The Flowering Field
Contemporary Chinese Painting

Foreword by Ng Kaiyuen

Since 1990 our gallery has mounted a total of six exhibitions of contemporary Chinese ink painting. The last of these was jointly organised with Duoyunxuan Cultural Agency in Hong Kong and Shanghai . For the present exhibition, the seventh we have held of its type, we are delighted to have the opportunity to work together with Kaikodo of New York. The exhibition, to be mounted in Hong Kong and New York , will introduce a varied range of contemporary Chinese ink painting to American audiences as well as to our audience in Hong Kong .

As compared to our last exhibition, this time we will be showing a smaller selection of works, comprising paintings by fifty-eight artists born between the 1940s and the 1960s. The artists born in the 1940s are now in their middle years; looking back on the careers of some of the great masters of this century, we find that by the time they reached a similar stage of their lives, a number of artists, such as Li Keran, had already achieved their artistic peak, while others, such as Huang Binhong and Zhang Daiqian, were just beginning to attain artistic maturity. In general, these middle-aged artists are characterized by a richness of experience, well-honed technical skills, and excellent art academy training. The younger artists born in the 1950s and 1960s, on the other hand, are largely characterized by a fresh, exuberant and enterprising spirit: in the words of Beijing art critic Lang Shaojun, they are "ambitious in their aims, broad in their thinking, bold in their experimentation and passionate in their natures". Although the artists in this exhibition differ in age and experience, there is one thing they currently all share in common: they are all living in peaceful and prosperous times, and thus able to carry out their creative work in a stable environment.

A number of artists in the present exhibition are members of major art academies and institutions. They have a strong professional knowledge and understanding of art, and a firm foundation in the techniques of form and composition. In addition to training in traditional Chinese art, they also have absorbed some of the excellent qualities of the artistic traditions of other cultures. Also included are a number of artists who underwent no formal academy training, but rather studied privately with teachers and senior artists. This group of artists has not been trained in the Western techniques of sketching or life drawing, and stylistically their art follows a more traditional path.

Apart from choosing artists of a wide variety of ages, we also selected artists from many different regions. For example, we were successful in making contact with artists who graduated from major art academies located throughout mainland China (with the exception of the Northwest), including those in the provinces of Hebei, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Sichuan, and even in the more remote regions of Liaoning, Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia. In terms of overseas artists, we have selected painters presently working in Hong Kong , Taiwan , Singapore , England , the United States and Canada . Now that information technology has become so developed, the stylistic distinctions among regions have become blurred, but generally it can still be said that the art of the North is characterized by a heroic and spirited style (haoqiang), while that of the South tends towards a refined elegance (xiumei) .

Different ages are characterized by different sensibilities; different educational backgrounds give birth to different personalities; different regions manifest different attributes: and so the works in this exhibition demonstrate a wide range of artistic styles. There is the firm traditionalism of Xiong Hai and Wu Jingshan, the Song- and Yuan-inspired art of Li Huayi and Li Xubai, the anti-traditionalist painting of Shi Hu and Zhu Xinjian, the eerily enigmatic style of Li Xiaoxuan, the singular and abstruse approach of Wang Yanping, the precision and delicacy of Xu Lele and Zhu Daoping, the dashing boldness of Hai Rihan and Yang Gang, the scholarly and graceful spirit of Song Yulin and Lu Fusheng, the eclectic and novel approaches of Li Jin and Liu Qinghe, the profound and many-layered vision of He Huaishuo and Chen Ping, the painstaking refinement of He Baili and Xu Shiping, the blending of ancient and modern in Weng Tianchi and Gu Wenda, the appealing and enjoyable art of Wu Meimei and Yang Ruifen, the classical aesthetics of Liao Lu and Xu Xinrong, the elegant colorations of Tian Liming, and the spirited expansiveness of Jia Youfu, to name just a few.

Throughout the twentieth century there has been a great deal of discussion concerning the problem of reform and change in Chinese ink painting. I was once at a gathering where I happened to overhear a conversation between two venerable members of the art establishment. One expressed his conviction that it was important for Chinese art academies to absorb the good points of Western art, while the other thought that it was not necesary to study the West, and that rather a strong focus on and thorough study of China 's artistic traditions was sufficient to allow one to develop into a great artist. Actually, I think that such differing points of view do not really present a problem. In the process of creation, the most important point is that a truly outstanding artist puts his whole heart and soul into his work. He looks for inspiration from among the different strengths of his teachers, fellow artists, different artistic schools and traditions X no matter whether young or old, Chinese or Western, ancient or modern. He selects from among them those aspects which are strongest, makes them his own, and ultimately creates works of art that are both powerful and unique.

We are all familiar with the great masters of twentieth century painting; the question remains as to whether the great masters of the twenty-first century are already among us. Perhaps they are to be found within this crop of "fine trees and new shoots", or perhaps they are still lingering in the shade of the hermit's garden, or hidden away in humble surroundings: it is up to us to keep our eyes wide open in anticipation of what talents may emerge.

As was the case with the six exhibitions that preceded it, in organizing the present show we are very grateful to have benefitted from the assistance and support of a number of senior experts and friends. I would especially like to thank the respected art critic Lang Shaojun for his assistance in the selection of the artists; Professor Kao Mayching of Chinese University, for her astute introductory essay; Dr Christina Tong of the Hong Kong Museum of Art and Mr Dexi Chen, of Artlink Consultancy, for their valuable perceptions in evaluating the paintings; Mr Minren Ye, Mr Yunxu Xu, Mr Dawei Ou, Mr Haichao Deng, Mr Xiaodi Cao and Mrs Violetta Wong for sharing their expertise in deciphering the seals and inscriptions; and last but not least, Mr Chen Lu, who kindly undertook the calligraphic rendering of the title of our catalogue, Ms Yim Tom for her help in the writing of catalogue entries. To all of them I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude.

 

K.Y. Ng (Kaiyuen Ng) Luen Chai

Preface by Howard Rogers
Foreword by Ng Kaiyuen
The Return to Tradition and the Resurgence of Individuality: New Developments in Contemporary Chinese Painting
Shadow Skeletons and New Realities-Guohua and Cultural Identity
Chinese Painting after the End of Art
Online Catalogue