubbing the surface of rice paper, the base colour can be reflected to form different tones, layers and textures.

Ng Yiu-chung, Landscape with red sun, 1970 – 1971, ink and colour on paper, 31.1 x 44.4 cm, Sullivan Bequest © the Artist. EA2015.222.e

Ng Yiu-chung (Wu Yaozhong, b. 1935) is a painter based in Hong Kong. In 1968 he studied painting under Lü Shoukun (1919-1975), who was a pioneering painter and initiated the New Ink Movement involved in pulling modernist elements into ink painting in Hong Kong. In this landscape painting, Ng discarded the traditional vocabulary of texture-strokes, and built up his mountains with short, even, straight strokes, layer upon layer, as if they were bricks.

Lü Wu-chiu, Wang Wei’s Peach Blossom Spring, 2004, ink on paper, 77.3 x 82.8 cm, Sullivan Bequest © the Artist. EA2015.242.b

Lü Wu-chiu was born 1918 in Tanyang, Jiangsu province, as the second daughter of the painter and calligrapher Lü Fengzi, former president of the National Arts College in Suzhou. Lü received her early training in the art of portraiture, which at first she practised in embroidery, so well that her work was presented as gifts to foreign diplomats, winning her a fellowship to the United States. During her visit and study in North America in 1959-60, Lü Wu-chiu became interested in experimental ink painting. Her paintings take on the form of abstract expressionism and embody the essence of Chinese aesthetics.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View

It is worth mentioning that all the exhibits are from the Sullivan Bequest. Professor Michael Sullivan (1916-2013) was Fellow Emeritus of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University and a pioneering scholar of modern and contemporary Chinese art. He was born on October 29, 1916, in Toronto, Canada. In 1939 he went to China to drive trucks for the Red Cross in southwest China, where he met and married Khoan in 1943, and made many goods friends with Chinese artists. Over seven decades, the Sullivans built up a rich collection of modern and contemporary Chinese art in a diversity of styles and media.

After his death, more than 450 paintings were bequeathed to the Ashmolean together with his archive. The paintings on display were gifted to Sullivan by artists themselves, including the album with Chen Ting-shih‘s painting, which was circulated among artists of the younger generation whom Professor Michael Sullivan met during his visit to Hong Kong in 1968. All were painters, except for the sculptors Cheung Yee  (b.1936) and Van Lau (b.1933). Their contributions give a hint of the fascinating range of media, styles and techniques, from the purely classical to abstractions and collages, being practised at the time of the colony’s artistic awakening.

Yan Liu, Christensen Fellow in Chinese Painting.

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Hiroshige’s Japan: Views of Mount Fuji

15 November 2016 to 26 March 2017

Gallery 29 | Admission Free

Mount Fuji, an active volcano and Japan’s highest mountain, has long been praised by poets and depicted by artists for its beautiful shape and sacred status. In the mid-1800s, the great landscape print designer Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) produced numerous views of Mount Fuji in different seasons and weather conditions. These were probably inspired by his contemporary Hokusai, whose ground-breaking series ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’ was hugely successful in the 1830s.

A special exhibition in the Ashmolean’s Eastern Art Prints and Paintings Gallery (Gallery 29) shows a selection of Hiroshige’s views of Mount Fuji, drawn from the Ashmolean’s own collection. The exhibition includes views of Mount Fuji from several different Hiroshige series, some devoted entirely to Fuji and others in which Fuji appears in views of Edo, or seen from the Tōkaidō Road, Japan’s major highway. It is the second in a series of displays highlighting the Ashmolean’s collection of Hiroshige landscape prints.

Inume Pass in Kai Province (Kai Inume tōge甲斐犬目峠) Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji Date: 1858 Colour woodblock print Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, EAX.4389 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford Travellers walk along the edge of Inume Pass on a chilly autumn day. A flock of geese flies in front of Mount Fuji, adding to the melancholy autumnal atmosphere. Hiroshige is known to have travelled to this area in the spring of 1841. In his diary he described its awe-inspiring beauty. Hiroshige absorbed a wide range of artistic influences, evident in this work: the fluffy clouds in the ravine and the shading on Mount Fuji are probably influenced by Western copper-plate prints, but the dots on the craggy rocks are more reminiscent of Chinese ink painting.

Inume Pass in Kai Province (Kai Inume tōge 甲斐犬目峠)
Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
Date: 1858
Colour woodblock print
Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, EAX.4389
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Travellers walk along the edge of Inume Pass on a chilly autumn day. A flock of geese flies in front of Mount Fuji, adding to the melancholy autumnal atmosphere. Hiroshige is known to have travelled to this area in the spring of 1841 and in his diary he described its awe-inspiring beauty. Hiroshige absorbed a wide range of artistic influences, evident in this work: the fluffy clouds in the ravine and the shading on Mount Fuji are probably influenced by Western copper-plate prints, but the dots on the craggy rocks are more reminiscent of Chinese ink painting.

 

By Hiroshige’s time, the Japanese print industry was booming and ukiyo-e woodblock prints depicting the lively popular culture of the urban pleasure districts could be purchased for the price of a large bowl of noodles. However, the landscape print was a new genre, pioneered by Hiroshige’s contemporary Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Hiroshige’s own breakthrough came with the publication of his series ‘Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō’, which appeared between 1832 and 1834 and depicted scenes at the fifty-three post stations along Japan’s major highway. In his work Hiroshige captured quite brilliantly the effects of season, weather and time of day. He took full advantage of recent technical developments in his work, in particular the introduction of a new Western pigment known as Berlin or Prussian blue, which became commercially viable in Japan from the mid-1820s. The brilliantly coloured Prussian blue gave artists much greater freedom of expression in the depiction of sky and water. The new blue was particularly effective when it was applied using a method of sophisticated colour gradation known as bokashi, in which printers wiped and diluted the amount of pigment applied to the woodblock. The success of Hiroshige’s designs depended largely on the skilful use of bokashi colour gradation to enhance the mood of rainfall, mist or snow.

The ‘Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō’ was so successful that Hiroshige continued to produce series of landscape prints of well-known locations for the rest of his life. His final series of prints was the ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ (Fuji Sanjū-rokkei 富士三十六景), produced for the publisher Kichizō (Kōeidō) from around 1858 to 1859. It was made in conjunction with Hiroshige’s pupil, Hiroshige II, and indeed was probably finished by him after Hiroshige’s death in 1858.

The subject of Mount Fuji, shown in different seasons and weather conditions from a variety of different places and distances, had already been made popular by Katsushika Hokusai in his famous series of 1830–1833, the ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ (Fugaku sanjū-rokkei) and later in his book One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku hyakkei). Hokusai himself was probably influenced by an earlier illustrated book entitled One Hundred Fujis (Hyaku Fuji), written by Kawamura Minsetsu in 1767. The notion of a set of 36 was a traditional format, referring back to the group of 36 revered poets selected in the early twelfth century as models of Japanese poetic ability.

Hiroshige had himself already produced a version of the 36 views of Fuji in small horizontal format at the end of 1852, and Mount Fuji also featured in many of his views of Edo and views along the Tōkaidō. However, this final series devoted entirely to the sacred mountain was designed in vertical format. This allowed him to show off the bold compositional skills he had developed in the 1850s, in particular his fondness for balancing foreground elements with landscape backgrounds.

The Sagami River (Sagamigawaさがみ川) Series: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji Date: 1858 Colour woodblock print Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, 1952 EAX.4384 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford This print is unusual within this series for its focus on human activities, as two men punt log-rafts along the river. Hiroshige has layered multiple visual planes in this composition, starting with the egret and reeds at the front, and ending with Fuji at the back. This device creates a sense of depth in the composition without resorting to Western linear perspective. The column of smoke from the fire divides the print vertically and the unexpected colours evoke a bright spring morning. This print was famously included in the background of van Gogh’s 1887 oil portrait of Père Tanguy.

The Sagami River (Sagamigawa さがみ川)
Series: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji
Date: 1858
Colour woodblock print
Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, 1952 EAX.4384
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
This print is unusual within this particular series for its focus on human activities, as two men punt log-rafts along the river. Hiroshige has layered multiple visual planes in this composition, starting with the egret and reeds at the front, and ending with Fuji at the back. This device creates a sense of depth in the composition without resorting to Western linear perspective. The column of smoke from the fire divides the print vertically and the unexpected colours evoke a bright spring morning. This print was famously included in the background of van Gogh’s 1887 oil portrait of Père Tanguy.

 

Mount Fuji, an active volcano that last erupted in 1707, is the highest mountain in Japan at 3776m. It has long been praised by poets and depicted by artists for its beautiful shape and sacred status. In June 2013, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage cultural site in recognition of the way in which it has ‘inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries’. Fuji is located just 70 miles from Hiroshige’s hometown of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and on a clear day can be seen from many points in the city. It was also visible from many parts of the Tōkaidō Road that linked Edo with the ancient capital of Kyoto.

Mountains have traditionally been considered sacred in Japan, thought of as homes to spirits and gods, and by the seventh century Mount Fuji was being worshipped by wandering ascetic monks who climbed the mountain as a form of worship. By the early 1600s a Fuji cult, known as Fuji Shinkō, had developed in Edo. The Fuji Shinkō, which combined elements of Buddhist and Shinto belief, believed that Fuji protected Edo and the prosperity of the whole country, and established organizations of Fuji worshippers to provide rituals, prayers and pilgrimage practices for their members. These Fujikō groups, as they were called, were also responsible for the construction of a number of artificial Fuji-shaped hills in parks throughout Edo. These ‘mini-Fujis’ allowed citizens unable to travel to the actual mountain the chance to make substitute pilgrimages, or simply to enjoy them as a kind of theme park. There were ten of these replicas in Edo in Hiroshige’s day and he depicted them in several of his prints. Many purchasers of printed views of Fuji may have belonged to branches of these Fuji associations, which had around 70,000 members in Edo in Hiroshige’s day. One branch was led by a leading publisher of the early nineteenth century, Nishimuraya Yohachi (Eijudō), who produced several of Hiroshige’s print series (although not this one).

 

The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province (Suruga Satta kaijō駿河薩多海上) Series: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji Date: 1858 Colour woodblock print Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, EAX.4387 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford Here Mount Fuji is framed by a giant curling wave in the foreground. The design recalls Hokusai’s famous depiction of Fuji, known as ‘The Great Wave’. Hiroshige’s version is calmer and more detached. The water has been printed with great sophistication, with three different shades of blue contrasting with the white wave crests, which in turn harmonize with the white peak of Mount Fuji in the background. The marks of the baren printing tool are clearly visible on the slopes of the mountain.

The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province (Suruga Satta kaijō 駿河薩多海上)
Series: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
Date: 1858
Colour woodblock print
Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, EAX.4387
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Here Mount Fuji is framed by a giant curling wave in the foreground. The design recalls Hokusai’s famous depiction of Fuji, commonly known as ‘The Great Wave’. Hiroshige’s version is calmer and more detached. The water has been printed with great sophistication, with three different shades of blue contrasting with the white wave crests, which in turn harmonize with the white peak of Mount Fuji in the background. The marks of the baren printing tool are clearly visible on the slopes of the mountain.

 

 

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