Anggun, left, poses with Ang Hui Keng from Sony Pictures Television Networks, Asia. (Photo courtesy of AXN)

A Modern Twist on Traditional Chinese Ink Painting

APRIL 07, 2015

Chinese painter Liu Kuo-sung captures the striking beauty of snow-capped mountains with techniques that add a palpable touch of realism into the art of ink painting.  (The Peak Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The line of mountains dominated the engineering paper its made on, making as much of an impression on the viewer as a firsthand view of the peaks themselves. Titled “The Roof of the World Series No. 10,” the image by Chinese ink painting master Liu Kuo-sung showed how he earned the title “The Father of Modern Ink Painting,” by taking the genre towards greater, more complex dimensions.

The iron gray peaks and snow-covered valleys of the painting contrast from the iconic misty mountaintops of traditional ink and scroll paintings. The sheer size of “The Roof of the World Series No. 10”  belies the fact that it had been created in the same way as its traditional antecedents — in a single stroke.  

The painting is part of “Revolution/Renaissance: The Art of Liu Kuo Sung,” a traveling exhibition organized by Singapore’s Museum of Modern Contemporary Art. The event is held at the National Museum for its Jakarta leg, following previous stops in Taiwan and Singapore. 

“[Liu Kuo Sung] has managed to reinvent ink painting by incorporating various influences, among them its roots in traditional Chinese scroll painting and Western art influenced by it, such as the Action painting of painters like Jackson Pollock,” explained Linda Ma, exhibition organizer and owner of the Linda Gallery.

“Other influences on his paintings include [late 19th century] Pointillism paintings as well as the Flash paintings that came after them and their trademark lines and dots.

“Even as Liu Kuo Sung has grown older, his passion and creative ideas have not diminished. Liu Kuo Sung’s work, through every phase of his career, have presented us with new styles and astonishing surprises.”

 Liu proved this in more ways than one, affirming his place as father of modern ink painting in the dozens of pieces showcased in “Revolution/Renaissance.” These include “The Roof of the World Series No. 10” and other works in the “Snow Mountain Love” collection, which were inspired by a visit to Tibet in 2000. 

(JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

In “Branches Covered With Timely Spring Snow,” “Dance of Snow Lines” and “Snow Waterfall Rushing Down Cliffs,” the 82-year-old professor of fine arts used the paper stripping technique to create effects of snow on tree branches or cascading  icy water. 

Liu created the look by painting “with wild sweeping brush strokes to cover the frame and then color in the details. After the ink has dried, [Liu] then strips out the ‘paper ligaments,’ leaving blank lines that couldn’t be produced by brushwork alone, yet appear entirely natural,” according to the Museum of Contemporary Art. 

The effect is also created by the texture of the custom paper used by Liu, as its handmade, thick density incorporates the “paper ligaments” material used to make Chinese lanterns. The ligaments gave the pictures a realistic look that naturally recreates the ridges of mountaintops and the jagged lines of its peaks.

Liu also uses engineering paper to create different effects, an element he highlighted in his “Space” and “Jiuzhaigou” series. Influenced by the “Golden Mean,” a recurring theme of his work based on a Confucian tenet encouraging moderation, the former is highlighted with works like “Free and Unrestrained” and “Coming,” which depicted the sun and moon side by side. Liu used various methods to create what the catalogue describes as “different layers and spaces of the surface, something not possible with traditional ink and wash techniques.”

The catalogue explains that “the earth below was given texture in sweeping strokes and then colored, while also using a stripping and chapping technique to create an abstracted view of the planet’s terrain.” 

The effect is in line with his aim to find balance in contrasting colors or dynamism in uniform colors.

(JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The former recipient of the John D. Rockefeller III Foundation grant has more up his sleeve with the “Jiuzhaigou” series of works. Based on the centuries-old ink soaking technique of scroll paintings, which entail the artist to use the marked smudges to make mountains, water and lotus flowers or other motifs, Liu took the technique a step further by using it on different types of paper. 

The result, as seen in works like the stark “Boundary of Ink,” “Free and Unfettered,” and “Misty Zen Land,” looks organic and natural, bearing a resemblance to pictures generated by Google Earth and other views of the planet from outer space.

“Revolution/Renaissance” will next head to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for its final stop in May. Until then, stop by the National Museum to get a new perspective in art.