The Flow of Ink: New Dimensions in Chinese Ink Painting (26 Jul - 26 Aug 2021) is a new exhibition at Oi Ling Chinese Antiques in Hong Kong that is an expression of contemporary Chinese Ink Painting today. We talked with Oi Ling to uncover the hidden traditions.
HONG KONG. In collaboration with the Chinese Cultural Studies Center and The Hong Kong Academy of Chinese Art Studies, this exhibition of nine artists attracts the best of the traditions in literati painting.
Each landscape and contemporary take on the genre derives from a feeling of spirituality, where symbolism is used as one of their strongest technical tools. Including works from Lam Tian Xing, Liu Wei, Fan Hong Bin, Tian Yan Hua, Ma Lin, and fashion designer William Tang.
When we look at the ink on silk painting Yearning for Home 戀舊林 (2020) by Lui Jia, combining nature and geometric elements: a sparrow, mountainscape, clouds, and glass box in pastel shades. The piece exemplifies delicate lines of Gongbi painting techniques paired with a contemporary narrative.
For 馬麟 Ma Lin in 幽谷知音 A Kindred Spirit in the Deep Valley (2021), two gentlemen, representing a scholar and his discipline carrying a traditional Guqin, walk a mountain plain shrouded by pine trees in a monochrome ink-washed painting. There is an echo of poetic history, spirit, and appreciation of nature.
While, 黑色的聚會 Black Rally (2014) by Wong Hau Keri takes contemporary photography composition to depict a black, white and red rally of people on the street. The piece talks to modern social uprisings and brings them into focus using traditional ink on paper techniques. The artist is able to challenge the contextual and cultural nuances of Eastern society — in form and topic.
Overall, the exhibition is able to showcase simple themes and concepts of Tao (道), as each artist in their own process discovers a truth in the natural order of the universe. As a viewer, we are brought the philosophies of the East, Buddhism, and religion together with an intersection of traditional techniques and contemporary stories. Linking both ancient and modern sensibilities of China.
For Oi Ling, the owner and founder of Oi Ling Fine Chinese Antiques she entered the arts business in the early 1990s, when Hollywood Road, where her store is located, was once the mecca for antique wares and jewelry retailers left behind from colonial Britain. Now, from Lynhurst Terrace to Cat Street Galleries, we see the past peeking through the facades, cobblestoned stairwells, and mumbled clock radios spinning Cantonese melodies and foreign languages in the background.
When we consider the physical landscape and works on the show we are able to see the contextual importance of Chinese studies of art as a bridge to understanding the past.
Interview with Oi Ling by Sarah Wei.
Paradigm Haus: Could you start by giving us a brief outline of your background and how you got into the antique business?
Oi Ling: The reason I chose to enter the antique business and set up a retail shop on Hollywood Road is quite simple. When I look back, I would say that it is all destiny.
In the early 90s of the last century, a distant relative had a workshop in Macau restoring antique furniture and he was thinking to retire and close the workshop. Since I was thinking to change fields I approached him to take over the business.
After I took over the workshop, I opened a retail shop in Central [Hong Kong] on Lyndhurst Terrace with a focus on Chinese antique furniture. I did well from the beginning and very soon built up a reputation. Different collectors started approaching me with their collections and that is how I branched out later to different types of antiques but my heart remains with wood – that is anything wooden – furniture pieces and small wooden objects.
PH: How has the reputation of Hollywood road changed, from old antiques and merchants to the international retail avenue it is now?
OL: In the 1990s, Hollywood Road was famed for its many quaint little antique shops and old-style tuck shops. Slowly when the property market began to take off and hit Hollywood Road many small businesses were being pushed to Sheung Wan and the Western District.
New and posh western-style restaurants slowly replaced the old tuck shops and antique shops. In the past 10 years, the road sees fashion brands and lifestyle shops nesting there.
PH: Is there a memorable or standout story from your life in antiques and fine art that stands out to you?
OL: The most memorable one is when I was in my one-month confinement right after I gave birth to my daughter, my colleague called and said that she received a phone call from a five-star hotel telling her that a very important guest of the hotel would like to come to see me so the hotel called to make sure that I would be in the shop. They didn’t tell us who the guest was.
It turned out that it was Glenn Frey from the band Eagle. He was recommended by a friend to us. So I rushed to the shop with my baby daughter. He gave us VIP tickets to the concert and bought furniture pieces from us. He even asked to hold my baby in his arms and we took a photo together.
Another memorable story is also related to a five star hotel. The general manager himself called to tell us another VIP would be stopping by. This guest loved Chinese art and antiques, they heard from other sources that I was good with interiors especially with artwork placement. So I was invited to the hotel to redecorate their suit. It turned out to be Jacques Chirac.
PH: Speaking on your current exhibition, what themes and elements are you presenting in the story?
OL: The focus of this exhibition is to highlight the spirit of Chinese scholar tradition - to be sincere and without hypocrisy in intellectual pursuits and expressions. In the exhibition, the paraphernalia such as handmade Xuan paper, brushes, ink-stone, ink-stick, seals, and seal paste is on display at the same time. The intention is to give a full picture of tradition and its associated material culture. Through such a combined display of artwork and material culture, we hope to cultivate an understanding of tradition and its evolution through changes of time and history.
PH: Could you take us through the practices and techniques of the ink artists?
OL: The appreciation of a piece of Chinese ink painting differs from the appreciation of a piece of western-style painting in that it requires the understanding of calligraphy, poetry, and the art of seal engraving as well.
For an artist to be considered good in Chinese ink, he or she must be good in all the four genres - poetry writing, calligraphy, painting, and the art of seal, additionally to having the good taste in balancing the four elements in a piece of painting.
PH: Which elements are essential to the process?
OL: The essential thing in the process, apart from fine tuning the skill, is an understanding of the spirit and value of the Chinese scholar traditions and the philosophy behind this tradition.
PH: How have traditional ink practices changed?
OL: One of the main changes in practice is contemporary ink is more experiential with the infusion of modern elements and ideas.
PH: Leading from the last question, is there a modernization that has occurred?
OL: If the word modernization means the infusion of western ideas and compositional style as well as the modernization of materials, the answer is yes.
An example to illustrate my point is the use of ready made ink that comes in a bottle rather than using ink stick to grind ink.
PH: Which artists are your favorites and exemplify innovative style and practice?
OL: All of them are innovative in different ways.
Fan Hongbin is an artist with multiple talents — his brush and ink techniques are traditional and, separately, developed a color palette that is completely modern. The artist enjoys creating scenes and landscapes which convey beauty and tranquility but can also be bold and provocative with his use of vibrant pinks, blues, and green color choices.
Tian Yanhua takes modernity to a new level with use of traditional brush strokes and ink techniques to narrate a personal utopia without any traces of the old lyrical style.
Lam Tian Xing’s contemporary look is achieved through a composition of void space by way of covering the entire canvas with heavy layers of ink. An absolutely innovative technique.
Liu Jia invigorates the old art form with a modern sense of humor and talking to topical social issues.
Wong Hau Kwei did away with old styles of panoramic view composition in their landscapes by replacing them with modern photographic angles compositions.
PH: What do you hope this exhibition achieves for Chinese ink painting and the culture?
OL: Chinese ink painting is an art form that includes the following: the art of seal engraving, the art of calligraphy, the art of paper making, the art of making ink stone and ink stick, the art of seal paste making, and the art of brush making.
The technique and craftsmanship involved in the making of all these art forms are now items of intangible cultural heritage. To successfully pass on the technique and craftsmanship of all these elements to future generations requires not only understanding but the development of a viable system that is sustainable and where proper conservation and protection can be implemented.
For those looking to collect contact Oi Ling via email at email@example.com.
All images courtesy of Oi Ling Antiques.