Enter the Unruly Landscapes of Chinese Ink Painter Guo Huawei

Chinese contemporary artist Guo Huawei honors tradition while taking it decidedly into the 21st century. This month, a selection of his otherworldly ink paintings is filling the walls at Singapore’s Ode to Art. Through them, he demonstrates that the old can always be made new.

Guo concentrates on landscapes, a subject matter as old and venerated in China as the substance—ink—with which he executes his compositions. In traditional landscape paintings, artists would offer viewers subtle points of entry into the scene. For example, roads winding up craggy mountains would begin at the bottom edge of the paper, indicating a point of passage; or, if a lake happened to fill the foreground, a sliver of dry land or perhaps a tiny boat would be somewhere nearby. The more eccentric or rebellious painters would remove these links between the world outside their paintings and the ones they conjured within. But you might be hard pressed to find someone willing to enter these artists’ strange visions of twisting pines, massive mountain peaks, and sheer, craggy cliffs. The landscapes of Guo sit somewhere in between those poles.

Though there are enough suggestions of naturalism to recognize the real world in Guo’s sparsely populated, mountainous landscapes, they sit upon the edge of abstraction. In one vertically oriented painting from 2014, thick bands of gray ink—which could be read as fog, rock formations, or perhaps pine trees grown amok—dominate the scene’s bottom half. They push into the spaces occupied by a smattering of low buildings, small rocks, and trees, seeming to knock things over and blocking our view. In the composition’s upper left corner is a patch of jade-green sky streaked with off-white veins and edged by ominous washes of black ink. The artist provides a place of access into this lush and jumbled maelstrom, through a section of blank ground visible in the lower left corner. Enter at your own risk.


Karen Kedmey

Guo Huawei” is on view at Ode to Art, Singapore, May 7–21, 2015.


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