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February 28, 2014

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Painters chart bold new direction in ink art

Chinese ink-wash paintings have featured stereotypical subjects for centuries.

Yet some artists are not content reproducing the flowers, trees and mountains found in most ink-wash paintings. They have started venturing into new territory.

The exhibition “A Fragment in the Course of Time — Landscape of Chinese Ink Art in the 1980s” features a group of Chinese artists who have chosen their own paths to create something different.

Although some have succeeded and some have failed, this period is considered a milestone in the history of Chinese ink art.

The work of Jiang Depu highlights the exhibition. Many art lovers may be unfamiliar with his name because he has mostly shunned exhibitions as he prefers staying in his studio to paint.

“I seldom participate in exhibitions because I believe my paintings are still not ripe enough to show to the public,” Jiang says. “But I made an exception for this exhibition since it discusses contemporary Chinese ink art from the 1980s, a period that started to liberate the minds of many people in art, film, music and literature.”

Viewing Jiang’s paintings, it is somewhat difficult to believe they were created in the 1980s due to his brave concepts and unusual subjects.

Until that time, painters merely followed in the footsteps of their predecessors. Mountains, rivers, birds and flowers were often the themes of ink-wash paintings.

There has been some subtle changes through the use of heavier colors, but they have largely repeated themes from those made centuries ago.

“Perhaps I am a person who doesn’t want to follow the mainstream, though I know I could copy well,” Jiang says.

Jiang’s work is totally different. His black-and-white abstract ink-wash paintings are blurred with some traces of concrete things such as a cloud, leaf or a flowing river.

“I researched ancient painting styles from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) to the Han (206 BC-220 AD) and Tang (618-907 AD) dynasties,” he says. “I also embed calligraphy into my paintings because the curves in Chinese calligraphy are so beautiful that even they become a piece of art.

“Some say my paintings are imaginative, maybe because I totally abandon the stereotypes,” he says. “But it is easier said than done. I have spent year after year to unshackle my ink-art. It has been a long struggle to develop this style.”

The China Academy of Art graduate says his interest in other forms of art like oil paintings have helped shape his style.

“Different art forms really widen my vision,” he says. “The concepts and techniques of Western art forms made me ponder the possibilities of using them on rice-paper.

“Perhaps that’s the reason why some say my paintings are very modern and chic. For me, words like ‘your paintings are different from typical Chinese ink-wash art’ are the best compliment I can receive.”

Date: Through April 10, 10am-6pm, close on Monday

Address: Shanghai Himalayas Museum, 3/F, 869 Yinghua Rd

Admission: 30 yuan


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