The New Ink Movement is becoming a popular term among those who are interested in the art form, as ink painting evolves in contemporary art in mainland China. Born out of the country’s post-revolutionary art, the New Ink marks a departure from the traditional aesthetics of landscape painting (‘shan shui’ in Chinese) and the limits of the medium.
New Ink Exhibition Part 1: New Landscape at Galerie Ora-Ora features three graduates from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, and the young artists have strikingly different styles that point to new possibilities in ink. The work of Li Pang seems to bear a more traditional imprint, though he instills a sense of conflict and pressure into his paintings by incorporating motifs of contemporary life, as in the series ‘Untitled Chinese Landscape’. Most of the paintings present a distortion or intersection of perspectives—the viewers are lured into the illusion of aerial view of a quiet farm, or the cinematic depiction of cars on a highway, heading towards the far end of the landscape. ‘Utopia’, a surprising rendition of the Great Wall, embodies the subtle irony in Li’s craft. The subject is devoid of its grandeur and revealed through the shadows of ink, a black-and-white ambivalence seeping on paper.
On the other end of the spectrum is Huang Haifei, who paints her interiority in her compositions. The landscapes take on the guise of old, yellow maps, on which Huang re-creates classical icons such as trees, plants and animals with whimsical stamps. 'Ego Dimension' is a clear statement on the breakdown of boundaries: the artist's scattered self splits and spreads, all over the territory, which portrays Huang's inner world and forsakes any external realm. Larger scale works such as ‘World’s Edge’ and ‘Mirror Sight Overlap’ show a progression of metaphors of traditional landscape while suggesting a new definition of the genre. The drifting scenery, homes and creatures seem to be floating away to the world's edge, while ink wash in Huang's work embodies the feeling of painting in mixed media on rice paper.
Japanese artist Kuchima Maki brings varied perspectives on ink painting with her use of diverse techniques, materials and cultural motifs. In the same vein as most of her work, ‘Study’ features densely patterned landscapes created with elements of Chinese paper-cutting and traditional Japanese prints. The composition and its greyish, earthy tone carry a distinctly contemporary expression; the landscape appears fiery in its strange symmetry, as if it was transcending its own boundaries. Her 'Landscape' series, painted on aluminum foil on silk, is another display of muted transgression. The scenery she depicts seems almost conventional at the first glance, but the landscapes waver between contemplative and playful—they are imaginary lands, fantastical realms where the artist communicates her feelings about society and traditions.
Li Pang captures this play between the classical and its contemporary guise perfectly in his 'Before Me' series. The two paintings narrate the artist's journey—drifting on a boat, flowing through time under the pale moon—in traditional landscape ink painting. The imagery alludes to the transition of time and traditions, and the artist's personal response to the changing art form.