01 Liu Jin’an, “The Ebb and Flow of the Tide” (detail), 144 x 363 cm, 2014

Could you introduce the situation as you have recently attended the “Dimensions of Concerns – Contemporary Ink Painting Exhibition of Six Artists” held by the National Art Museum of China?

Liu: There are two series of works presented at the exhibition, the idea of the creation arose seven or eight years ago, and I drew some small sketches, but sketching and landscape painting in teaching took a lot of time over the years so that it was never finished, until the National Art Museum of China required an exhibition of figures, I tried to realize the idea using ink, and created a series entitled “With and Without”, another one entitled “Big Boat”, “The Ebb and Flow of the Tide”, “The Leisurely Boat”, and “Calm”. When creating, I like to use an expressive creative method, and I have experienced the strong expressive space of the language of ink and wash, which is capable of fully bearingmodern society’s emotions. In addition, I think ink painting should pay more attention to the surrounding life and our society, really expressing the thoughts and feelings of the artist, which is more meaningful, rather than appreciative.

Simply speaking, contemporary ink is a contemporary artistic expressive way or an expressive form of traditional Chinese painting along with the development of time, what do you think about the concept?

Liu: I think everyone has his or her own understanding of the concept, the modern and contemporary, and the traditional is in two sections, when contemporary ink might incline more to the concept of time, modern ink might incline more to the relationship with Western painting. I think the researchers and practitioners of ink painting have a different interpretation. I am not concerned with the accuracy of the word, and the core of modern ink painting is to question whether current Chinese painting is integrated into our real life, into the feeling of the artist, to express what we see and what we feel. And it is a subject which can’t be avoided when Chinese painting moves towards contemporary, rather than a small interest of the individual, ink painting should seek a bigger development space in contemporary art, this is what I feel in practicing art.

What is the difference and connection between contemporary ink and traditional ink painting? And what is contemporary?

Liu: In current Chinese painting, it is usually affected by two aspects, one is the traditional Chinese painting, and other is Western painting. Viewed from the current situation, the two aspects unconsciously guide us. The key characteristic of contemporary ink painting, in addition to broadening the expressive space, more importantly is consideration of ink painting as a language, a kind of image, a kind of spiritual heritage and carries forward, our traditional Chinese painting by paying more attention to technique, while contemporary ink is faced with the influence of Western modern art, with an involvement in Western techniques, such as structure, shape and perspective as used in the college entrance examination, and it is impossible to avoid these techniques in contemporary ink painting. On the one hand it expands the development of Chinese painting, and on the other hand it decreases the purity of Chinese painting, so that we neither get rid of the influence of Western art, nor the demand of traditional inheritance. My view is that through tradition and Western painting it is possible to improve modern Chinese art with its own features, which perhaps is the ultimate goal for our study of ink.

Since modern times, Chinese ink painting has been under the impact of Western cultural integration and diverse cultures which has actually experienced a variety of changes, what do you think of the changes to Chinese ink and wash?

Liu: For such a development process, some people think it is with thanks to Western culture that is has become main stream and is strong, but I think it is because our own culture is too weak, so that it appears that Western culture intervenes into our tradition. I have been calling for reform and opening up for 3 decades, and great changes have taken place in society, but nobody in the ideological or cultural circles combs through the theories over the 3 decades, I am sad with this absence. It seems plentiful on the surface, but is actually a choking chaos. Neither New Literati Painting nor Experimental Ink will become the mainstream.

Contemporary ink painting is currently hot in China, as it wasn’t understood by Western art before, it is gradually concerned with recent years, along with holding some large scale exhibitions of ink, such as “Modern Chinese Ink Painting” in the British Museum, “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What do you think about the current boom of ink painting?

Liu: Viewed from a positive side, it is certainly great and related to the development of our national economy. Since Chinese reform and opening up, we have a lot of international cultural exchanges, but we usually individually do it in the painting, thus it is unavoidably uneven, so that foreign artists lack a comprehensive understanding of Chinese art. As a painter I am glad to see the top museums such as the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presenting exhibitions, so that Western society can understand Chinese ink painting in a wider context. But on the whole, it is short of a voice from the government to introduce our history and culture, while it is short of an inner reasonable scientific management mechanism. We should integrate the ways of promotion, so that the Western world could better understand our ink art.

When we are concerned and discuss contemporary ink in the present art environment, which aspect of it should we focus on?

Liu: Ink painting is a kind of unique painting form in China, and I believe that it is more persuasive to perform Chinese culture and the character. But the development is a wick, with a small team working on it, in the present artistic environment, I believe that, it is a key to cultivate talent, large numbers of students study painting, but few really love ink painting, on the one hand, it is because of using the Western admission mode in China, which is incompatible with Chinese painting, many good students don’t enter the field of Chinese painting, on the other hand, these students have a foundation in Western painting, but lack a real understanding of Chinese painting. From the perspective of the creator, the contemporary ink painting is neither in a traditional style, nor a Western style, but a style of China, a contemporary art in line with a Chinese cultural character.

Interview time: on April 18, 2014

Interviewer: Zhang Wenzhi, Photo courtesy of the artist.

Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO.

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