WU YIDunhuang on a Moonlit Night, 1990, ink and acrylic on paper, 90 × 96 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Discovery of Image – Consciousness

Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery
China Hong Kong

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of Chinese ink paintings. Oftentimes, the works in this genre have taken on a contemporary reinterpretation, as seen in such pieces included at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Ink Art” exhibition in 2013, which bolstered the rising commercial popularity in this category. Despite such creative expressions that use ink art to address contemporary concerns, it is refreshing to experience neo-classical Chinese ink paintings that represent a return to conventional subject matters like landscapes. In “Discovery of Image – Consciousness,” the latest exhibition at Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery in Hong Kong, Guangdong-based painter Wu Yi applied traditions of Chinese ink painting to create 36 illustrations depicting monumental views of nature around China.

Wu believes that landscapes are dynamic, full of life and vitality. The Kunlun Mountains in Early Spring (1990), one Wu’s largest works in the exhibition, is a reflection of the journey that he took in 1982 to the oasis of Dunhuang, in northwestern China, and the nearby province of Qinghai, which spreads across the Tibetan Plateau. Inspired by the majestic beauty of these areas, Wu’s loose brush skills depict free-flowing lines that capture breathtaking vistas as well as the golden tinge of sand dunes. Dunhuang on a Moonlit Night (1990) continues to reflect on Wu’s love for the historical city of Dunhuang, where the glimmer of evening light touches upon the earth. It is here in these works that one can see the artist’s deft blend of Asian and Western stylization, the latter of which gradually influenced Wu’s work upon his move to New York in 1984 with his wife Shen Ronger.

WU YI, The Kunlun Mountains in Early Spring, 1990, ink and acrylic on paper, 193 × 253 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery, Hong Kong. 

From the same year is another one of Wu’s early masterpieces, Echo From Boundless Land (1990)The painting’s dark tones come together to create an undulating sea of mountains, encapsulating the rawness of the landscape while giving off an ominous mood. For a painting to exude such an emotional draw is a critical component of Wu’s work. In “Discovery of Image – Consciousness” the 82-year-old ink painter not only portrays his physical surroundings, but also expresses an emotional depth that guides viewers in their journey to connect beyond conventional Chinese landscapes.

The 20th-century painter Liu Haisu (1896–1994), who was one of Wu’s mentor, once said of the latter’s work: “The paintings of Wu Yi show remarkable energy and depth. He assimilates traditions in order to revolutionize Chinese painting. His achievement is considered one of the peaks in the Chinese art field.” It is this ability to transgress cultural bounds that compels audiences to admire Wu’s paintings time and time again, and provides a new perspective on the natural world that he captured so vividly and poignantly.

WU YI, Echo from Boundless Land, 1990, ink and acrylic on paper, 90.5 × 96.5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery, Hong Kong. 

“Discovery of Image – Consciousness” is on view at Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery, Hong Kong, until February 20, 2016.