Liu Gu­osong: Mod­ern­iz­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese art BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By QI­DONG ZHANG in San Fran­cisco kel­lyzhang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Liu Gu­osong’s wa­ter color se­ries of Jiu Zaigou in Sichuan prov­ince and the snow-cov­ered moun­tains of Ti­bet were cen­ter of at­ten­tion at the Chi­nese Land­scapes Sym­po­sium held at Stan­ford Univer­sity on May 1.

Cur­rently a chaired art pro­fes­sor at Na­tional Tai­wan Nor­mal Univer­sity, Liu Gu­osong is uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized as one of the ear­li­est and most im­por­tant ad­vo­cates and prac­ti­tion­ers of mod­ern Chi­nese paint­ing. His art­works are col­lected and shown by mu­se­ums and art gal­leries in more than 70 coun­tries, and he has been fea­tured in more than 100 solo ex­hi­bi­tions world­wide.

Liu started his art stud­ies in col­lege, learn­ing the skills and tech­niques of brush and ink. By his sec­ond year in col­lege, how­ever, he started to ques­tion the na­ture of this prac­tice. He saw that from the Yuan dy­nasty (1271-1368) on­wards, the im­i­ta­tion of an­cient modes had be­come a pop­u­lar trend, which fur­ther evolved into a tra­di­tion. Chi­nese paint­ing had wit­nessed no tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tion or de­vel­op­ment since then. In­stead it was on a nar­row path, leading to de­cline.

“I felt like I was head­ing into a dead end,” Liu said. “My doubts led me to the de­ci­sion to give up the study of tra­di­tional ink paint­ing and start Western oil paint­ing. How­ever, I soon found many of the great­est Western artists were in­spired by Chi­nese art and cal­lig­ra­phy, so I was de­ter­mined to achieve a syn­the­sis of the two tra­di­tions to re­ju­ve­nate Chi­nese cul­ture.”

Since his style was non-Chi­nese, and non-Western, Liu be­came an out­cast in Tai­wan Nor­mal Univer­sity and was dis­patched to teach art class in the ar­chi­tec­ture depart­ment in­stead of art depart­ment. The “mis­for­tune” how­ever, let Liu to his ini­tial in­no­va­tion.

“I ex­pe­ri­enced the most painful ex­per­i­men­tal years in 1963 and 1964, which I came to call my two years in the throes of child­birth. Dur­ing that time, I vis­ited all paper shops in Tai­wan, and ex­per­i­mented on all kinds of paper. A kind of lan­tern paper with fine fibers gave me great in­spi­ra­tion for its del­i­cate white lines on the re­verse side of the paper, which is beau­ti­ful.

“So I asked a paper man­u­fac­turer to make the paper with thick fibers for me, and ap­ply an­other layer of thick fibers on top of cot­ton paper. I would re­move the paper fibers af­ter paint­ing with brush, ink and color, which would give rise to many white lines. These types of white lines were a first in the his­tory of Chi­nese paint­ing and were later re­ferred to as ‘Liu Gu­osong paper’, which I was very proud of,” said Liu.

In 1966, the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion awarded him a two-year in­ter­na­tional travel grant and his art­works were ex­hib­ited in an art gallery in La­guna Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. His first New York art ex­hi­bi­tion was held the fol­low­ing year and got a pos­i­tive re­view from New York Times art critic John Cana­day, a re­view that changed Liu’s life.

“All of my art­works were sold out at the New York ex­hi­bi­tion. I was so ex­cited that I called my wife back in Tai­wan and told her to quit her job, which sup­ported me and the fam­ily,” said Liu. “We al­ready had two chil­dren and a third on the way, some­times we barely had enough food to put on the ta­ble.”

Ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese art critic Jia Fangzhou, Liu has de­vel­oped the con­cept of the ‘rev­o­lu­tion­ary life force’ — aban­don­ing tra­di­tional re­stric­tions on how to use the ink brush, even aban­don­ing the brush al­to­gether. In Liu’s style, by eman­ci­pat­ing the life force of the brush, the ink is com­pletely set free. Liu’s ink rub­bings and zimo paint­ings are based on this con­cept and the tech­nique has be­come his hall­mark.

Called to­day “the fa­ther of ink paint­ing mod­ern­iza­tion”, Liu says he tries to plant the seeds of artis­tic in­no­va­tion in ev­ery stu­dent he teaches. In­stead of com­ing to his class to learn paint­ing skills, his stu­dents are en­cour­aged to cre­ate, make and in­no­vate from what­ever ma­te­ri­als they can think of. The more dif­fer­ent their paint­ings are from his, the bet­ter.

He be­lieves a stu­dio is not a fac­tory where paint­ings are pro­duced, rather it should be a lab­o­ra­tory for artists. “Hu­man civ­i­liza­tion is cre­ated by two kinds of people: ma­te­rial civ­i­liza­tion is cre­ated by sci­en­tists; spir­i­tual civ­i­liza­tion is cre­ated by artists. A sci­en­tist be­comes a sci­en­tist be­cause he first has a new idea and car­ries out ex­per­i­ments in the lab to prove his idea. When the ex­per­i­ments are suc­cess­ful, he has made an in­ven­tion.

“A pain­ter is no dif­fer­ent from a sci­en­tist. He must also first have in­no­va­tive ideas, and

LIU GU­OSONG

Pain­ter Born : 82

• Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Chengdu Mod­ern Art Mu­seum, Xichuan, China (2001) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Na­tional Dr. Sun Yet-sen Me­mo­rial Hall, Taipei (1999) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Na­tional Gallery of Art and Mu­seum of His­tory, Taipei (1996) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Na­tional Tai­wan Mu­seum of Fine Arts, Taichung (1992) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Taipei Fine the de­sire to rep­re­sent them. When old tech­niques and ma­te­ri­als fail at such rep­re­sen­ta­tion, he must ex­per­i­ment with new tech­niques and ma­te­ri­als. When the ex­per­i­ments are suc­cess­ful, he has cre­ated some­thing. Those who cre­ate noth­ing are not artists,” Liu said.

In Jan­uary, 2013, his na­tive

Arts Mu­seum (1990) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, ÜberseeMu­seum, Bre­men (1989) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Museu Luís de Camões, Ma­cau (1985) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Shang­hai Mu­seum of Art (1984) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Na­tional Art Mu­seum of China, Bei­jing (1983) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Nora Ec­cles Har­ri­son Mu­seum of Art, Lo­gan (1982) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Mu­seum für Kun­sthandw­erk, Frankfurt (1979) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Ul­rich Mu­seum of Arts, Wi­chita State Univer­sity (1976) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Cen­ter (1975) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, San Diego Mu­seum of Art (1973) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Bris­tol City Mu­seum and Art Gallery, Bris­tol, Eng­land (1971) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Mu­seum für Os­tasi­atis­che Kunst, Köln (1970) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, The Dal­las Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary of Art, Dal­las (1969) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Seat­tle Art Mu­seum (1968) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Nel­sonAtkins Mu­seum of Art, Kansas City, Mis­souri, USA (1967) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Spencer Mu­seum, Univer­sity of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA (1966) Solo Ex­hi­bi­tion, Na­tional Tai­wan Arts Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter, Taipei, Tai­wan (1965) prov­ince Shan­dong, China ded­i­cated the Liu Gu­osong Wa­ter Color Art Gallery to him in honor of his in­no­va­tions and con­tri­bu­tions to the mod­ern­iza­tion of tra­di­tional Chi­nese art. Na­Hai Art, a San Ma­teo, Cal­i­for­nia-based art gallery will host an ex­hi­bi­tion of art­works by Liu and eight of his stu­dents in Au­gust.

QI­DONG ZHANG / CHINA DAILY

Cur­rently a chaired art pro­fes­sor at Na­tional Tai­wan Nor­mal Univer­sity, Liu Gu­osong is uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized as one of the ear­li­est and most im­por­tant ad­vo­cates and prac­ti­tion­ers of mod­ern Chi­nese paint­ing. His art­works are col­lected and shown by mu­se­ums and art gal­leries in more than 70 coun­tries, and he has been fea­tured in more than 100 solo ex­hi­bi­tions world­wide.

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