Globalization and digitization have given rise to countless artistic experimentation and diversity of art forms in the name of contemporary ink art that challenge the very definition of ink painting, its aesthetic value and the continuation of its legacy. In this global village, contemporary artists draw their inspiration from intercultural sources, fleeting moments of modernity, and shared experience in many aspects of life that their artistic discourses are not so much about originality but rather the depth of their artistic expressions in relation to Chinese tradition and their contribution to the global dialogue.

Notably, traditional ink painting was the manifestation of the spiritual world of the old masters through the depiction of landscape and personification of nature, the “mindscape” that became the spiritual habitat of the artists in the tension between the temporality of human life and the eternity of nature. The Chinese character for “mind (心 )” denotes both the physical and emotional features of the heart, alluding to the aesthetics of ink art which transcends its physical properties and bears spiritual and historical value. On the other hand, the character for “art (藝)” came from the image of planting or cultivation that suggests the conception of growth to which water is the most essential element. Thus, since the very beginning, artists have been delegated the mission of cultivating culture, carrying on traditions while “growing” art, and the property of water in ink takes the form of art to the profoundly philosophical level where water is the symbol of life that governs the balance of nature in Taoism.

In its fourth edition, 3812 gallery’s annual exhibition Mind-Scape brings together a group of artists who not only have expanded the horizon of ink practice but also developed their unique and universal language in the depth of their understanding of the “mind” of ancient wisdom and “art” as self-expression that materializes through the sense of time, transcending past, present and future. Their contemporary ink works are both forward-looking and grounded in Chinese traditions, planting the seeds for the development of ink art in a global context.

Wang Huangsheng, Spring Language in Breeze, 2008 (Courtesy of 3812 gallery)

Wang Huangsheng challenges the boundaries in art and life with his signature gesture of calligraphic lines and poetic composition, and ultimately transcends these boundaries through his investigation of the dichotomy between figurative and abstract art, freedom and control, tradition and innovation, rapidity of urbanization and eternity of nature, reality and desire, life and death. Rooted in traditional philosophy and ink art, Wang’s art is the representation of the Chinese notion, “the greatest form has no shape ( 大象無形)”; in his highly intuitive compositions, lines and space become the subject matter themselves through which the artist takes viewers to trace their collective memory in history while reflecting on modern social issues.

The unraveled visual power of Qu Leilei’s photo-realistic portrait of hands and Wang Jieyin’s collage-like landscapes stands as a testament to the two masters’ virtuosity in both Eastern and Western forms of art, and it also challenges the conventional perspective on ink art with their masterful melding of techniques from the East and West. Qu and Wang dissolve lines which are essential in traditional ink paintings and boldly reinterpret traditions with their own unique language. Qu applies the technique of chiaroscuro originated from the Renaissance period in Italy with Chinese traditional medium ink. Using the power of universal body language through a pair of human hands, Qu expresses his humanistic concerns in the contemporary world. Wang’s minimalist depiction of landscapes with blocks of ink and geometric shapes informs the eternal force and simplicity of nature which stand in stark contrast with the complexity of modernity.
Emerging young artist Chloe Ho and Lin Guocheng unfold the enigmatic relationship between humanity and the universe in this contemporary world characterised by technological and scientific advancements. Well versed in both Eastern and Western philosophies and cosmologies, Chloe innovatively uses diversity of mediums to delve into the unknown and questions the essence of human existence and fluidity of our identities through her investigation of the interaction between human and nature. Lin uses fountain pen to painstakingly draw interwoven lines to illustrate the interdependent relationship between our cities and nature; incorporating geometric structures in his lyrical and poetic composition, Lin reflects on human’s role in the universe while expressing his admiration for nature.

Qu Leilei, Compassion, 2016 (Courtesy of 3812 gallery)

Jin Feng and Zhang Dawo reinvent Chinese calligraphy in their exploration of dimensionality, textures and lines. Translating Chinese calligraphy into cursive metal sculptures and using lights to project the characters back on the two dimensional planes, Jin explores the relationship between shadow and its subject, where shadow is reflective of only the shape but not the texture, bringing viewers’ attention to the role of language in one’s culture in this increasingly globalized world. Zhang deconstructs traditional calligraphy and gives full play to the naturalness of lines, developing his unique language in abstraction. Dancing rhythmically across traditional paper, Zhang’s meticulous yet dynamic lines seem to be constantly moving and growing, taking viewers’ beyond the two-dimensional planes into the ethereal world of nature, a contemporary reconstruction of literati ideals. On the other hand, based on his thorough understanding of brush and ink, Fung Yatfung has developed a unique chromatic approach to create poetic works that are between figurative and abstract, and his installation work offers a new perspective on space and colors.

With open minds and broad perspectives, these artists turn their observation into introspection and establish a universal language to communicate their mindscapes rooted in Chinese culture and heritage. Exhibiting in Ink Asia 2017, Mind-Scape IV shares the same mission of examining the future development of ink art through the forward looking visions, individuality and artistic spirit of the eight aspiring artists.

(For 3812 gallery Mindscape IV exhibition catalogue)