Tra­di­tion and in­di­vid­ual tal­ent

Many of the art­works show­cased at the Ink Asia art fair last week were about artists try­ing to ques­tion and re­new their re­la­tion­ship with a tra­di­tional art medium. Chi­tralekha Basu re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CULTURE -


Col­lec­tors reaf­firmed their con­fi­dence in the vi­a­bil­ity of con­tem­po­rary ink art last week. The sec­ond edi­tion of Ink Asia — pur­port­edly the world’s only art fair ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to show­cas­ing con­tem­po­rary ink — at­tracted over 10,000 vis­i­tors. The sales were promis­ing. Quite a few among the par­tic­i­pat­ing 50 gal­leries sold their high­light pieces. Le­ung Kui-ting’s huge four-panel land­scape, brought to the fair by Ha­nart TZ Gallery, for in­stance, was snapped up by a mu­seum. The lec­ture hall, where ex­perts shared their views on un­der­stand­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of ink art, was well-at­tended. At a time when the sales are down for art of al­most ev­ery hue, and pretty much across all plat­forms of art trade, con­tem­po­rary ink art seems to be one of the few gen­res at­tract­ing sus­tained buyer in­ter­est. While a mar­ket slow­down is scarcely ex­pected to af­fect the sales of 20th-cen­tury stal­warts in the field — Liu Gu­osong or Qiu Deshu, for in­stance — a whole new gen­er­a­tion of younger artists like Lin Guocheng and Chloe Ho are also get­ting no­ticed by col­lec­tors for the fresh­ness they bring to a time-tested tra­di­tion.

Calvin Hui, di­rec­tor of Ink Asia, wouldn’t quite call the steady growth in the mar­ket for con­tem­po­rary ink a “trend” though. Ink, he says, is too in­hered in the “DNA of the Chi­nese peo­ple” to be a pass­ing fad.

Buy­ing ink art, says Hui, “will go on for a very long time as ink has al­ways been a part of the Chi­nese cul­tural her­itage. It’s part of the Chi­nese way of liv­ing, with re­flec­tions in ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign”.

He sees a con­nec­tion between the growth of this mar­ket, over the last five years or so, and the Chi­nese peo­ple get­ting in­creas­ingly con­scious of their cul­tural iden­tity. “China is get­ting big­ger, its econ­omy grow­ing stronger. Th­ese are times when peo­ple start look­ing for art as­so­ci­ated with one’s cul­tural iden­tity,” he ex­plained.

Ex­pect­edly, artists try­ing to lo­cate them­selves in the canon of cul­tural her­itage of­ten make this the sub­ject of their art. Many among the mil­len­ni­als who work in ink — com­bin­ing it some­times with video, 3D print­ing and other tech­niques bor­rowed from the ever-widen­ing pool of dig­i­tal re­sources — have adapted a tra­di­tional medium to a multi-me­dia for­mat.

For ex­am­ple, the artist Yang Yongliang has taken tropes from the tra­di­tional brush and ink Chi­nese land­scapes and recre­ated a more apoc­a­lyp­tic ver­sion of the craggy hills and lash­ing waves, jux­ta­pos­ing th­ese with panoramic shots of swirling city traf­fic, in a short dig­i­tal film, Fall into Obliv­ion.

It’s his com­ment “on the un­con­trolled rapid ur­ban­iza­tion in China,” says Pearl Lam of Pearl Lam Gal­leries who rep­re­sents the artist.

“Yang ex­am­ines cul­tural and per­sonal TheSixPrin­ci­ple­sofChi­ne­sePaint­ing:Trans­mis­sion, mem­ory, high­light­ing mo­ments of align­ment — and dis­cord — between the two,” says Lam. “Yang forges a con­nec­tion between tra­di­tional art and the con­tem­po­rary world, mar­ry­ing an­cient ori­en­tal aes­thet­ics and literati be­liefs with the ex­per­i­men­tal open-mind­ed­ness and dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies of the mod­ern age.”

The artist Hung Fai, on the other hand, works with more tra­di­tional tools. Although a sim­i­lar spirit of cri­tiquing and re­new­ing a mod­ern-day artist’s re­la­tion­ship with his her­itage may be found in his cre­ation, The Six Prin­ci­ples of Chi­nese Paint­ing: Trans­mis­sion, which was one of the high­lights at Ink Asia.

Hung had in­vited his artist father, Hung Hoi, to paint a scene us­ing cinnabar red color on xuan pa­per, in the tra­di­tion of the Chi­nese red land­scape. Hung ju­nior folded the sketch his father made, had it moist­ened, and then him­self traced it us­ing black ink dots. “The ink pen­e­trated through the red land­scape, lay­ers through lay­ers, leav­ing sub­tle, faded marks. Upon un­fold­ing the pa­per there ap­peared a de­con­struc­tion and trans­for­ma­tion image of the orig­i­nal model,” says Hung Fai, ex­plain­ing his process. “The us­age of ink dots, wa­ter and fold­ing rice pa­per cre­ated a new method that al­lowed me to de­con­struct the con­ven­tional no­tion of ‘red land­scape’, which sym­bol­izes au­thor­ity,” he adds.

When Hui started Ink Asia last year, one of his pri­mary goals was to try and break the per­cep­tion of ink art be­ing “black and white, tra­di­tional, bor­ing and old-fash­ioned”. From the out­set he has en­cour­aged par­tic­i­pants to imag­ine ink art in its all pos­si­ble man­i­fes­ta­tions — from mas­sive in­stal­la­tions to de­signs on items of ev­ery­day use, like fur­ni­ture, cush­ion cov­ers and yoga mats.

“Ink is about an iconic, Ori­en­tal cul­tural lan­guage,” says Hui. In­deed, any­one vis­it­ing Ink Asia would not have doubted that ink art has come a long way since literati paint­ings and an­cient Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy.

Hung Fai traced and tweaked a sketch by his father, Hung Hoi in one of the high­light ex­hibits at Ink Asia.

Qiu Deshu,

Yang Yongliang has taken tropes from the tra­di­tional brush and ink Chi­nese land­scapes and adapted th­ese to dig­i­tal me­dia.

The Ink+ sec­tion at Ink Asia had art­works on pa­per turned into fun in­stal­la­tion pieces.

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