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Lingnan Colour

13/10/2023 - 16/6/2024
(Co-curated by the Jao Tsung-I Academy and Sun Museum, the exhibition takes place at the Gallery of Jao Tsung-I Academy)


As Jao Tsung-I Academy enters its tenth anniversary, the Simon Suen Foundation donated HKD 10 million to support the operation and renovation of its gallery. Sponsored by the Simon Suen Foundation and co-curated by the Jao Tsung-I Academy and Sun Museum, this exhibition is the first project held after the renovation. It displays 36 of Jao’s collaborative paintings with Zhao Shao-ang, Li Xiong-cai, Guan Shan-yue, and Yang Shan-sum.

From 1983 to 2001, Jao Tsung-i passed his completed works to the Four Masters of Lingnan, asking them to make additional touches on his paintings. These collaborative paintings are significant to our history, art, and education. Combining the styles of Lingnan School and literati paintings, they reflect the artistic exchange between literati regardless of region or school. Jao has always advocated the concept of understanding, cherishing, and revitalizing tradition. His collaborative paintings with the Four Masters recreate the spirit of Chinese art, allowing audiences to appreciate art, and at the same time, deepen their understanding of traditional Chinese culture.

A pioneer in the revival of Chinese traditional culture: Jao Tsung-I

Complementing landscape, flower and bird or figure paintings, inscriptions have sprung since the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). On blank spaces of paintings, Chinese painters use a variety of calligraphic styles to sign their names, inscribe dates, and add poetry or literary works, making Chinese paintings distinctive. An author’s signature is the only inscription seen in Western paintings, unlike Chinese paintings where the inscription becomes an art itself.

Inscriptions are especially prominent in Jao Tsung-I ‘s collaborations with the Four masters of the Lingnan school: Zhao Shao-ang, Li Xiong-cai, Guan Shan-yue, and Yang Shan-shen. On one hand, the inscriptions show Jao Tsung-I’s self-expression, while on the other, it is a record of what the masters added to Jao Tsung-I's original works. These inscriptions serve as historical documents to demonstrate the friendship between Jao Tsung-I and the Four masters, offering a unique insight of their artistic exchanges and the extraordinary painting skills of each of the five masters.

Collaborative painting is rooted in the literati culture and it has been prevalent since the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). When one literatus interacts with another, the host would out of respect, invite guests to contribute by painting or writing poetry on his or her own artwork. These additions enrich not only the composition, but also the meaning of the paintings. This is how the literati create art within art. Collaborative painting, therefore, is not merely one’s painting nor is it one’s calligraphy; it is instead a collection of artistic expressions.

Unfortunately, collaborative paintings have faded away in modern times, reflecting the dilution of the literati lifestyle. In March 1983, Fung Ping Shan Museum of The University of Hong Kong (now known as the University Museum and Art Gallery) held an exhibition of 70 collaborative paintings by the Four Masters. Each painting was jointly created by the four and completed in 1982, beginning a new era of modern literati paintings.

Jao Tsung-I encouraged the Four Masters to preserve this artistic tradition. Collectively, the five masters completed 68 paintings from 1983 to 2001, revitalising the essence of literati painting. These paintings were exhibited at the University Museum and Art Gallery in April 2005, and again in March 2018 at the Sun Museum, allowing more audience to appreciate the collection.

Jao Tsung-I played a leading role in the collaboration of the collection. He handed over his works to the masters to add their own touches. Each painting is the result of close cooperation between Jao and a master. Till now, these masters have departed one by one, leaving us with treasures full of historical, artistic, and educational values.

Few painters nowadays are capable of composing poems or calligraphy to match the content of these paintings. Jao Tsung-I was a multidisciplinary scholar, painter, and calligrapher. He has become one of the best; a highly respected and admired literati who has contributed tremendously to both the art and academics.

The Four Masters, likewise, continued the traditions in Chinese painting, emphasizing the balance of yin and yang. For instance, if Jao’s subject matter appeared big, the Lingnan masters would make relatively small additions. If the subject was dominant, the complementary content would be modest. If the colour of the subject was prominent, the complementary would be soft. If the scene was dense, the complementary would focus on the white space.

As the subject matter is considered primary, the complementary content would then be secondary. In collaborative paintings, the subject matter and complementary content should be differentiated yet each cannot be its own painting and is corresponding, as harmonising the two enhances the painting composition and colours. The five masters reinvigorated this Chinese aesthetic tradition and have achieved remarkable effects.

There are literati today, just as there were many centuries ago. Throughout history, they have always made collaborative paintings. Being an active advocate to revive traditional Chinese culture, the initiative of collaborative paintings by Jao Tsung-I lies within his ideology to understand, cherish, and revitalise tradition. If the wisdom of ancient cultures can be adapted to modern life, the revival of Chinese culture will be promising in the future. I hope that more artists will follow Jao Tsung-I's footsteps and embark on this glorious path. With our joint efforts, our Chinese culture will continue to flourish!

YEUNG Chun Tong
Director, Sun Museum


Lingnan Colour

Editor: YEUNG Chun Tong
2023, paperback, Chinese/English, 164 pages, 20 x 26 cm
ISBN: 978-988-75933-7-9

A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue featuring 68 paintings by Jao Tsung-i in collaboration with Zhao Shao-ang, Li Xiong-cai, Guan Shan-yue, and Yang Shan-sum.

Price: HKD$100

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