How 7 Chinese Artists are Updating Ancient Chinese Ink Painting

This month, New York’s Ronin Gallery presents “Spirit Resonance: A New World of Chinese Ink Painting.” The show features new works on paper by seven contemporary Chinese artists, ranging widely from the contemplative to the emotional, from abstraction to naturalism. Each of the artists recalls traditional methods of ink-and-wash painting, while investigating new possibilities in the medium, clearing new space for artists in the 21st century and beyond.

Cindy Ng Sio Leng creates mogu, or “boneless,” paintings on paper and canvas, often videotaping the process as documentation, and uses the footage to produce video and photographic artworks. Her works often allude to landscape, but are defiantly abstract. Ink 6 (2013-14) is composed within a circular space reserved on the paper’s surface; the wavering forms that arise from allowing the ink to flow create islands or fog-shrouded mountains, or simply abstract ink skeins. Similarly, Yeh Fang’s Abstract #1 (2010-14) is a wispy painting in thin washes. The delicate forms Yeh has developed on the paper are disconnected and seem to float through the air. In his Abstract #2 (2012-14), the ink almost becomes air as billowing smoke or silk.

Conversely, several of the other artists on view are representational. Xu Ming paints landscapes, cityscapes, and genre scenes, such as the epic Mountain #5 (2014), which masterfully uses the white of the paper to provide the image’s brightest lights. The graphic, print-like style of Yeh Lan is filled with vibrant depictions of the natural world; in Lost in the Lotus Flower (2013-14), a kingfisher bird admires a large, blooming lotus, the bloom’s red petals spreading wide. Yeh’s brushy marks and bold primary and secondary colors invest the image with intense joy. Wang Qian’s careful and detailed floral paintings capture the delicacy and natural wonder of flowers, with works such as Summer (2014) named after the season in which they appear.

Other artists merge the representational and the abstract. Zhang Yuanfeng’s cartoonish caterpillar protagonists add levity to near-abstract paintings made with splatters of ink. In Introspection (2014), one climbs up towards an ominous, inky cloud; Drifting North (to Beijing) (2014) features another sitting in reminiscence, peaceful within another turbulent splash of ink wash. The curious drawings of Wang Weiqi, such as Love Me (2014), feature animals that are broken up into planes of color and filled with thin and flowing washes of pigment that bunch and run unexpectedly, creating strange and mesmerizing effects. All of the artists are masters of their craft, and show the wide range of styles, techniques, and subject matter that can be explored through this ancient practice.

Stephen Dillon

Spirit Resonance: A New World of Chinese Ink Painting” is on view at Ronin Gallery, New York, Jan. 22–Feb. 28, 2015.

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