Contemporary Chinese Paintings

Preface by K. Y. Ng

As a frequenter of art galleries around the world, I am very much aware of the scarcity of masterpieces from celebrated artists and the pressing need of fostering young and middle-aged painters to fill the gap in the art market. So far, five exhibitions namely "Metamorphosis" , "In the Literati Tradition", "Chinese Figure Paintings", "The Verdant Cliff" and "The Infinite Palette" have been organized by us in hopes of exploring new routes in Chinese ink painting and for seeking painters with potential.

Our effort alone could hardly be sufficient to achieve these goals, but we are fortunate to have the help and support from many dealers, collectors, painters and friends to make the exhibitions a success. This time, we are proud to have cooperated with Duoyunxuan of Shanghai to organize this exhibition of contemporary Chinese ink painting to be held successively in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Duoyunxuan is recognized as an honourable art dealer in Shanghai as Rongbaozhai is in Beijing. Being among the most distinguished names in the trade and extremely well-experienced in dealing with painting, calligraphy and art publication, they both enjoy a very high reputation at home and abroad. Working together with Duoyunxuan has been most inspiring and this jointventure has indeed greatly enriched our experience.

Earlier this year I happened to have the opportunity of borrowing from Mrs. Christina Tong an exhibition catalogue on contemporary Chinese experimental ink work 1 and later, reading another one entitled Contemporary Chinese Ink Painting 2 . Though some abstract works of ink and water were included in "Metamorphosis", one of our earlier exhibitions, abstract style was then just taking shape in my mind. These two books have enabled me to ponder over the modernization of Chinese ink painting with renewed depth and breadth.

If we closely examine traditional landscape painting, we would find that the subjects are mostly the recurrent depiction of trees and rocks, streams and waterfalls. For centuries, landscape painters took up their brush either to produce an artistic record of captivating scenery they came across during tours to the countryside, or to give vent to their sentiments in times of emotional disturbance or distress. However, the world has changed tremendously: information and communication bloom with unprecedented pageantry, lovers thousands of miles apart can have tete a-tete over the telephone, close friends from different corners of the world can communicate as frequently as they wish through a facsimile machine, computer users can ride on their mouse to surf the vast multimedia system to call out or create whatever images they want to have, including even flocks of dinosaurs (as in the case of the American movie Jurassic Park). Places that were once remote are now accessible within hours, and scenes that mankind had hardly conceived of in the past can be visualized on the screen in just a flash. The invention of the aeroplane has made flying no longer the birds' privilege. Celestial bodies that our ancestors never dreamed of are now clearly visible through Hubble space telescopes and space shuttles. All these provide our artists with endless inspiration. Using an entirely new approach to study and depict these scenes may give rise to new forms of painting.

Shitao, the master painter of late Ming dynasty, once said: "Painting should evolve with time. Chinese painting in the second half of the twentieth century has seen the emergence of "New Literati Painting" and "Abstract Ink Painting". This is despite the former being denounced as "frivolous and insubstantial" 3 , and the latter "an addition to Western abstract art but an inferior member from the yellow race" 4 . These innovative movements have to a certain extent prompted an retrospection in traditional ink painting. The immediate role of contemporary artists is to find out what is to be retained or discarded in the deep-seated tradition, and how to inject into it originality and modernity.

Throughout its long history, China has never ceased to enrich the repertoire of its cultural legacy. Philosophically, we have in the Pre-Qin period the numerous schools of thoughts, in Song and Yuan the idealist Confucian philosophy, literally, we have the impressive writing and poetry of the Tang and Song artistically, we have the beautiful jades of the Hongshan and Liangzhu cultures, the colourful painted pottery of the Yangshao culture, the magnificent bronzes of the Shang and Zhou, the elegant painting and calligraphy throughout the last millennium and the exquisite porcelains extending from Song to Qing. It is impossible for any one artist to know them all well but a general knowledge of each of these subjects will certainly add substantiality to ones creations and imbue his works with the disinct spirit of traditional Chinese culture.

In order to materialize the present exhibition, our company and Duoyunxuan have scoured every source for eminent works by distinguished painters from China and invited the participation of a number of renowned painters from Taiwan, Hong Kong and abroad. In addition to traditional and new literati paintings, we have included this time a representation of abstract works. It is hoped that the diversity of styles will help to conjure up a picture of the development of Chinese ink painting in this century, and draw artists' attention to the exploration and discussion of new directions in this art.

Finally, my hearty thanks to all who have dedicated their help to make this exhibition a success.


K. Y. Ng 1996



  1. Returning to Homeland-A Contemporary Exhibit of Chinese Experimental Ink Work, Gallery of San Francisco, USA, March 1996.
  2. Contemporary Chinese Ink Painting, Yangliuqing Painting Institute of Tianjin , December 1991.
  3. Wang Nanming, "A Commentary on the New Literati Painting", Art Clouds Quarterly, Chi Painting and Calligraphy Publishing Society, p.52, Jan. 1991.
  4. Liu Xiaochun, "Setting New Standards", Contemporary Chinese Painting, Yangliuqing Paint Institute of Tianjin, Dec. 1991.

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