'Shading willows and blooming flowers' creates the extraordinary out of the ordinary

Veteran painter, Han Dong is promoting his latest exhibition "Shading willows and blooming flowers" at the Renke Art Gallery.

Veteran painter Han Dong is promoting his latest exhibition “Shading willows and blooming flowers” at the Renke Art Gallery.

It is the fourth solo exhibit by Han, who is based in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province, and 20 pieces of his most recent productions are on display.

His latest exhibition could be classified as part of contemporary ink art, where the artist places traditional Chinese painting languages in a modern context with renewed techniques and concepts.

With no exceptions, Han’s paintings are about the mundane trivialities of the world. He does not depict the grandeur of the mountains and waterfalls, as many of his ancient predecessors have done. 

Instead, the artist turns to things such as an abandoned chair in a corner, the somewhat awkward mannequins with only a body part or legs, walls with peeling paints, a clothes hanger fork with a tower and a single embroidered shoe on it. 

“A leather chair” (2017) by Han Dong

Han said these were drawn from his living experience in Yangzhou.

If you stay in a bigger city like Hangzhou, these scenes are probably being expelled from your daily experience as the streets are constantly being broadened, old walls torn down. Everything has to be tucked in neat and tidy.

But settling in Yangzhou far away from all the clamor and glamor of the contemporary Chinese art world, Han manages to focus on his own and to retain a sensibility to life.

He applies extremely light and similar colors in hue to make his subjects almost invisible in the background. You will have to get close enough to appreciate the delicate brushstrokes and the outlines of certain objects on the fiber paper that he uses in all his paintings.

In a chameleon-like shell, these banal objects, a clothes hanger fork, an outdated chair, or a basin stand, have temporarily obtained a sense of eternity in a world of impermanence.

Han Dong (left) talks to a visitor at the exhibition.

He also paints flowers and trees, things that are in common with the literati’s painting tradition of China. Four gigantic pieces of “New Bamboos” are framed and placed in a row on the wall, which allows people to associate it with a Chinese screen.

The bamboos, willows, lotus leaves and chrysanthemums are fragile and unadorned in his portraits. The artist usually gives them a close-up shot and diminishes their settings to a minimum extent. The paintings therefore acquire a decorative function.

Han told Shanghai Daily he made all the work with the aid of photography. He takes photos randomly while traveling or wandering around, projects the photos on a screen and, in an adjustment of resolution and grey factors, transfers the images onto paper.

In his studio, hidden in downtown Yangzhou, Han lives a little like a hermit. He keeps a ritual of mopping the floor every morning. Maybe, as the exhibition’s curator Wu Liang says, his paintings are all about his life. 

“In my eyes, the mannequin and the peach blossom tree are the same,” added Han. “They are equally beautiful.”

Date: Through March 25

Address: 1 Zhongshan Rd N

Admission: Free

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