Wandering Wang Mengsha’s Lively “Gardens” at Alisan Fine Arts

Oct 28, 2016 12:08AM

“In China, gardens are a welcoming and mysterious place,” writes the artist Wang Mengsha. “They symbolize nature, while simultaneously possessing humanity’s dreams.” Now, for Wang’s solo debut at Alisan Fine Arts, the Hong Kong gallery brings together 11 of her delicate, subtle paintings in “Gardens.”

Born into an artistic family in Wuxi, China, Wang combines her training in animation with a deep interest in traditional Chinese painting and culture. This suite of ink-and-acrylic paintings was also inspired by the colorful gardens in ancient paintings and in her hometown. Her knowledge of the history and symbolism of Chinese gardens—with their “white walls and dark grey tiles, scholar rocks, carved railings, marble steps, clear spring water, cultivated flora, and a diverse wildlife”—underpins Wang’s work and allows her to take her own painted gardens in a fresh direction.

She populates her paintings with women, animals, and insects, each with its own role in what Wang calls “a microcosm of the world.” The women, for instance, are modeled on the court maidens and beauties that appear in paintings throughout Chinese history. Some of her sparser paintings feature women singly or in pairs against white backgrounds with stalks of bamboo or a scholar’s rock.

Those serene scenes stand in contrast to denser compositions in which women are surrounded by tapestry-like arrangements that fill every inch of paper. In other works, she separates the garden into its individual components by positioning the small birds, plants, insects, and figures across a blank page as if they were individual specimens in a study.

For Wang, these varied garden visions coalesce into the expression of collective yearning. “From the past to the present, people yearn for a utopian land, to hold themselves above worldly concerns,” she has said. “These paintings express this very feeling, and the wish to lead a private and leisurely life.”

—Karen Kedmey

Wang Mengsha: Gardens” is on view at Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, Sept. 24–Nov. 5, 2016.

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