Ink Landscapes: Contemporary Ink Painting (Part 1)

Simon Yung (容子敏); Colour of Twilight (2016, ink and color on paper): Affordable Art Fair 2016 (Blink Galley). Photo by longzijun.

This article, which features landscape paintings by ten artists, is the first in a series of posts on contemporary ink painting. The paintings on this page range from stylized but easily recognizable representations of natural scenery to mainly abstract works in which elements of nature such as mountains and rivers are only hinted at. However, the artists featured here all seek to observe tradition, absorb new influences, innovate, express themselves artistically and establish a unique personal style. This approach is expressed more eloquently by one of the featured artists:

What I intend to do is to merge the old and the new together, inheriting something from the past and divulging something belonging to our time. That is why I, on the one hand, prize the value of the use of brush and ink (Bǐ mò), and on the other, appropriate to my work, the view of today’s world. I reckon this is the way to give rise to my own unique artistry.

www.koonwaibong.com/Artist

Simon Yung: Up and Down Spring

Simon Yung (容子敏); Up and Down Spring (2012, ink and color on paper): Affordable Art Fair 2016 (Blink Galley)

Of all the paintings on the this page, Simon Yung’s are the ones that resonate with me the most. In his work, this Hong Kong artist strives to transform the chaos of the world into a feeling of calmness and serenity. I particularly like the balance between ink, color and space. The aesthetic of the paintings reminds me of my own music composition style: restrained, but with some liveliness; melancholy, but with some brightness.

In Up and Down Spring, there is a balanced system of natural forces at play: thermal and geological forces push mountain spring water to the surface, and gravity pulls the water back to the ground (where it nourishes life) via waterfalls and mountain streams.

Hong Kong artist Simon Yung Chee-mun (容子敏) was born in the territory in 1968. He studied Chinese painting at HKU SPACE and Chinese Humanities at OUHK. He studied calligraphy and seal engraving under Mater Ou Dawei and Chinese ink painting under Master Hung Hoi. He is best known for his ink landscapes.

Yang Jiechang: Mustard Seed Garden III

Yang Jiechang (杨诘苍); Mustard Seed Garden III (2010, ink and mineral color on silk); The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+

The Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden is an influential Chinese painting manual published in the late 18th century (downloadable version: archive.org/details/brooklynmuseum-o17617-mustard-seed-garden-a-chinese).

The artist has followed the guidelines set out in the manual to produce a pleasing landscape of farmland, a river, a mountain and rolling clouds; however, there is a chilling scene at the bottom right.

Yang Jiechang (杨诘苍); Mustard Seed Garden III – detail view (2010, ink and mineral color on silk); The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+. Photo by longzijun.

It is not clear exactly what is happening, but if you ever find yourself clad all in white and kneeling in front of a deserted river bank with uniformed man pointing a rifle at your back, it is safe to say that you are not going to be enjoying one of the happier days of your life. The artist was himself a Red Guard during China’s Cultural Revolution and this painting revisits that period in his life.

Once the viewer becomes more aware of the two small figures in the corner, he/she may re-examine other elements of the painting. Are those sunset clouds or turbulent storm clouds? Are the birds simply flying or are they fleeing? Why are there no other people around? Why is the ground red?

Yang Jiecheng is originally from China and is based in Paris, Heidelberg and Foshan.

Wucious Wong: Distant Thoughts No. 19

Wucious Wong (王无邪); Distant Thoughts No. 19 (1990, ink and color on paper); The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+

This is a painting of New Jersey’s Englewoods Cliffs in the Palisades along the Hudson River. The muted color scheme greatly decreases the real-world visual contrasts between the rock, forest, water and sky; consequently, one’s attention is drawn to textures, composition and shape. The aerial point of view makes the cliffs seem much less imposing than they would be if viewed at ground level and also serves to highlight the curve of the river, which according to the exhibition notes, calls to mind the Tai Chi symbol for energy flow. In my opinion, the painting evokes a calm, but heavy and subdued early evening mood.

Wucious Wong is an adjunct professor in the Department of Fine Arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Liu Kuo-song: Clear Conclusion of Clearness

Liu Kuo-song (劉國松); Clear Conclusion of Clearness – detail view (1965, ink and color on paper); The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+

This painting by Taiwanese artist Liu Kuo-song is more abstract in style. It gives me the impression of a mountainside blanketed in snow. There is a strong sense of balance between ‘form’ (i.e., the rock of the mountains) and ‘space’ (i.e., the snow). I particularly like how the artist is able to convey the idea of snow filling up every crack and crevice. These lightning-like zig zags of snow-filled crevices give the painting visual energy. The feathery white marks were created using a special technique—the artist would paint on coarse cotton paper and then later peel away fibers from the paper.

Detail view

Li Huayi: Pine Crest

Li Huayi (李华弋); Pine Crest (2001, ink and color on paper); The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+

With this painting by Li Huayi, we are back to a more representative style of landscape painting. There is a strong sense of contrast between the hard rocky crags that are painted in considerable detail (and that look somewhat like waves in a rough sea) and the soft, ethereal mist.

This painting portrays how life can stubbornly endure and even thrive. There is no reason for pine trees to be growing on such a barren and jagged surface, but there they are, clinging to wherever there is enough room to lay down roots. The subject matter reminds of some of Tom Thomson’s Canadian landscape paintings—namely Jack Pine,Pine Cleft Rock and Pine Cleft Rocks—that feature pine trees enduring the elements on open, rocky terrain after having already broken apart solid rock in their efforts to grow.

Li Huayi is a originally from China and is based in San Francisco.

Eddy Chan: Snow-white True Light all over the Earth No.2

Eddy Chan ((陳君立); Snow-white True Light all over the Earth No.2 (2010, ink on paper); Fotanian 2014 (Eddy Chan Studio)

Hong Kong artist Eddy Chan’s landscape of snow-covered rocks deals with a similar theme. The imagery of trees growing in a harsh landscape can serve as a kind of visual metaphor for strength, durability and the will to live.

To create the interesting textures in his paintings, the artist uses a variety of non-traditional techniques such as sprinkling, dots, spraying, brushing, scraping, splashing, dripping, and dyeing.

For Eddy Chan, this strength, as well as the pristine beauty of snow-covered mountain landscapes, are the work of God. Thus, his landscapes are an affirmation of faith.

Koon Wai-bong: Nostalgia – Isles

Koon Wai-bong (管偉邦); Nostalgia – Isles (2016, ink on paper); Art Basel HK 2018 (Grotto Fine Art)

In Nostalgia – Isles, by Hong artist Koon Wai-bong, the style seemingly transitions from figurative (e.g., the tree-lined hilly islands at the top of the painting) to expressive (the vivid splash in the middle) to abstract (e.g., the bottom third). The feeling of nostalgia involves looking back to the past (represented here by the use of more traditional techniques at the top of the painting), but the emotions associated with nostalgia belong to the present (represented by the expressive, bold splash in the middle). The dark abstract shapes at the bottom of the painting (i.e., beneath the surface of the water) may represent the unknown—memories that have been blurred beyond recognition, memories that have been suppressed, things that have been forgotten and things that were never known in the first place. Deep beneath the surface of a memory, there is much that is unknown.

When I saw Nostalgia – Isles at Art Basel (HK), it was paired with another painting—Nostalgia – Woods to form a diptych. High resolution of both images can be seen on the artist’s website: www.koonwaibong.com/Nostalgia

Ikko Fukuyama: landscape No. 16003

Ikko Fukuyama (福山一光); Landscape No. 16003 (2016, ink on Chinese paper); Art Central 2016 (Kamiya Art)

Like many of Japanese artist Ikko Fukuyama’s paintings, landscape No. 16003 is a study in softness. As with the painting Clear Conclusion of Clearness there is a balanced contrast between form and space, but with Ikko Fuuyama’s painting, the distinction between form and space is often blurred. In the foreground, only a few tree trunks are painted in detail, and just behind this first set of tree trunks is a mysterious blackness. Further back, the blurred shapes of forested hills are visible, but in the distance, there is only a vague presence that blurs into the emptiness. The painting evokes a calm, mysterious mood. What lies within the darkness of the forest? And what lies beyond?

Ikko Fukuyama (福山一光); landscape No. 16003 – detail view (2016, ink on Chinese paper); Art Central 2016 (Kamiya Art)

Ikko Fukuyama is based in Japan.
 

S. C. Chan: Spring Plow

S. C. Chan; Spring Plow (ink on paper); Fotanian 2014 (Eddy Chan Studio)

This is a lovely scene portraying two farmers tending to a paddyfield. I like how simply the water is represented in the little ripples around the farmers’ ankles and in the reflection of the mountains. The messy line between water and land is also interesting. Land is land and water is water, but where the two meet, the edges fray, scatter and blend.

S.C. Chan is based in Hong Kong.
 

Peter Siu Pak-keung: Portrait of Landscape II (detail view)

Peter Siu Pak-kung (蕭柏強); Portrait of Landscape II (2012) – detail view; Fotanian 2014 (Gen Kan Workshop).

The above images is a detail view of the main part of the painting; an image showing the whole painting can be seen on this page: sinyeeart.blogspot.hk/2013/03/interview-with-ink-painter-peter-siu.html

Portrait of a landscape is a very high aerial view (i.e., a satellite view) of a snow covered landscape. The painting emphasizes the contrasts between light and dark and between detailed textures and smooth gradients. To create the textures, the artist makes use of tools like crumpled newspapers or plastic plates in addition to typical place ink brushes.

Peter Siu is based in Hong Kong.

Nina Pryde (派瑞芬): Passing Through 1-5

Nina Pryde: Passing Through 1-5, 2018 (Ink and mixed media on paper; Ora-Ora gallery)

The above is a series of five landscape paintings by Hong Kong artist Nina Pryde (派瑞芬). The series, entitled Passing Through, was inspired by a trip to Japan the artist took in 2017. She incorporates photos of scenic spots that she took into her ink paintings. The highly detailed photographic elements contrast with the soft wash of the ink landscapes, making it seem like people, structures and buildings in the photos are emerging from a fog.

Passing Through 3:

Featured at the bottom right of the fifth painting in the series is the Genbaku Dome, a former exhibition hall that was heavily damaged by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The building has been converted into a peace memorial to honor the those who were killed by the bombing.

Nina Pryde: Passing Through 5 (detail view)

While the artist was visiting the site she felt conflict views: sorry and sympathy for death and suffering of the civilians of Hiroshima and shame at feeling sympathy for the Japanese, who had caused immense death and suffering in China and in her home city of Hong Kong during the war. She says she was inspired by the attitude of a Japanese friend who had accompanied her on the visit to the memorial—her friend believed that people need to put aside their hatred, forgive each other and work together for a more peaceful world.

The second panel features the famous torii gate in the sea at the Itsukushima Shrine. 

Passing Through 2 (detail view)

Nina Pryde was studied Chinese Ink Painting at the Hong Kong Chingying Institute of Visual Arts under Wucius Wong (another of the artists featured on this page) and obtained an MA in Fine Arts from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology & the Hong Kong School of Art 

Following this, Nina joined a Masters course in fine arts jointly run by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and the Hong Kong School of Art 

Websites Introducing Chinese Landscape Painting

Chinese Landscape painting has been at the forefront of art in China for over 1,500 years, making it one of the oldest genres of art. It has always been rather stylized, so if you are like me and not very familiar with the history of the genre, you might be surprised at how modern some centuries-old works look.

After reading up a little on Chinese landscape painting, I was intrigued to learn about the extent to which tradition, innovation, personal expression and individual style have all been greatly valued during the genre’s long evolution. If you are interested in finding out more about the ink landscape genre, you can start with the following page:

www.comuseum.com/painting/landscape-painting
An overview of the development of Chinese landscape painting over the centuries, explains the different schools and philosophies and introduces the most famous representative artists of the different schools.

www.asia-art.net/chinese_brush.html
An introduction to some of some of the techniques and theories behind the genre. The left-hand column includes interesting quotes referring to principles related to landscape painting, so if you visit the page, do have a look at those.

luminous-landscape.com/the-synthesis-of-chinese-landscape-painting-and-photography
On this page, a pair of Western photographers discuss methods they have used to try to emulate Chinese landscape painting aesthetics in their photos.


Go Further

This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.

Online Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Art Websites

Many of the artists featured on this page have personal websites or gallery pages:

Three Questions

  1. Which of the above artworks do you like best? Why?
  2. Choose one of the above works. How would you interpret it?
  3. What are some of the challenges of using ink and paper as a medium?

Art Challenge

Using any medium (e.g., ink, acrylic paint, charcoal, photography, sculpture, mixed media, etc.), create work that stylistically resembles an ink landscape.


~ text and photos by longzijun

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