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Abbreviated Expressiveness in Chinese Painting
Expressive Painting by Xie Zhiguang

26/7/2019 - 5/10/2019


This exhibition is divided into two sections showing Chinese art in two different mediums and periods: folk blue-and-white porcelain in the Ming and Qing dynasties as well as Chinese paintings by a modern artist Xie Zhiguang (1900-1976). These two types of art, seemingly disparate, actually share a common ground. They both employ expressive painting techniques to depict flowers, figures and landscapes in simple lines and colours.

The invention of blue-and-white ware enables potters to draw easily on porcelain and turn daily utensils into ink paintings. The production of folk blue-and-white porcelain reached its zenith during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Although its quality and brushwork are inferior to imperial ware, the aesthetic value of folk blue-and-white lies in its free-flowing and expressive style, as well as diversified decorations. This exhibition presents over a hundred pieces of folk blue-and-white porcelain of the Ming and Qing dynasties to showcase the expressive paintings by these folk potters and reveal the wishes and aesthetic emotions of commoners at that time.

The Mainland Chinese artist Xie Zhiguang (1900-1976) excelled in both meticulous and expressive paintings. This exhibition showcases his expressive landscapes and bird-and-flowers and juxtaposes them with the blue-and-white porcelain paintings by folk potters. It is hoped that the similarities in these two different types of art draw attention to the omnipresent style of Chinese expressive painting. The exhibits are all selected from the Hong Kong private collection of Yun Quan Studio.

Expressive Painting by Xie Zhiguang

Xie Zhiguang had a solid foundation in both Chinese and western painting techniques. His art can be divided into three phases. In his early years, Xie created paintings for monthly calendars. Starting in the 1930’s, he switched his interest to the meticulous style of Chinese painting. His style turned expressive in his twilight years.

The young Xie blended Chinese and western techniques to deliver realistic paintings. His first calendar painting Boat-Outing on West Lake was published when he was only twenty-three years old. He soon became famous among the first-generation calendar painters in Shanghai.

Since the fad of calendars faded in the early 1930’s, Xie turned to Chinese painting, focusing on the traditional genre of ladies in the meticulous style. He picked up the style of his late Qing predecessors, rendering his ladies with refined and detailed brushwork while employing a soft and elegant palette of colours. Xie also created bird-and-flower paintings, closely observing formal likeness and employing the boneless method—smearing colours rather than drawing lines to render the depiction. His works in this phase speak of his virtuosity of traditional Chinese painting.

The 1960’s saw a change in Xie’s art. He made a new approach to his bird-and-flower and landscape paintings. The works were mostly in the abbreviated style. His brush manner, ink techniques, form and coloration underwent a drastic transformation, marking the peak of his artistic career.

Xie developed a friendship with the artists Qian Shoutie (1897-1967) and Zhu Qizhan (1892-1996) whom he treated like his teachers. Their epigraphic style wielded influence over him, whose brush manner gradually turned bold and rustic. In particular, his flowers are delineated by thick and full lines akin to Wu Changshuo (1844-1927)’s seal script characters. Xie used carmine and rouge to render red petals, slashing strokes in dark ink to depict leaves, and dry strokes with dark dry ink to render vines and branches. Such depiction alludes to Qi Baishi (1864-1957)’s style of red flower and ink leaf. Xie’s bird-and-flower paintings are defined by their simplicity: usually only a trunk with two branches or a flower with a few leaves is depicted. His flowers assume geometric shapes such as angular lotus flowers, magnolia formed by triangles of varying sizes, and morning glories represented by two circles and a few dots. His animals are absurd and exaggerated in appearance. They are delineated with sharp-cornered outlines which add a sense of rustic simplicity.

Xie’s landscape paintings are usually expressive and entail mountains and rocks outlined in simple strokes. While Xie often mixed ochre, natural indigo and wet ink, he was adept at using stale ink as well as dark dry ink. They were used to highlight areas rendered in wet ink to form an interesting juxtaposition. Xie had a penchant for using ink washes or empty space extensively to create unexpected compositions. His expressive paintings may look abbreviated at first sight; a closer look reveals a multitude of contrasts: emptiness and fullness, boldness and lightness, dryness and wetness, coolness and warmth.

In his old age, Xie devoted entirely to the creation of Chinese painting. His coloration turned rich and brilliant unlike his soft palette back in his youth. Apart from brush-drawing, Xie would splash ink directly onto paper and use paper balls, bits of cloth or fingers to create a special visual effect. His plum blossoms, for instance, are rendered by fingers.

NGAN Yu Ting
Assistant Curator


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