"Audacious and innovative" ink odyssey The art of China opens at the Saatchi Gallery

By Ben Miller | 21 June 2012
An image of an illustration of a white horse standing in a field coloured entirely in blue
Xu Lei, Tree of Blue Underglaze (2008). Ink and color on xuan paper© Xu Lei
Exhibition: Ink – The art of China, Saatchi Gallery, London, until July 5 2012

According to curator Michael Goedhuis – who has spent the past 18 months assembling a kind of who’s who of radical Chinese artists – the New ink Art movement his contributors are part of is “perhaps the boldest pictorial experiment in art today.”

An image of a black and white ink illustration of an elegant tall tree
Liu Dan, Old Cypress from the Forbidden City (2007). Ink on xuan paper© Liu Dan
“Just as Cezanne and Picasso assimilated the work of Poussin and Velazquez and other Old Masters in order to develop their own revolutionary language, so the ink artists are grappling with the same challenge,” he muses, reflecting on a field which has also been smoothly dubbed the New Literati.

“It’s how to express the transformation of their society with works that are meaningful precisely because they take account of the past in order to make sense of the present.”

There are dozens of classically-trained painters turned ink artists who could lay claim to changing the current aesthetics of Chinese art here, including the highly-acclaimed Xu Lei, the art director of Beijing’s Today Art Museum.

Elsewhere, there are tales of those dispersed: Gao Xingjian is a writer, translator and dramatist who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2000, having moved to Paris as a political refugee during the 1980s. But his semi-abstract landscapes convey his belief that art should be an expression of the soul rather than a vehicle for political activism.

And Qiu Jie, a child of the most violent phase of the Cultural Revolution, grew up copying propaganda from local newspapers, blending themes from the upheaval with elements of contemporary culture here.

“It is the theme of this exhibition to define just how audacious and innovative the best of these artists are – despite, or perhaps because of, their deep study of the past,” defines Goedhuis. The future looks like it will hold a more mainstream audience for their otherworldly new style.

  • Open 10am-6pm. Admission free.

More pictures:

An image of an ink illustration of a Greek astronomical figure inside a circular drawing
Qin Feng, Song of God 3 (2007). Silk, ink and glass
© Qin Feng
An image of an abstract painting of various blobs of bold colour against a light backdrop
Yang Yanping, Autumn Aria (2009). Ink colour on rice paper© Yang Yanping
An image of a black and white illustration of Oriental mountains through the mist
Li Huayi, Autumn Mountains (2008). Ink on paper© Li Huayi
An image of an ink illustration of various shapes in grey, yellow and olive colours
Gu Gan, Deer Crying (1990). Ink and color on paper
© Gu Gan
An image of a black and white layered drawings of landscape mountains and rivers
Gao Xingjian, Dream Mountain (La Montagne de Reve) (2005). Ink on paper
© Gao Xingjian
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