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.

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

Related temporary Display: Ding Yi’s ’70 circles’

16 May 2017 –28 May 2017

We are delighted that ’70 circles’ (2013) by Chinese abstract artist Ding Yi will be on display in Gallery 10, on the ground floor, 16–28 May. This will be a temporary continuation of the Beyond the Brush display in Gallery 29.

Ding Yi (b.1962) works and lives in Shanghai and since the late 1980s has been painting grids and crosses creating his own abstract language. He is the Vice-Dean of the Fine Arts Department of the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art.

Gallery 10 | Admission Free

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