Gao Xingjian Explores the Sublime and Solitude in Chinese Ink Painting

As a Nobel Prize-winning novelist and playwright, Gao Xingjian translates his experiences as an author into paintings that often depict a figure traveling through remote landscapes. Weaving narrative storylines with traditional Chinese Ink painting, his works at Alisan Fine Arts evoke the sublime and explore ideas of isolation. Gao’s background is first and foremost in literature, a training that carries over into his artwork.  

Gao’s art and writing are heavily influenced by the adversity he has faced throughout his life. While living in his native China, the artist suffered political persecution, leading him to spend nearly a year traveling along the Yangtze River seeking refuge from oppression. He was eventually forced to destroy his paintings during the Cultural Revolution, and in 1987 fled the country to live in exile in France, where he later became a citizen. Gao’s artwork has been featured on several of his book covers, including his semi-autobiographical novel, Soul Mountain—inspired by his journey on the Yangtze—which earned him the Nobel Prize for literature in 2000. 

Using the technique of ink wash painting, Gao produces monochromatic compositions that play with light and shadow. For example, in Ink Play (Jeu de l’encre) (2007) a wispy silhouette wanders toward a light, while the foreground is bathed in shadow. With other works such as An Imagination (Une Imagination) (2010) he draws on themes of solitude, painting vast, empty landscapes. Using only black ink, he blends shades to create compositions with depth and emotion, imbuing his canvases with charged narratives. 

Newlin Tillotson 

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