M. Sutherland Fine Arts proudly celebrates Asia Week New York 2017 by presenting the work of eleven Chinese artists in an exhibition “Guo Hua: Defining Contemporary Painting” at its new gallery space at 7 East 74th Street (Third Floor).
What makes a work guo hua? The literal meaning is “national painting”. That is, art painted in China and based on traditional Chinese themes of painting. But could the term be used to describe ink painting made by any ethnic Chinese artist working in other parts of Asia or in the West? Might guo hua also include oil painting, collage or another Western medium wielded by a modern Chinese artist whose philosophical viewpoint expresses traditional theories of Chinese painting? Our Asia Week NY 2017 exhibition illustrates the expansive definition of guo hua with the art of eleven artists: Fung Mingchip, Hai Tao, Hsia Ifu, Hsu Kuohuang, Hu Xiangdong, Hung Hsien, Jia Youfu, Liang Quan, Yang Mian, Zhu Daoping and Zhu Jinshi.
In his landscape “Seeking the Way in a Spring Mountain,” 2016 (ink and color wash on paper), Taiwan-based artist Hsu Kuohuang boldly uses splashed ink and color to create an ambiguously “contemporary” rendering of cliff-like peaks flattened against the painting surface in a way that recalls the closely cropped photographs of Edward Weston. The modern viewer would never mistake this for a copy of earlier Chinese work. Yet Hsu’s work remains guo hua because he uses the same mineral powders that ancient Chinese artists brushed into their “blue and green style” landscapes in the 9th century. Hsu’s creative vision is Chinese, but the artist (born 1950) grew up eastern Taiwan, a much freer and less restricted environment than the People’s Republic of China. Although produced in Taiwan, Hsu’s landscapes remain in the scholarly tradition of Chinese classical landscape and, arguably, express more of the traits of guo hua than any other paintings in the show.
Hai Tao, a Nanjing-based painter (born 1959), paints surreal, fantastic images using layers of wash brushed in multiple layers to create abstract, sweeping veils of ink on paper. While Hai uses the traditional brush and ink and mo-gu (no bones) brushwork style that can be traced back to the Southern Song masters, the landscape forms bear a tenuous connection to reality. As inspiration, Hai listens to Western classical music, causing him to fall into a meditative state when painting. Certainly no Southern Song or Qing eccentric painter like Gong Xian, (another source of inspiration to Hai) would have been listening to Mozart in their studio! Hai Tao’s paintings are the result of this mix of unusual inspirations, but still are unquestionably guo hua.
The inclusion of the pastel-toned landscape oil, “Estranged No. 3” by Hu Xiangdong, a Beijing-based painter (born 1961), certainly stretches the definition of guo hua. Hu described the scene parenthetically as a view from Diao Yutai, a former imperial garden in western Beijing (now a state-run guest compound reserved for high-level foreign dignitaries). Although painted in oil on canvas in a pop-like realism as though seen through a torn cellophane wrapping, the view is of a recognizable scenic area, much like the tradition of Ming literati painters brushing well-known scenic views around West Lake. While the media is not ink and color wash on paper but oil on canvas; however, the painter is Chinese, the subject matter is a famous Chinese landscape spot and the work was done in Beijing.
At the far end of the spectrum, looms Zhu Jinshi’s expressionist landscape “The Scenery of Cézanne” (2007), an oil on canvas slathered with a thick impasto that oozes vibrant, luscious color. Born in mainland China in the 1950s, Zhu received no formal training but was tutored clandestinely by an older oil painter during the Cultural Revolution. Zhu eventually went to Berlin where he earned fellowships for further concentrated study. He returned to China to create large abstract canvases, many of them bearing titles that reference European literature, philosophy, and art. “The Scenery of Cézanne” may be European in inspiration, but this homage to the past relates to the practice of ancient guo hua ink painters who honored famous ancient painting masterpieces or passages from Tang or Song poems.