Contemporary Inklings
Prestige Hong Kong|May 2017

With a mixed palette of traditional Chinese painting skills and avant-garde Western influences, octogenarian LIU KUO-SUNG, a leading force in modern ink art, reflects on his work with ANDREW DEMBINA.

Andrew Dembina

 

LIU KUO-SUNG, an elder statesman of modern Chinese ink painting, is as modest as he is amiable. The 85-year-old’s paintings are considered reference points in the avant-garde progression from traditional formats of brush and ink, works that push boundaries to include both subjective influences from the modern world and selfinvented painting techniques. As a solo painter and as one of the remaining members of the Fifth Moon Group, founded in Taiwan in 1956, his works are considered collectibles today, often sold by auction houses for tens of thousands of US dollars, with some achieving six-figure amounts.

We meet in Hong Kong, when his allocated hour-long interview at the city’s Art Basel event overruns by more than 30 minutes as he brightly delves into recollections from decades of painting and teaching. He has done both for some time: he is now chair professor at the National Taiwan Normal University (where he was a student), and served as a senior lecturer and head of the fine art department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong for two decades, from 1971.

It is a surprise to learn that his beginnings in art emerged from self-interest when his down-atheel, widowed mother sent him from their home in Shandong, China to what he describes as something like an orphanage school in Taiwan. There, he spent hours on his own, drawing things around him. A watercolour self-portrait from when he was 17, in a thick retrospective book that Liu flips through during our conversation, clearly shows a tear trickling from a teenage eye to his mid-cheek. From around this age, he spent as many hours a day as he could painting, and studying techniques and styles that he saw in books about Western European artists of the early 20th century, before going to art school.

Liu is best known today for strong simple forms in ink and brush, some abstract, others based on a cosmic fascination. Celestial bodies that resemble Earth, Moon and Sun feature frequently – sometimes in relation to one another; at other times, a planet appears to be moving through a sequence of positions. Colours vary, from essentially black and white to colourful, with a play between texture: here a delicately mottled Earth or lunar surface, there a solid sprayed tomato-red solar sphere.

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