An intriguing new exhibition celebrates the enduring impact of seminal Hong Kong artist Lui Shou-kwan, writes Rik Glauert
t’s four decades since Hong Kong mourned the death of the master credited with revolutionising the ancient Chinese art of ink painting and developing a genre unique to the city. Lui Shou-kwan’s legacy is celebrated this month in an exhibition by Alisan Fine Arts that analyses the artist’s evolution and enduring influence by juxtaposing his masterpieces with works by his protégés and emerging artists of today.
“Lui Shou-kwan contributed tremendously to Hong Kong’s art scene and culture,” says Daphne King-yao, the director of Alisan Fine Arts, founded in 1981 by her mother, veteran curator Alice King. The women have long collected and exhibited Lui’s work, appreciating his pioneering expressive style fusing Eastern and Western aesthetics. “He created an artistic identity for Hong Kong and, in doing so, laid the foundations for the rich cultural life that the city enjoys today.”
The new exhibition, A Legacy of Ink: Lui Shou-kwan 40 Years On, which is being staged at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, showcases some of the painter’s most revered pieces alongside works by prominent local artists of today, such as Wucius Wong, Leung Kui-ting and Kan Tai-keung, and promising younger artists and students. In presenting Lui’s paintings with the work of those he taught and inspired, the mother-daughter team aim to illuminate Lui’s enduring impact on the city’s artistic community.
The story of one of Hong Kong’s most important artists began in Guangzhou with the birth of Lui in 1919. The young Lui came to maturity amid the devastation of World War II and took refuge from the horrors of the time in art. Inspired by his scholar-artist father, he studied the famous Chinese ink painters, including Bada Shanren (1626-1705), Shitao (1642-1707) and Huang Binhong (18651955). He began replicating their line and form, creating the classic, stylised landscapes of mountains and rivers.
In 1948, Lui joined the flood of Chinese fleeing the revolution to the safety of Hong Kong. Back on the mainland, as the communists forced art into the service of national ideals, there was no room to alter, adapt or progress ink painting. But in the British colony, Lui was free to develop his own style. By day he worked as an inspector at Yaumati Ferry Company to support himself, but his free time was spent depicting the landscape of his new home with ink and brush.