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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