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  • Jul 29, 2020

Obituary: Lin Xue (1968–2020)

LIN XUE, Untitled no.5, 1995, ink on paper, 33 × 48 cm framed. Courtesy the artist and

Ink artist Lin Xue has died at the age of 52. His passing was confirmed by Gallery Exit on July 28 via an email, although the cause of death has not been publicized. 

Born in Fujian, Lin relocated with his family to Hong Kong when he was five years old. During his childhood, he went on numerous excursions to Shing Mun Country Park, near his home in Hong Kong’s New Territories. Lin cherished the wilderness and its enduring intricacies, even quitting his job in his twenties in favor of life on a remote mountain range in mainland China. He came across the works of Hung Tung, a self-taught Taiwanese artist, at his 1990 retrospective at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. From there onwards, Lin, who has never received formal training either, began to sketch what he quietly observed in his idyllic sanctuary. A famed recluse, he was known to not attend his own exhibitions or conduct face-to-face interviews. 

Heralded for their elaborate and cosmological forms, Lin’s ink paintings mirror traditional Chinese works depicting ridged mountain landscapes and scholars’ rocks, but also embody fantastical ecosystems containing fauna and animal life. Among his most iconic works are a series of 12 untitled illustrations (1995–98) of a peach pit he found on a hiking trip. Each panel presents a different angle of the seed and an imaginative rendition of what resides within. Another Untitled work from 2015–18 is a large-scale sprawling delineation of a pine tree, a symbol for eternity. 

In 2010, Lin’s drawings caught the eye of Mami Kataoka, then chief curator and now director of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, who included him in her 2012 group show, “Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past,” at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. It was there that curator Massimiliano Gioni invited Lin to participate in the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, where the aforementioned 12 untitled works were presented. 

Lin has held several solo exhibitions at Gallery Exit in Hong Kong, including “Whispers in the Wind” (2008), “The Sixth Day” (2011), and “Song(Pine)” (2018). His works have also been included in other group exhibitions such as the “Hong Kong Art Biennial Exhibition” (1998) at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and “Manulife Young Artists Series” (1995) at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

His final years were spent out of the public eye, echoing a psyche who found fulfillment in solitude. In the email, Gallery Exit founder and longtime friend Aenon Loo describes the artist as a man “who saw worlds within ordinary nature, who took the time to draw the wonders he saw, to share what he saw, in this world of worlds.”

Jae Lamb is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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