The Long Museum West Bund is pleased to announce the opening of A Timely Journey, the first solo museum show for Tu Hongtao.
Focusing on landscape painting, Tu Hongtao combines Chinese and western influences to convey the sensation of a journey through natural wonders. To achieve these remarkably imaginative paintings, the artist has himself undertaken a journey through landscapes both real and imagined, from his early neo-Pop paintings to his current near-abstractions.
He has immersed himself in the bucolic setting of his home in Chengdu, but also in the halls of art museums and the pages of art history books, absorbing lessons from the local scenery and lessons from the past provided by masters of this timeless genre. From this rich background, he creates paintings that not only transmit an encounter with nature, but also evoke the passage of time, using multiple perspectives and various vantage points in a single work.
Tu Hongtao's influences range from the East Jin Dynasty to the 21st Century, including innovators of classical scroll painting such as Gu Kaizhi, Zhao Mengfu and Dong Qichang to post-modernists Cy Twombly, Brice Marden and David Hockney, He is indebted to the innovations of ancient artists, studying carefully their subtle compositions as clues to how to experiment with perspective in his contemporary landscapes.
For example, his 2018 artwork, The Goddess of the Luo, takes its inspiration from Nymph of the Luo River by Gu Kaizhi (4th Century), a horizontal scroll that places key figures in ambiguous settings at carefully designated intervals to convey the passage of time and the significance of various dramatic scenes. In Tu Hongtao's contemporary interpretation, a range of forms and pigments conjure up a watery landscape from a variety of vantage points. Instead of a single horizon line, the painting moves in and out of various perspectives, offering up swaths of color as pauses in a journey through time.
While knowledge of Chinese classical painting provides one entrance into the paintings of Tu Hongtao, an understanding of contemporary abstract painting can also help in appreciating this artist's accomplishments. Even as a student at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, he was introduced to Cezanne and other 20th century modernists. Tu later discovered the paintings of David Hockney whose theories of "reverse perspective" resonated with his studies of Chinese painting.
Like Hockney, Tu Hongtao often begins his study of a scene by taking multiple photographs, then working on a series of sketches. This process is most evident in his work on paper, Bamboo Book, 2015-2016, in which an expanse of calligraphy collides with a delicate depiction of bamboo stalks. The resulting work unfolds like a scroll with blank space on the far left, passing through a drawing of bamboo shoots, encountering a blizzard of calligraphic characters. This is a work not just about the disappearance of perspective, but about the passage of time, evoking a rhythm that is almost like a musical score.
"Chinese painting has a set of schemas that illustrates the relationship between space and time," according to Tu Hongtao who goes on to explain, "What I want to do is change these schemas. I want to use the fluctuation of time to represent spatial relations, as a way to re-organize the image composition. Basically I want to learn from Chinese painting to reorganize the relationship between space and time. That's one way you can understand my process."
With nearly 20 works, this exhibition thoroughly explores the artist's output over the last three years, a period when he became increasingly free in his exploration of painting, moving past the hyper-realistic style of his earliest works. His goal is to achieve a reinterpretation of the way that time and space are depicted in art and a reconfiguration of spatial relationships to evoke the passage of time. This is an intricate challenge not easily resolved by simple solutions or superficial interpretations. Instead, Tu Hongtao has made paintings that are the result of lifetime of research leading to a sophisticated, nuanced appreciation of abstraction and representation.