The components that go into traditional ink paintings are, it seems, the raw materials for artistic development, whether spiritual, aesthetic, or technical. Traditional ink painting combines these elements using established methods and formats to produce the various categories of “traditional Chinese painting” such as gongbi paintings, xieyi paintings, figural paintings, flower and bird paintings, and landscape paintings. To meet the needs of self-expression, today’s artist can choose freely from these raw materials and selectively ignore the specifications and formats of traditional Chinese painting, and the selected elements will provide the materials for creative ink painting. These selected traditional materials, when combined, refined, transformed, and condensed using the concepts and methods of contemporary international art, acquire autonomy against the background of contemporary art; these ink painting materials now made aware and integrated through the artist’s spirit and philosophy work become the artistic medium for relaying information about contemporary society, and the ink painting itself acquires development and reconstructs sequencing, ushering ink into the context of contemporary art.
The use of line in ink and brush painting is the basic method in “traditional Chinese painting”, embodying the delicate and refined aesthetic for working with brush and ink. The line in traditional Chinese painting serves to delineate the image and it lacks independent aesthetic value. In all ink language systems, I extract a line and render it pure and abstract, rejecting any functions related to reproduction and expression while fully using the softness and pliancy of the brush to reorganize the lines of differing texture, definition, density, and concentration into a picture in ink and to flesh out the rational sense of order in the lines so that they acquire new artistic life. At the same time as retaining classic ink traditions at the center of the work, I draw on concepts and methods of abstract art, op art, and minimalist art, and while preserving the purity of the basic language of ink I attempt to construct an ink painting of a new look that establishes a conversation with a globalized aesthetic consciousness.
The Chinese people have been embroiled in the complex relationships between West and East and between modernity and tradition for a century. In today’s context, these are no longer issues, especially in the practice of art. I can freely draw on any spiritual sustenance I want, unimpeded by form, to transform ink from traditional Chinese painting into florid contemporary art.
Zhang Zhaohui, Summer 2014