October, Clear River by Xu Guoliang is one of the ink paintings on display at the Beijing show, Where to Go.[Photo provided to China Daily]
Shitao, a famous landscape painter during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), had said: “Ink and brushwork should keep pace with the times.”
His words are relevant even today as generations of practitioners are seen pushing the boundaries of Chinese art to take it to a wider audience.
Where to Go, an ongoing exhibition at the Equivalence Fine Arts gallery in Beijing, has gathered 15 ink painters who communicate their thoughts on Shitao’s ideas against the backdrop of a rapidly changing China.
The show’s participants all studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in the 1990s. Their practice on xuanzhi (rice paper) presents a variety of ink-wash experiments.
Liang Yi, 53, from North China’s Shanxi province, expresses a cynical view of social diseases.
He places nude women and luxury cars in settings of traditional Chinese landscapes or gardens. Liang adds a gold fish at the base of the paintings to imply material abundance.
Underlying the combination of these objects in his works, Liang satirizes distorted social values, especially the confusing standard of beauty, which is endorsed by many people.
Liu Yumei stresses the merging of East and West in her works.
The Frankfurt-based painter, who is in her 40s, does still-life oil paintings with a rich palette. But they encapsulate a temperament of ink painting.
She was trained in oil painting at the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Northeast China’s Shenyang city and later Chinese painting at Beijing’s CAFA.
Liu has been living in Germany since 1999 as a professional painter.
One of her works captures busy vendors in a bazaar along the Main River in Germany. She produced the piece based on her visits to the flea markets on its banks. In her painting, Liu makes thick, free lines with brushstrokes and carves out sharp ones with oil painting scrapers, by which she is able to present a poetic essence of the East about a Western location.
Liu also teaches Chinese painting at a Frankfurt university. She recalls her students at first telling her that Chinese painting wasn’t of as much value as oil painting.
She found that their misunderstanding may have resulted from the fact that Chinese paintings are executed on thin rice paper and often completed with just a few brushes, which is quite unlike the oil painting that needs detailed depictions on canvas.
“I told them every single brushstroke is an accumulation of techniques and cultural attainment through dozens of years. When they actually tried with ink, they found it to be difficult. So, they came to know what I meant,” Liu tells China Daily.
She learned painting at age 6, and began competing in contests and winning them two years later.
“But through all these decades, I always saw myself in a long journey of mastery with ink art, digging a little deeper each time,” she says.
When Xu Guoliang, 55, and his former classmates from the CAFA established the Equivalence Fine Arts in 2013, they hoped it would be “a reservation for original ink creations that will link our ancestors’ works with the modern times”.
“For me, ink-wash has always been at the root of my art,” he says, standing in front of one of his abstract ink landscapes displayed at the show.
Xu says he discourages paintings that are created to pander to foreigners by defaming Chinese culture.
“That is how I came up with the exhibition title (Where to Go). It’s about how to stick to our traditions. It’s a fight about preserving and carrying forward the soul of our nation.”
If you go
9 am-6 pm, through Feb 29. Equivalence Fine Arts, Shangbao art zone, Songzhuang village, Tongzhou district, Beijing. 010-8951-5019.