Revolutionising tradition: Seven Hong Kong artists rethink contemporary ink – picture feast

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.

Cho Yeou Jui, '20124', 2012, acrylic on linen, 71 x 102cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Cho Yeou Jui, ‘20124’, 2012, acrylic on linen, 71 x 102 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

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“.

Koon Wai Bong, 'Luxuriant Greenery', 2013, colour on gold cardboard, 135 x 424 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Koon Wai Bong, ‘Luxuriant Greenery’, 2013, colour on gold cardboard, 135 x 424 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Seven shan shui artists

The seven artists presenting work in the exhibition are:

Barbara Choi, 'The Tung Choi Garden', 2013, ink and colour on paper, 126 x 79 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Barbara Choi, ‘The Tung Choi Garden’, 2013, ink and colour on paper, 126 x 79 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Koon Wai Bong, 'Pine Forestscape', ink on silk changshan, 72 x 147 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Koon Wai Bong, ‘Pine Forestscape’, ink on silk changshan, 72 x 147 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

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’sBird’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.”

Barbara Choi, 'Gaze into the Fish Street', 2013, ink and colour on paper, 61 x 111 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Gallery.

Barbara Choi, ‘Gaze into the Fish Street’, 2013, ink and colour on paper, 61 x 111 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Gallery.

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.

Kum Chi Keung, 'Virtual & Rela - Landscape (1)', 2013, stainless steel, glass paint, 31 x 20.5 x 20.5 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Kum Chi Keung, ‘Virtual & Rela – Landscape (1)’, 2013, stainless steel, glass paint, 31 x 20.5 x 20.5 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

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.”

Leung Kui Ting, (left) 'Nexus 2012', mixed media; (right) 'Nexus 2013', mixed media. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Leung Kui Ting, (left) ‘Nexus 2012’, mixed media; (right) ‘Nexus 2013’, mixed media. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

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, 'The Sim City', 2013, video and ink on paper, 250 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Vincent Mak, ‘The Sim City’, 2013, video and ink on paper, 250 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

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. 'Lab Studies III- Gobi Desert', 2013, C-print, 46 x 30.5 cm each, one set of 9. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

Tony Ng, ‘Lab Studies III- Gobi Desert’, 2013, C-print, 46 x 30.5 cm each, one set of 9. Image courtesy Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery.

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.

 DO/CN/CXMA

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Related Topics: Hong Kong artists, ink art, picture feasts, landscape art, the classical and contemporary

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