Blue Art: Color Series 1 (featuring works by Chun Kwang Young, Mao Lizi, Yan Wei, Tetsuya Ishiyama, Cecilia Avendaño, Zhou Lian Hua, Chae Sung Pil & Studio 30)

What does the color blue evoke? Serenity, coolness, depth, sadness, otherworldliness? The sea and sky? This article introduces ten mostly monochromatic blue works by eight artists. Let’s dive into blue!

1. Chun Kwang Young: Aggregation

Chun Kwang Young; Aggregation 17 – DE096 (Star 33) (2017, mixed media with Korean mulberry paper); Art Central 2018 (Sundaram Tagore Gallery Hong Kong). Photo by longzijun.

Here are two works from Korean artist Chun Kwan Young’s Aggegation series. The  works in this series are abstract three-dimensional mixed-media pieces  created from Korean mulberry paper (also know as hanji).

Chun Kwang Young; Aggregation 17 – DE096 (Star 33) – detail view (2017, mixed media with Korean mulberry paper); Art Central 2018 (Sundaram Tagore Gallery Hong Kong). Photo by longzijun.

Mulberry paper is strongly associated with Korean culture. Besides being used as writing paper, it has also been used as wrapping paper for food and as a kind of insulating material. As mulberry paper is made from indigenous plants, one can say that Chun Kwan Young’s artwork is literally made from part of the Korean landscape.

Chun Kwang Young; Aggregation 17 – MA021 (Star 4) (2017, mixed media with Korean mulberry paper); Art Basel 2018 (PKM Gallery). Photo by longzijun.
Chun Kwang Young; Aggregation 17 – MA021 (Star 4) – detail view (2017, mixed media with Korean mulberry paper); Art Basel 2018 (PKM Gallery). Photo by longzijun.

The process of creating the artworks is outlined below:

  • Mulberry paper is sourced from discarded books. Consequently, some Korean words—mainly in Hanja characters—are still visible on the artwork.
  • Some of the mulberry paper is cut and twisted to form strings.
  • Stryfoam is cut into small triangular prism shapes.
  • The paper is wrapped around the styrofoam prisms and tied with the string to form what look like little packages. The inspiration for this package design came from Chun Kwang Young’s memories of a childhood visit to a TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) doctor where he saw packs of wrapped medicine hanging from the ceiling. For a more detailed description of the artist’s inspirations and thought processes, you can check out this highly-informative page:
  • These packages are then colored (usually with natural dyes).
  • The colored packages are then assembled in tight clusters to form patterns.

The end result is that from a distance the artwork looks very modern and abstract, while up close there are many reminders of traditional Korean culture—in the paper, the texts and the wrapping techniques.

Chun Kwang Young; Aggregation 17 – MA021 (Star 4) (2017, mixed media with Korean mulberry paper); Art Basel 2018 (PKM Gallery). Photo by longzijun.
Chun Kwang Young; Aggregation 17 – MA021 (Star 4) – detail view (2017, mixed media with Korean mulberry paper); Art Basel 2018 (PKM Gallery). Photo by longzijun.
Mini-bio: Chun Kwang Young  was born in 1944 in Hongchun, South Korea and studied at Hong-Ik University and the Philadelphia College of Art. He is best known for his paper-based artwork.


2. Mao Lizi: Ambiguous Flower

Mao Lizi; Ambiguous Flower (2017, oil paint on canvas); Art Central 2017 (Parkview Art Hong Kong). Photo by longzijun.

These two abstract oil paintings are from Mao Lizi’s Ambiguous Flower series. At first, I thought they were ink paintings because of the soft stain-like flow of the paint.

Mao Lizi is deeply inspired by traditional ink painting, especially those works that express a minimalist sense of beauty. In an interview with Denise Tsui, he states:

When I was young, I visited the Palace Museum near the Forbidden City [in Beijing]. It was there that I saw Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) painter Xu Wei’s ink painting Grapes. I felt like the ink was just dropped randomly on the painting. It had a simplicity that was beautiful. The experience left a great impact on me. Throughout my career in painting I have always strived to achieve the same spirit as what is captured in Grapes. (

Mao Lizi; Ambiguous Flower – detail view (2017, oil on canvas); Art Central 2017 (Parkview Art Hong Kong). Photo by longzijun.

Mao Lizi’s aim as an artist is straightforward: he strives to create happiness and beauty via art.

What I like about his paintings is his attention to shading, space and texture. In the Ambiguous Flower paintings, the shading seems to give the paintings a sense of movement, and the focus on texture brings out the intricate patterns of veins that carry nutrients and water through the leaves and petals of the flower. To me, these two things—the sense of movement, and the intricate patterns of the veins—give the paintings a strong feeling of vitality and life. At the same time, the empty white space creates a good balance between form and space while the use of the color blue adds a feeling of serenity to the work.

Mao Lizi; Ambiguous Flower (2017, oil paint on canvas); Art Central 2017 (Parkview Art Hong Kong). Photo by longzijun.
Mini-bio: Beijing-based artist Mao Lizi (毛栗子) was born in 1950 in Shanxi province. In 1979, he co-founded the Stars Group, an influential collective of experimental artists in China. Earlier in his career, he specialized in photorealistic paintings. He studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1987 and worked as a visiting professor in France in 1990. Since the early 2000s, he has focused on abstract oil painting (though he has stated he will likely change styles again in the future). 


3. Yan Wei: Unpredictable Distance

Yan Wei; Unpredictable Distance (2016, acrylic on canvas); Art Central 2018 (Line Gallery). Photo by longzijun.

Although some of Yan Wei’s imagery can be quite disturbing (like in her ink paintings of children:, the scene in Unpredictable Distance is touching; two human-faced, giraffe-bodied creatures look like they are about to nuzzle one another affectionately. As the creatures are alien, we have no reference point as to their sex (or if the species even has different sexes) or age. They could be lovers or they could simply be parent and child. The relationship is uncertain;  what is certain is the sense of affection and feeling of serenity.

Yan Wei; Unpredictable Distance -detail view (2016. acrylic on canvas); Art Central 2018 (Line Gallery). Photo by longzijun.

At the same exhibition, the painting Unpredictable Distance was paired with the painting shown below (However, I didn’t record the title of that one).

Painting by Yan Wei (acrylic on canvas); Art Central 2018 (Line Gallery). Photo by longzijun.
Mini-bio: Beijing-based artist Yan Wei (闫威), also known as kokomoo, studied at Tsinghua University’s Academy of Art and Design and worked as an illustrator in the advertising field before choosing to concentrate on her career as an artist. She uses ink, acrylic and watercolor to create vibrantly-colored surreal scenes.


4. Tetsuya Ishiyama: Human Fungus

Tetsuya Ishiyama; Human Fungus (stoneware); Affordable Art Fair 2016 (Giant Year Gallery). Photo by longzijun.

When doing research for this article, I came across another Human Fungus figurine by Tetsuya Ishiyama. That one is of a baby contentedly sucking his/her thumb and is entirely white (It can be viewed here: The all-white figurine seems cute and peaceful, while this one, due to the color and pose of the child, seems melancholy. To me, the outgrowth spiraling up from the head represents a kind of spiritual energy, and in this case, the child’s spiritual energy is tinged with sadness.

Fungus grows by decomposing and absorbing nutrients from organisms. Perhaps the ‘human fungus’ shown here grows by decomposing and absorbing emotions. That is my interpretation, anyway 🙂

The figurine is made form stoneware. Stoneware is similar to porcelain but is made from a different kind of clay, often involves a simpler firing (i.e., baking) process, tends to be fired at slightly lower (but still very high) temperatures, is more opaque in appearance and can come in different colors (like the blue in this figurine).

Mini-bio: Japanese artist Tetsuya Ishiyama (石山哲也) was born Saitama Prefecture in 1973. As a young child he developed an interest in rocks and stones. When he was 18, he began excavating archaeological sites and two years later decided to become a potter and moved to Shigaraki, a town famous for its pottery traditions. Early in his career, he worked as an artist and technical assistant at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.


5. Cecilia Avendaño: e.5 E.MERGE

Cecilia Avendaño; e.5 E.MERGE (2014, digital print); Art Central 2017 (Isabel Croxatto Galleria). Photo by longzijun.

Cecilia Avendaño is best known for her composite digital portraits such as the one shown above. She has people pose for photos, and from these photos she creates a database of images of individual physical features (e.g., eyes, ears, noses, mouths, etc.). She then mixes and matches features from different photos to create portraits of weird-looking people who never existed. The title of her series—E.MERGE— can carry three meanings:

  • The E in E.MERGE can refer to the use of graphics editing software.
  • The MERGE and can refer to the process of joining together the features of different people.
  • The whole word EMERGE can refer to the new identity that emerges from the process.

Describing her process in an interview with Kim Triebsee, the artist states:

My characters are invented. They come from the use and mix of different images that ultimately respond to my imagination. These imaginary personalities tell us something that, although inherent in any image, must be completed by each viewer who contributes their own stories and desires. Each image is related to something nonexistent, something that I cannot fully find in the real world. I don’t establish a symbolic relationship with my models as it takes hundreds of pictures to create each character. That relationship progressively evolves when the definitive face of my characters start to emerge from that mixture of images and digital intervention.(

A few years ago, she traveled to Asia so that she could add different kinds of features to her database. The above portrait was likely influenced by that trip. The heavy use of blue in the painting seems to add to the otherworldly feeling of the portrait.

One thing to note is that while the two young women are presented as having very delicate features and a demure demeanor, their hands are quite large and have course, veined skin. These clasped hands at the bottom of the painting reveal a mostly-hidden strength and sense of solidarity.

Detail view of Cecilia Avendaño; e.5 E.MERGE (2014, digital print).

The whole series can be seen in this online programme:

Mini-bio: Chiliean artist Cecilia Avendaño Bobillier was born in Santiago in 1980 and studied photography at the University of Chile. 


6. Zhou Lian Hua: Without the Pitch Tubes

Zhou Lian Hua; Without the Pitch Tubes (acrylic on canvas); Art Central 2017 (Gallery of Contemporary Arts); Photo by longzijun.

The title of this painting—Without the Pitch Tubes—refers to comments by Mencius (孟子), an influential philosopher who lived during China’s Warring States period. Pitch tubes seem to have been an ancient equivalent of today’s electronic tuners (which musicians use to ensure they are in tune).

Mencius said, ‘The power of vision of Li Lou, and skill of hand of Gong Shu, without the compass and square, could not form squares and circles. The acute ear of the music-master Kuang, without the pitch-tubes, could not determine correctly the five notes. The principles of Yao and Shun, without a benevolent government, could not secure the tranquil order of the kingdom. There are now princes who have benevolent hearts and a reputation for benevolence, while yet the people do not receive any benefits from them, nor will they leave any example to future ages – all because they do not put into practice the ways of the ancient kings.

‘Hence we have the saying: “Virtue alone is not sufficient for the exercise of government; laws alone cannot carry themselves into practice.'(

In the above passage, Mencius notes that just as how skilled mathematicians and musicians need to use the proper tools to produce the correct shapes and notes, governments and rulers also need to use the proper systems and practices so that their policies can be properly implemented.

Zhou Lian Hua; Without the Pitch Tubes (acrylic on canvas); Art Central 2017 (Gallery of Contemporary Arts); Photo by longzijun.

In an interview with Sara Zilienski, the artist comments on the inspiration behind the series of paintings—A Dialogue with Mencius— to which this painting belongs:

Although I live in Suzhou which is a relatively peaceful and quiet city, I am deeply concerned about many social issues that our modern society is facing today – environmental pollution, ecological destruction, disappearance of heritage and cultural traditions…to name just a few. When I read the teachings on humanism by our ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius, I am inspired by his emphasis on the innate goodness nature of human and people’s ability to do what is right. So in this new collection, I captured my impression of modern cities using my distinctive style of bold and vigorous brushwork. I want viewers to reflect on the damage we have done to our society and environment and yet to realize the inherent goodness and power we possess to change the world for the better. (

Zhou Lian Hua, Without the Pitch Tubes – detail view (acrylic on canvas); Art Central 2017 (Gallery of Contemporary Arts); Photo by longzijun.
An unusual mini-bio: Chinese artist Zhou Lian Hua (周蓮華) was born in 1967 in Henan province. Her path to becoming an artist started when she was 28, when her husband and mother-in-law died on the same day. To support her three children, she moved to Shanghai to look for work. She ended up working in an art gallery and started to create her own paintings. She continued painting and eventually became a full-time artist. She is now based in Suzhou.


7. Chae Sung Pil: Terre Anonyme (historie de bleu 180302)

Chae Sung Pil; Terre Anonyme (historie de bleu 180302) (2018, natural pigments on canvas); Art Basel 2018 (Gallery Grimson). Photo by Maggie Lai Man-yee.

Chae Sung Pil creates landscapes in the most literal sense of the word; his abstract works are comprised mainly of…land. He collects soil from around the world, which he then filters, dilutes and mixes with glue to create natural pigments (he makes it a point to never use artificial materials in his work). The artist then uses a large brush to apply the mixture onto a mulberry-paper canvas that is laid flat on the floor. He adds highlights and shadows by dropping silver dust and ink onto the pigments and then tilting the canvas.

Chae Sung Pil; Terre Anonyme (historie de bleu 180302) – detail view (2018, natural pigments on canvas); Art Basel 2018 (Gallery Grimson). Photo by Maggie Lai Man-yee.

Chae Sung Pil’s paintings embody the artist’s love for Earth (the planet) and earth (the surface of the land). He states:

“It all began over 20 years ago – I started working with earth….Every time I touch earth, I feel again like a boy playing in earth. When drawing with earth, I feel so good – as if embraced by my mother….I love earth, because it never changes, even when everything in this world does. God used clay to create the first man – soil has always been there. Of the five elements everything began with, it is earth that is in the center. Water, plants, fire, iron are all around it.” (

South Korean artist Chae Sung Pil (채성필) was born in 1972 on Jindo Island and studied at Seoul National University and Université Rennes. He is now living and working in Paris while working on his PhD at Université Paris.


8. Studio 30: Hug Me

Studio 30; Hug Me (mixed media on canvas); Affordable Art Fair 2016 (11.12 Gallery). Photo by longzijun.

Studio 30, the Russian artist duo of Lily Balasanova and Sergei Kolevatykh, is best known for large and complex collages of cityscapes (which I will introduce in another article), but they also create more intimate works like this painting of two rabbit-headed figures embracing one another.

Besides being associated with fertility and procreation, Rabbits can also symbolize fear and vulnerability. In this painting, the main figures are surrounded by dragonflies, which are often said to symbolize things like change (because they transform from water-living nymphs to flying adult dragonflies) and the ability to endure hardships (as they have been around for hundreds of millions of years). Therefore, the painting could represent the importance of mutual support when facing frightening hardships and changes.

The artists in Studio 30 tend to combine collage techniques (involving digital printouts and fabrics) and more traditional acrylic painting techniques to create their works.

Studio 30; Hug Me (mixed media on canvas); Affordable Art Fair 2016 (11.12 Gallery). Photo by longzijun.


Bonus Round & Coming Soon

I had been planning on introducing more artworks on this page, but I think the article is quite long already, so I will stop here and do a second Blue Art page in the future. The next page in the color series will be devoted to red artworks.

Street Art in Vancouver, Canada

If you want a little more blueness, however, you can drop by my post on Vancouver street art, where you can see two blue pieces by indigenous graffiti artist Larissa Healey (one of a bear, and one of a sun and whales):


Go Further

  1. Chun Kwang Young (artist’s website):
  2. Mao Lizi (artist’s page at Parkview Art HK, which includes an interesting video about his background):
  3. Yan Wei (artist’s photoblog):
  4. Tetsuya Ishiyama (artist’s website):
  5. Cecilia Avendaño (interview with the artist):
  6. Zhou Lian Hua (interview with the artist):
  7. Chae Sung Pil (artist’s page at Gallery Shchukin):
  8. Studio 30 (artist’s website):

Three Questions

  1. Which of the above artworks do you like best? Why?
  2. Choose one of the above works. Why do you think the artist chose to use mainly blue for that work?
  3. What are the benefits of an artist putting a limitation or restriction on the creative process (e.g., painting only in one color, writing a novel without the letter ‘e’, using only five notes to write a song, etc)?

Art Challenge

Using any medium (e.g., ink, paint, photography, sculpture, mixed media, etc.), create an artwork that uses only blue, black and white.



Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists



Correspondence through Art: Claire Lee & Régis Gonzalez

Régis Gonzalez; Enter the Void – Correspondence with Claire Lee (2016, ink on paper); Art Central 2016 (Mur Nomade). Photo by longzijun.

The artwork presented on this page is a correspondence project between Claire Lee (a Hong Kong artist), and Régis Gonzalez (a French artist living in St. Etienne). The two artists sent each other a total of eight artworks—including texts, drawings, photographs and mixed media works—over the course of two years (2014-2016), The project was a dialogue that was meant to allow them to express their inner thoughts and feelings. Many of the works in the correspondence evoke feelings of pressure or alienation.

The project was initiated by Amandine Hervey, the curator at the Mur Nomade gallery in Hong Kong. The original idea was that the artists would ONLY be able to communicate with one another through their art work. People being people, however, the two artists did start attaching written explanations to their art and Régis even visited Hong Kong.

People have a desire to be understood as well as to understand, so perhaps communicating solely through art would have been frustrating. This kind of correspondence-via-art is a fascinating idea for an art project though.

The entire correspondence was laid out on a table at Art Central 2016. The correspondence is in order; the first artwork is at top of the following photo.

Claire Lee & Régis Gonzalez; Correpondence (2014-2016); Art Central 2016 (Mur Nomade). Photo by longzijun.

Régis initiated the art-dialogue with this painting of a woman kneeling by a river as a man (or a man’s body) floats past. That is a pretty intense way to start a conversation!

Régis Gonzalez; Debute (‘Start’) – Correspondence with Claire Lee (2014, oil paint, pencils, India ink); Art Central 2016 (Mur Nomade). Photo by longzijun.

Claire responded equally intensely  by building a tiny wooden box with a drawer containing, a poem, a letter, and a paper heart on top of drawings of…er…dead flies.

Claire Lee; Dead Flies and Awakening Heart – Correspondence with Régis Gonzalez (2014, Watercolour, coloured pencils, chalk and acrylic on paper, wood); Art Central 2016 (Mur Nomade). Photo by longzijun.
Claire Lee; Dead Flies and Awakening Heart – detail view – Correspondence with Régis Gonzalez (2014); Art Central 2016 (Mur Nomade). Photo by longzijun.

The letter begins:

Dear Régis, thank you for your painting, when I saw the man floating on the river it instantly reminds me of Nick Cave’s ”Where the Wild Rose Grows”.

Here is the Nick Cave song that Claire is referring to:

Claire continues the letter by briefly introducing the accompanying poem, which is from her book entitled Ritual. Here is that poem:


by Claire Lee

In the middle of an abandoned cloister
A divine light irradiates the dust
A lonely hermit stares at an old desk

Religion searches for a corner to rest
He presses lightly on a huntress’ leaden breath
Spider is spinning a web at a dark corner
Candlelight whispers to tempt chaos

White smoke sneaks through the wet lips of a drawer
Old hermit remembers a summer story.

It was a humid summer
Huntress put into a drawer a heart saved from mire
Blood and tears seeped deep into the wood
Prey’s whimpering cries
Sadistic insects

That day a ferocious huntress and tigress glared at each other
In a sudden they found comfort in one another
She saves its life by digging out its heart
Then laid three white hairs on the carcass

Blood-drenched drawer is filled with eyes of desire
It is not love they hunger for but an emptiness of tempting fire

A black widow spinning a moth
His rough hand sweeps aside the heavy dust of memories
Before flame extinguishes
he sits and starts to write his first and only love letter
Then seals it and puts it inside the drawer

Tigress’s heart stops beating
It become the first Sabbath for the wild ones

Régis replied with a photo and short note:

Régis Gonzalez; The Reader – Correspondence with Claire Lee (2014, digital print); Art Central 2016 (Mur Nomade). Photo by longzijun.
Régis Gonzalez; Correspondence with Claire Lee (2014,); Art Central 2016 (Mur Nomade). Photo by longzijun.

The letter reads:

I took this picture a night I couldn’t sleep. I was in a very small village in north of France. The village was empty of people. But close to 5.30 am, there was this guy. He never saw me taking the picture.

I thought I was alone but he was there
He thought he was alone but I was there.

As you send me the poem “Drawer” I found you a reader, kind of extension of myself at this moment.    

Let’s skip ahead a year (sorry, I didn’t get pictures of all the works).

Régis visited Hong Kong, which tends to be a pretty hot place, and people often like to keep the air-conditioning on full blast. As a result, you are often either too hot or too cold. In this picture, Régis imagines himself as a faceless humanoid air-conditioner: sometimes warm, sometimes cold, but never the perfect temperature.

Régis Gonzalez; (top) I feel like an air con machine cold or warm but never find the right temperature & (bottom) Untitled – Correspondence with Claire Lee (2015); Art Central 2016 (Mur Nomade). Photo by longzijun.

The final artwork was from Claire. Entitled Missing Face, the painting shows a mask, or is it a disembodied face? Or are the two things—mask and face—one and the same?

Claire Lee; The Missing Face – Correspondence with Régis Gonzalez (2016, Pigmented India Ink on acid-free archival clay-coated panel); Art Central 2016 (Mur Nomade). Photo by longzijun.

Once the project was finished, the works were displayed together and then sold separately. I would view the dialogue as a single work of art, so, to me, selling each piece independently seemed like a kind of ‘break up’—buyers would only be purchasing fragments of a single dialogue. Am I being too idealistic?

Mini-bio: Hong Kong artist Claire Lee was born in the territory in 1976. Her original training was in graphic design, but she is primarily is a visual artist (working with drawing, painting and mixed media) and poet. She is based in in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
Mini-bio: French artist Régis Gonzalez was born in 1976 and studied Fine Art. He is based in St. Etienne and his artwork includes drawings, paintings and mixed media works.

Go Further

Three Questions

  1. Do you see a common theme running through the whole dialogue? What is that theme?
  2. What do you think of the art correspondence idea?
  3. How do you think the artists inspired each other? Do you notice, for example, something in one artist’s work that is an extension of or response to the other artist’s work?

Art Challenge

You should be able to guess the challenge for this article! Engage in an art dialogue with another person (but try to follow the rule—only communicate via the actual artwork).



Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists


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. (from Koon Wai-bong’s artist statement:

– Click on each image to see a higher resolution
version on Flickr –

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). Photo by longzijun.

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.

Mini-bio: 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+. Photo by longzijun.

The Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden is an influential Chinese painting manual published in the late 18th century (downloadable version:

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+. Photo by longzijun.

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+. Photo by longzijun.

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.

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+. Photo by longzijun.


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+. Photo by longzijun.

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), Photo by longzijun.

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. 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.

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.


Koon Wai-bong: Nostalgia – Isles

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

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:


Ikko Fukuyama: landscape No. 16003

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

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). Photo by longzijun.


S. C. Chan: Spring Plow

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

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). Photo by longzijun.

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:

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.


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:
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.
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.
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

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.



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