So-called “new ink” naturally corresponds to the “old ink”. “Old ink” basically refers to the “traditional ink painting”. While the core of the “traditional ink painting” refers to the traditional “literati painting”. The “old” was basically destroyed in the late Qing Dynasty. Kang Youwei proposed the decline of Chinese painting, following that, leaders of the New Culture Movement including Chen Duxiu strongly advocated “Art Revolution”, trying to use the Western realism painting to transform traditional Chinese painting. Therefore, seen from history, the “new” ink painting emerged at that time. After the founding of New China, “new Chinese painting” and the “transformation of traditional Chinese painting” had become the focus of the discussion in art circles, Chinese painting was integrated into the system of the Western academy containing realism painting and sketching, eventually forming the “system of Jiang Zhaohe and Xu Beihong”. After the reform and opening up, two major trends had formed in the field of Chinese painting, firstly reverting tradition again, secondly borrowing Western modernism to create a new way of ink painting.

In recent years, “new ink painting” is hot, which reveals the expectation and desire of art circles, and partly reveals the breakthrough in the development of ink painting. However, in the so-called “new ink” exhibitions, painters and works, we don’t often see an unified artistic concept and style, except there are differences. There’s a common “new ink” aspect in the new era, which removes the traditional literati painting and realism of Chinese painting in the “system of Jiang Zhaohe and Xu Beihong” established since new China. In addition, it includes various types and forms with the use of ink, such as the new academy school, new literati painting, pop art, cartoon generation, abstract art, conceptual art, etc. Therefore, it is a generalized artistic phenomenon rather than an art trend or a style. But this doesn’t mean that they are worthless, and it’s possible to comb through and discuss it by using the history and reality.

In addition to traditional literati painting and Chinese realism painting, it’s actually a context of fusion of modern Western art or a borrowing of modern Western art to transform Chinese painting. In the period of the Republic of China, some painters such as Lin Fengmian, Liu Haisu had a breakthrough of this context. After the reform and opening up, with the rise of the ’85 New Wave Art Movement, Gu Wenda, Ren Jian, Li Shan, etc., also tried a similar way to transform Chinese painting, combined with the self characteristic of Chinese culture. In the early and mid-1990s, the development of ink had a breakthrough, and formed two types: “experimental ink” representatives including Zhang Yu, Liu Zijian and Wang Chuan; “new Literati Painting” representatives include Li Jin, Li Xiaoxuan. But ink painting is not just a way of artistic material and language, but also has a strong cultural property, although the image and style of new ink had been developed in this period, it was still bound by it, failure to develop to a new, separate category of modern art, so that, it’s easy to understand that the argument between “ink and brush is zero” advocated by Wu Guanzhong and “defending the bottom line of ink and brush” advocated by Zhang Ding triggered widespread repercussions.

“Shenzhen Ink Biennale” was founded in 1998, and “Shanghai New Ink Exhibition” is held annually since 2005, it tries to comb through history, to discover a new ink painter, to summarize and capture a new development trend through the way of exhibition, and receives a certain effect. The scope of the discussion of new ink includes not only “experimental ink” and “new literati painting”, but also the writing ink by Xu Bing, Qiu Zhenzhong, the ink performance by Huang Yan, Dai Guangyu, the ink installation innovated by Wang Nanming, Peng Wei, the academy ink by Liu Qinghe, Tian Liming. Sometimes, the so-called “new meticulous” represented by Xu Lei is also an object focused on by new ink – though the “ink painting” and “meticulous painting” were two categories of Chinese painting in tradition – in today, the difference between them has given way to consensus of innovation. While the “new ink” that concerns younger critics and curators is the creation by young artist groups of ink painting, such as Zeng Jianyong, Wei Qingji, Tu Shaohui, Hang Chunhui, Huang Dan, Yang Jun, Zhu Zhengming. One advocate of the new ink Hang Chunxiao believed that “new ink” is not a “concept of style”, but a “state” of ink.

Compared with traditional literati painting and realism ink painting, the new ink is narrowly defined within a prescriptive time and space in this sense, rather than forming a school – style art movement or trend. They are too different to be positioned from an academic perspective. However, the art market desires to define the new ink, and even, new ink becomes a hot issue of art with great thanks to the art market to some extent.

After the global financial crisis in 2008, the entire art market was shrinking, so that the art market needed to find a new growing point. Due to this young artists’ works are lower in price, less of an investment risk, and with a promising long-term growth, they are much sought after. With the continuing decline of contemporary art in recent years, the Chinese painting market initially recovers, while new ink, new meticulous painting by young artists is considered a promising market area. On the one hand, ink painting has a wide collection foundation, so that it’s easier for traditional ink painting collectors to transform to collect new ink rather than other forms; on the other hand, as the art market weakens the confidence to collect contemporary grows, while new ink painting retains the basic form of Chinese painting, and behold some characteristics of contemporary art, that is accepted by contemporary art collectors.

There always exits the differences in summarising the theory of the new formal ink and naming it so. Particularly noteworthy, “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China” opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on December 11, 2013, curator Maxwell K. Hearn specifically said, the exhibition didn’t involve any rules following Chinese painting tradition and is a faction of Chinese painting combining Soviet Union realism, though no faction follows Western modernism theory. The exhibition is organized into four parts: The written word, new landscape, abstraction, and beyond the brush, which covers more than 70 works by 35 painters. These works basically include the above-mentioned types of new forms of ink, but it is impossible to use “new ink” to position the type, content and value. Wu Hung, Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago wrote in the exhibition article, the works on display could be defined as contemporary artwork by the “evolution of the form of Chinese painting” “by reformation of the media to expound Chinese connotation”.

In the field of ink, how to fundamentally get rid of the existing cultural paradigm which formed over hundred years ago, breaking the boundaries of painting in order to participate in the process of contemporary art, and to influence and pay contribution to the entire art? It is the “ultimate” question for the artists who have been engaged in experimental art since the 1990s. Now, it seems to be becoming a reality. As Wu Hung said, he was concerned about “contemporary art” rather than “ink art”. “Repetitively written” new inks are mostly an abstract art form, but unlike the classic abstract art in the traditional sense, they generally pay attention to the painting process, procedures and possession of time, because the art form is minimized, critics are more concerned about their “meaningless” art behavior and its theoretical value. In this sense, these ink works have actually got away from the traditional paradigm, although still using the traditional materials, discussion of its meaning has gone into a wider range and in a deeper theoretical level.

It is relatively easy to summarize new ink of the aforementioned narrow range, the majority of the rising new ink works are by young artists, who have hardly been entangled in the issues of form and subject in last two years, and debating the abstract form, focus of performance tension before 2000, or the focus on ink and brush is diluted and avoided, it becomes meaningless to separate ink from the meticulous. In addition to loosing interest in the subject of Chinese painting, they are mostly realism paintings or of a strong realism factor, generally more or less colored, themed with the details of daily life, giving up intervention for various issues of artistic philosophy and social reality. A generalised meaning of “new ink” is a concept built and defined by multi factors, while the so-called “new ink” is different and contradictory to different people or groups. The Art market naturally hopes that the new ink is more inclusive, in order to broaden its auction, market and attract a bigger audience. But for artistic creation and academic study, it hopes to narrow its scope, to find a unifying factor to describe, position and estimate the value of new art. Professor Gu Chengfeng form Nanjing University of the Arts wrote in his paper, new ink was “only an expediency description”, which perhaps is the very intention. It is only a temporary solution on the premise that the lack of consensus is on the boundary, refusing to default the node of time. However, when the art market searches for the “new” on the basis of sticking to the physical form of new traditional Chinese painting, the possibility for another ink work to participate in and enter the contemporary art circle starts and is in the process – the new representative of new ink, is not the new of new themes, approaches, images, but the new of concept and philosophy.

Text by Sheng Wei, Vice-Editor of “Art”, translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO. 

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