As part of the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Asian Art Initiative, celebrated ink painter Liu Dan presents 17 works in the exhibition “Ink Unbound”.

Art Radar takes a look at some of the cross-cultural influences in Liu Dan’s work.

Liu Dan, ‘Peak of the Celestial Capital’, 2013. Photo courtesy Liu Dan

Liu Dan, ‘Peak of the Celestial Capital’, 2013. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Held at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) from 17 September 2016 to 29 January 2017, “Ink Unbound: Paintings by Liu Dan”, showcases ink paintings by Chinese artist Liu Dan encompassing meticulous and unexpected landscapes, rocks and still-lifes. In addition to the exhibition, over the course of two weeks in autumn, Liu Dan will live in Minneapolis to give talks and meet with students.

Liu Dan, ‘Landscape in the Eyes of the Beholder’, 2011. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Liu Dan, ‘Landscape in the Eyes of the Beholder’, 2011. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Liu Dan (b. 1953, Nanjing, Jiangsu) is a celebrated master of ink painting and calligraphy. From an early age, he studied the Confucian classics, poetry, painting and calligraphy, and trained under artist Ya Ming from 1978 to 1981. He moved to Hawaii in 1981 and lived there and in New York until 2006, when he returned to China after 25 years abroad. This experience of living amongst two different cultures has clearly influenced his work: he often merges Eastern and Western styles and draws upon the artistic legacies of both cultural contexts.

Liu Dan, ‘Taihu Rock of the Shaoyuan Garden’, 2015. Image courtesy Eskenazi Ltd, London.

Liu Dan, ‘Taihu Rock of the Shaoyuan Garden’, 2015. Image courtesy Eskenazi Ltd, London.

In an interview with Asia Art Archive in America, Liu Dan explains his artistic influences:

When I was a child, the first genre of painting I enjoyed was Western painting.  I liked all Renaissance paintings and old masters drawings; those were always my favorite. Later, when I was sixteen, I started using the Chinese brush and began studying the Chinese manner. I love both manners and always try to keep the two with me. In my life, I always try to bring these two legacies together; to have them reflect and complement each other. I think that is one goal in my life.

Liu Dan, ‘Snow Village after Wang Wei’, 2002. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Liu Dan, ‘Snow Village after Wang Wei’, 2002. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Liu Dan, ‘Study of Reimagining the Lystra Scene’, 2016. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Liu Dan, ‘Study of Reimagining the Lystra Scene’, 2016. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Liu Dan was trained as a traditional Chinese ink painter, which is evident in his large-scale studies of Guai Shi (odd stones) in traditional Chinese art and culture. However, he doesn’t just look back at tradition, but rather he interprets it in a contemporary context. In an article on Liu Dan’s work, scholar Alexandra Munroe explains that “what makes Liu Dan’s “traditional” painting creative in the Chinese sense, rather than merely conservative, is his innovative response to the stimulus of cultural legacy.” He develops his technique and incorporates new influences that move the tradition of ink painting forward.

Liu Dan, ‘Home-Bound Boat in a Snow River after Huizong’, 1997.

Liu Dan, ‘Home-Bound Boat in a Snow River after Huizong’, 1997.

In an interview with Mia, Liu Dan explains the important role of artists in delving into the unknown:

Sometimes you have to go through another culture to learn about yourself. Chinese ink painting is a very attractive language for the Chinese culture, it goes back a thousand years. To me, each art piece, I have to find more in the personal level to inspire me to create. So that’s the kind of intimate relationship I’m looking for. It’s not just normal knowledge. It’s not something people already know. I’m looking for the areas unknown to people, which you need artists to bring out that part.

Liu Dan, ‘Six Views of a Rock’ (detail), 2004. Image courtesy Liu Dan

Liu Dan, ‘Six Views of a Rock’ (detail), 2004. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Viewing everyday objects from a unique perspective is something that Liu Dan does to great effect. It could be argued that it is the artist’s role to look in detail at the world around us and be able to frame it differently in order to gain a fresh perspective. As Liu Dan highlights in the Mia interview,

We need a new perspective, a new angle to review the things people look at every day, and because we saw the things – this table, this chair – we found a different way to show maybe this is not a table, this is not a chair, it’s more than that.

Liu Dan, ‘Six Views of a Rock’ (detail), 2004. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Liu Dan, ‘Six Views of a Rock’ (detail), 2004. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Consumer culture, with its focus on quantity and short life cycles, may be making us less aware of the nature of the things in our lives. The things that we own and use have less value because we can just throw them away and get something else. Liu Dan, through his focus on the details of our lives and the organic matter around us, enables the viewer to slow down and view the story of an object. In the Asia Art Archive conversation he explains:

A small object is enlarged to an exaggerated scale to give an ordinary object monumental attention and status. Unlike Pop Art, this work portrays an institutionalised and cultural memory, not a fleeting societal icon.

Liu Dan, ‘Dictionary’, 2009. Image courtesy The Xiling Group.

Liu Dan, ‘Dictionary’, 2009. Image courtesy The Xiling Group.

Liu Dan, ‘Reimagining the Lystra Scene’, 2016. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Liu Dan, ‘Reimagining the Lystra Scene’, 2016. Image courtesy Liu Dan.

Liu Dan’s works are hauntingly beautiful and technically challenging. With his odd stones (or scholar’s rocks), he uses an object to portray a mystical landscape. Through the micro, he looks at the wider understanding of our world, both literal and spiritual.

Liu Dan has also drawn upon museum collections to inspire his work. In one such case, Liu Dan took influences from a religious picture painted by the 16th-century Italian artist Raphael (Saint Benedict receiving Maurus and Placidus), using the form of the original in order to develop a Chinese landscape painting (Redefining Pleats of Matter). Liu Dan has used this same process with Mia, drawing on their strong European collection to create a Chinese ink painting inspired by specific works. Through this process, Liu Dan hopes to be a bridge between Eastern and Western cultures.

Claire Wilson

1330

Related topics: Chinese artist, ink, painting, museum shows, features, Asian art, events in the United States

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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