Gao Xingjian, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Unveils New Ink Paintings in Hong Kong

In 2000, Gao Xingjian became the first Chinese-born writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. But Xingjian, a playwright, translator, critic, and director—and a political refugee who resettled in France in 1987—is also a visual artist. “Layers of Light, Ink in Mind,” a new exhibition of his ink paintings, is currently on view at Alisan Fine Arts in Hong Kong.

For a novelist as controversial as Xingjian—the Nobel Foundation noted the “universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity” of his written work—the artwork is understated. Produced between 2002 and 2016, the 12 paper and canvas works are monochromatic and melancholy, delicately rendered in Chinese ink. They look like a series of minimalist landscapes, some with distinguishable features, like the jagged mountain peaks of Mountain and River (Montagne et Rivière) 山水 (2010). Other pieces, like Daydream (Rêverie) 遐想 (2014), are slightly more abstract and open to interpretation.

Some of Xingjian’s most compelling works, however, feature shadowy human figures. As with the landscapes, some are representational; even without reading the title, it’s easy to surmise that the four figures of On the Shore (Sur la rive) 此岸 (2016) are standing on a beach. Yet others are more abstract, even mysterious. Moon and Wind (Lune et Vent) 風月 (2016), for instance, is a lonely image, with a solitary figure walking in a moonlit, empty landscape. There’s wind in the air—an element Xingjian masterfully conveys with his brushstrokes—but the scene is otherwise flat and quiet, like a void.

“I have taken traditional Chinese expression as the starting point to reach spatial depth,” Xingjian has said. “In no way is it a depth that comes out of the observation of reality, but a depth visualized internally.” This meditative quality, the invitation for self-reflection, makes the paintings feel subtly philosophical and, despite their French provenance, distinctly Chinese.

 

—Bridget Gleeson


Gao Xingjian: Layers of Light, Ink in Mind” is on view at Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, May 7–Jun. 25, 2016.

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