A Celebration of Master Painter Hou Beiren as He Nears 100 Years
Installation view of “Hou Beiren at 100” at NanHai Art, Millbrae, California. Courtesy of NanHai Art and the artist.
At nearly 100 years old, Paul Hou Beiren is a rare master painter, and despite his age, is still deeply engaged with his practice. “I am still healthy enough to hold a brush and splash ink and colors to entertain myself,” he has said. “I feel contented.” These are characteristically modest words from an artist who has, over the course of decades, helped to redefine Chinese painting—and proven himself as much an agile, intellectual force as a committed artist. This month the artist is celebrated at NanHai Art in Millbrae, California, in an exhibition of recent works titled “Hou Beiren at 100.”
Although he has called the hills of Northern California his home since the ’50s, Hou Beiren was born in Liaoning Province. He began studying painting in elementary school, employing the graceful, stripped-down brushstrokes and traditional inks that had been practiced in Chinese painting for nearly 6,000 years, making it one of the oldest continuous artistic practices in the world. Beiren spent much of his life, however, away from his native home, fleeing, in his words, the various “wars, humiliations, miseries” that plagued his country. After extensive travel and relocation, he moved to the United States for good, where he would join the next wave of Chinese-American painters, many of whom iterated on conventional dynastic painting techniques, working with splashy, colorful washes to create a genre reminiscent at times of Abstract Expressionist works.
Throughout his career, Hou Beiren penned numerous novels and essays, in addition to creating his artworks. The 21 works currently on display at NanHai Art, all created in 2015, are characteristic of the style the artist perfected over his life—shrouded in foggy washes of ink and detailed with delicate crags. The artist has described them as representations of his (complicated, and one would imagine, multinational) concept of home, as it appears in his dreams.