During the past year, I've tried to get a handle on the cultural scene in Hong Kong. This city is so overwhelmingly about business and money-making, and not very evidently a creative center (at first glance). A major eye-opener for me was last year's exhibition of "New Ink Art: Innovation and Beyond" at the Hong Kong Art Museum. Curated by Alice King, the show demonstrated in a spectacular way that the traditional medium in this region is not the kind of Socialist realism and its linear descendants that we associate with new Chinese art from Beijing and Shanghai. Instead, Hong Kong seems to have become a center for the far more traditionalist (and to me, more vital) medium of ink painting, whether figurative, abstract, or calligraphic. Her exhibition catalogue of the same name is very worthwhile, and I have used it as a guide to understanding the various strands of this tradition. Yesterday I stopped by her gallery, Alisan Fine Arts http://alisan.com.hk/, and had a chance to talk to Alice King a little bit about her current show (yes, more ink art!), and her desire to create a museum for ink painting in Hong Kong. Amazingly, despite lots of recent discussion about how to develop the area called West Kowloon as an arts district, she told me that she has had little luck getting people interested in this notion. It seems like such an obvious and good idea.
Below are some examples of work in the "New Ink Art" exhibition and catalogue, to give you an idea of the special flavor of this regional art form. The founder of the school is held to be Lui Shou-Kwan (1919-1975). This work is a Chan (Zen) painting, with clear roots in traditional Chinese and Japanese Buddhist ink painting:
Working in a more explicitly calligraphic vein, Fung Ming-Chip (b. 1951) explores narrative and time in the laying down of the strokes of characters:
In a different, and more explicitly contemporary vein, Wang Tiende (b. Shanghai 1960), removes ink painting from its traditional scroll-based medium and places it on furniture, objects, and clothing. I particularly like the way he uses burn marks (actually, cigarette burns) to create ghostly negative-space characters.
Wilson Shieh (b. 1970 Hong Kong), whom I've had the chance to meet, is an astounding illustrator and painter who works out of a different tradition: the gongbi fine-line silk painting style. His take on contemporary society is laced with a lot of sexual humor and innuendo:
Some (including Alice King) might also place the internationally-known artist Cai Guo-Qiang (b. Fujian Province, 1957) among the "New Ink Artists." Cai's use of gunpowder ( a Chinese invention) is literally explosive, and what I like is that they form an almost archaeological record of the event on paper. He's shown a lot in the West, so he is likely to be familiar to many who follow contemporary art. Personally, I think that the opaque Pinyin system of transliteration of Chinese names makes the artists' names almost immediately forgettable for most Western art fans (for example, this one would better be represented as Tsai Guo-Chang). Here's a gunpowder piece he did for the Guggenheim:
In the future, I plan to post some examples of Ink Art we have purchased for ourselves, which now are hanging in the Hong Kong apartment. It is really the greatest advantage of being here to witness change in China as it occurs.