Sunday, 22 July 2012

Modern Chinese Ink Paintings at the BM

There is something special about the composition of these Chinese paintings, even the very recent ones.
What? The sinuous line down the long thin scroll, with the main focus off-centre and sometimes not there at all, a kind of perspective where size indicates importance (perhaps) and the greatest detail in the little plants and birds. Decoration is with living things. They are not afraid of lots of blank space in the composition. And that I like - the blank parts illuminate the shape of the overall curve. I could try composing something like that.

And they were more expressive than I expected from their rather formal presentation on scrolls. There's something interesting to me about the contrast between first impressions and gradually dawning realisation that all is not as it seems, that makes it forever impossible to see it the way you did at first. Which artists do that?

Lots of them in different ways I guess. I should make a collection! The first one that springs to mind is dramatic - Let's eat outdoors today by Hirst. But there will be subtler ones.

Lets eat outdoors today Damien Hirst 2009

The Liu Dan ink paintings were the highlight for me. Perhaps because they were accessible without lots of knowledge of the history and conventions of Chinese painting.

There was a series of 6 drawings of a single rock, from all different directions, that took him 6 months to do, and a dissertation about how it linked him spiritually to the rock to do this. Which sounds pretentious but I know for myself that paying attention to one thing for even 15 minutes can get me very attached to it.

And one huge one of a rock. I couldn't see where his strokes had fallen - no lines, just the rugged shapes of light and dark on a rock. Is this what I like - photorealism? Not always. It's the skill of it, the vivid texture, and something about the unimaginable time and attention it must have taken.

Liu Dan (b. 1953), Poppy, Ink on paper, 2007. From a private collection, Beijing.

This picture doesn't do it justice - it looks a bit like folded silk here but in reality there is an intricacy and light fragile look to it, on its sinuous stem, and the detail in the petals is extraordinary. I respond meticulousness like this with something like awe. It's an opium poppy which even I know has historical significance for China.

Want to go to the V& A and start looking at textiles now - think about which part to focus on first.
Also try representing 3D things from all different angles.

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