Hong Kong artists are using contemporary media to explore traditional themes, turning the established treatment of classical Chinese art on its head.
On view from 8 June to 13 July 2013 in Hong Kong, Kwai Fung Hin Gallery’s “Contemporary San Sui Exhibition” presents a contemporary treatment of the traditions of Chinese shan shui painting. Through the work of seven artists, the exhibition provides a distinct approach to the theme of classical made contemporary.
Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery’s current show “Contemporary San Sui Exhibition. Mountain is not Water” presents work in various media from seven Hong Kong-based artists. On display from 8 June to 13 July 2013, the exhibition highlights a selection of what the gallery calls in its press release “neo-San Sui experimental art“.
Seven shan shui artists
The seven artists presenting work in the exhibition are:
- Cho Yeou Jui
- Barbara Choi Tak Yee
- Koon Wai Bong
- Kum Chi Keung
- Leung Kui Ting
- Vincent Mak Shing Fung
- Tony Ng Kwun Lun
Chinese contemporary ink, from ancient to contemporary art
Initially rising to popularity in the fifth century, shan shui is a Chinese ink and brush painting style typically depicting natural landscapes. Shan shui has remained strong as an influence, with Hong Kong hosting multiple exhibitions of Chinese contemporary ink during the month of May 2013 alone.
The scroll work of Qiu Zhijie, part of his solo exhibition which opened on 21 May at Hanart TZ Gallery, blends traditional Chinese ink with modern cartographic imagery. The classical shan shui landscapes of the artist’s “Bird’s Eye View” show are rendered as maps or a GPS screen. Furthermore, a private sales exhibition, “Contemporary Chinese Ink – The Beginnings and Beyond“, opened two days later at Christie’s Hong Kong.
Georgina Adam writes in The Art Newspaper that “interest in contemporary Chinese ink painting, the age-old tradition that is currently undergoing a renaissance, has never been greater–and not just in China.” She goes on to say that “today’s painters are using the medium to produce art that links back to this long tradition.”
Inverting the trend of classical in contemporary
The distinct approach of “Contemporary San Sui Exhibition” inverts the typical trope of classical as contemporary art, which usually sees artists using traditional media to explore contemporary themes. The group exhibition at Kwan Fung Hin reverses this by exploring shan shui’s traditional concepts and concerns, but rendering them through contemporary techniques. The exhibition’s curator, Eric Leung, explains in the gallery’s statement:
Nowadays, both the nature appearance (sic) and the social and cultural thoughts have experienced earthshaking changes. Therefore, the present exhibition will explore the different ways of expressing artistic conception of landscapes in contemporary art.
Referencing the teachings of Zen master Qingyuan Xingsi, the gallery statement further details the group’s departure from traditional ink but their observance of shan shui’s traditional underpinnings:
When San Sui meets contemporary art, it integrates with different western media and even separates itself from the medium of ink to apply new concepts. Mixed flavors of these give us a feel of state like “mountain is not the mountain”. No matter how revolutionary and chaotic the contemporary San Sui becomes, comprehending and appreciating the humanistic conception in it may once again open the path to the final realization of “mountain is mountain.”
The separation from ink as a medium is seen in work such as Nexus by Leung Kui Ting. The gallery calls Leung’s piece “a modern demonstration of traditional elements.” Shan shui influences are evident in the landscape as well as the nearly gestural neon lighting component of his work.
Vincent Mak also makes use of modern technology in addressing traditional themes in his piece The Sim City. An ink on paper painting is accompanied by a video counterpart, both examining Hong Kong and its history.
Tony Ng received a diploma in Chinese ink painting and now teaches the medium at various universities and secondary schools. Thus, the concerns peculiar to ink painting are present in his Lab Studies III – Gobi Desert, though the work is made up of a series of photographic prints.
- Tradition and regeneration: Imran Qureshi at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – June 2013 – commenting on life, death and regeneration, Pakistani artist Qureshi brings classical art into the contemporary world
- Three trends in Chinese contemporary art – Karen Smith book review – May 2013 – curator Smith tips the trends to watch in Chinese art in 2013
- “Hong Kong Eye”: New narratives in Hong Kong contemporary art – May 2013 – touring retrospective of the city’s art questions established perspectives
- What is the future of Chinese contemporary ink painting? Asia Society panel discussion – July 2011 – four experts discuss the challenges and opportunities facing ink art today
- Wilson Shieh revitalises ancient Chinese painting techniques – video – September 2010 – Shieh explains how to invigorate the ancient art of Chinese ink
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