CHINESE INK PAINTING
This exhibition references three trends we are noticing in the art world now: a new interest in ink as a medium, a turning towards the traditional arts as a counterpoint to the recent interest in political art then new media and finally, as Melissa Chiu of the Asia Society has pointed out in the video Inside Chinese Contemporary Art, the growing influence of cultural and political refugee artists on the art practices in their birth countries.
The Deluge to March 2009
Museo Wurth La Rioja presents the exhibition ‘After the Deluge’ which brings together 80 Chinese ink works on canvas and paper by the prestigious Chinese artist Gao Xingjian (China, 1940), 2000 Nobel Prize in Literature. Regarded as one of the most important Chinese writers at present, Gao Xingjian still is not well known as a painter in Spain, although he is recognized by the international art scene and his oeuvre was previously exhibited at the Reina Sofia Museum (Madrid, 2002) says Art Knowledge News.
His work has been presented in several solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Asia and the United States, and is included in several important art collections including the Singapore Art Museum, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Museum of Modern Art Sweden.
Although Gao Xingjian is well-known for having received the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 2000, his long, versatile professional career reveals him to be a novelist, playwright and essayist, a film and stage director as well as an artist of great international renown according to the Museum.
Literature and painting encounter serene complicity in the figure of the artist, in which the one is the inseparable complement to the other, one is an extension of the other: “I paint when I am tired of writing. I write when I am tired of painting”.
Gao’s paintings are in Chinese ink, sometimes on small sheets of rice paper, sometimes on large format canvases. The gouache technique, which comes from the traditional Chinese technique of xieyi (literally “painting of the feelings” or “writing of the spirit”), allows him to create subtle, intuitive settings and characters who move in the limits between figurative and abstract art.
Gao uses Chinese ink with light, fluent strokes, full of contrasts which explore the expressive possibilities of black, creating nuances, light, chiaroscuros, textures and volumes which spring from the artist’s own introspection. Gao paints from the emotions and his forms suggest sensations (Search, Nostalgia, Illusion) subtle natural phenomena (Momentary Rain, The Mist) or the artist’s vision of the presence (Alienation, The End of the World, The Flight).
As a refugee of the Cultural Revolution now settled in France, Gao Xinjiang’s art practice is irrevocably marked by his experiences. The Guardian says
Though he enjoys dancing, swimming in the sea and cooking seafood, Gao says he works “non-stop, 12 hours a day”, and never takes summer holidays “or even weekends, because freedom of expression is so precious to me”.
Though the Open Door policy operating since the eighties which allows new freedoms to Chinese people, has also brought with it difficulties
The market pressures China now shares with the west are, (Gao) believes, “harder to resist than political and social customs”. He feels lucky that his ink paintings were selling in Europe before he fled, and have been widely exhibited. “I could make a living, so I could write books that didn’t sell much. I always understood that literature can’t be a trade; it’s a choice.” Painting, he says, “begins where language fails”, and he works listening to music – often Bach.
Gao describes his experience of political control being all the harder to bear after his idyllic upbringing in the intellectually-stimulating open-minded environment created by his parents.
Many people would remember their childhood as a painful, suffering memory. I am extremely lucky in comparison. My mother was educated in an American missionary school so she was very open-minded, and my father had been very much influenced by Western thoughts and ideals. At the same time he was learned in classical Chinese culture. In my family there was no sense of hierarchy, there was no patriarchal control of any kind. I was totally free, I could do whatever I liked, and I was also good at my studies so my parents did not try to influence me whatsoever, in any way. I was completely myself. The first ever sense of control or manipulation or power put upon me was when I first went to University; it was 1957. We had the anti-writers movements, a political campaign against writers and artists. That was the very first time I experienced opposition or some form of control over me.
Since my university years, I have been subject to all kind of politics, all kinds of political control and manipulation, and I very much want to separate myself from that, and I am now advocating or promoting art and literature which is apolitical, which is not used as a tool in politics, it actually transcends and goes beyond and is above politics, it has nothing to do with politics. That is the kind of art and literature I want to promote. So all those political discourses and political language, they are public, they are there to command. Political discourse is the discourse of power, and it is also a public discourse, it doesn’t represent an individual.
His paintings have been described as “infused with the still, reflective quality of Zen Buddhism” and it is in the spirit of xeiyi and the expression of universal feelings that we are to understand the works in this show.
- Art Knowledge News,
- a full and fasinating interview about Gao Xinjiang’s views of his multiple art practices in the International Literary Quarterly issue 4 May 2008 – highly recommended
- the Guardian article about his life and work September 2008 – highly recommended
- more images and accompanying text Museo Wurth la Rioja Gao Xingjian pdf
Gao Xingjiang’s book Return to Painting presents a collection of more than one hundred of the author’s paintings, created from India ink on rice paper, that span his artistic career from the 1960s to the present day.
- Wang Keping another cultural refugee who settled in Paris on show in China November 2008
- New York gallery launches series of 15 Chinese ink artists October 2008
- New ink art at the Hong Kong Museum of Art September 2008