What is the point of The Enduring Passion for Ink?
The Enduring Passion for Ink: A Project on Contemporary Ink Painters brings contemporary Chinese ink painting to a wide audience. While the increasingly prevalent exhibitions of ink painting can do much to introduce the topic, film can do so much more to bring it to life! Film deepens the understanding and appreciation for the great complexity of ink painting, expressed with marvelous fluid skill and spirit by masters of the medium. The Enduring Passion for Ink: A Project on Contemporary Ink Painters is absolutely unique: as a means to reintroduce this ancient art language to international audiences today, it is nothing less than essential.
What is the format of The Enduring Passion for Ink?
The Enduring Passion for Ink: A Project on Contemporary Ink Painters is a series of ten films, each about 12 minutes long. They introduce the work of ten artists, and address their fundamental artistic choices: Why did s/he choose ink as a medium? How is ink’s expressive range distinct from that of other artistic media? How does the artist go about creating an ink work? How does the artist approach issues such as tradition, creative innovation, and personal expression? Each film features the artist addressing these questions and shows him or her at work in the studio in the process of creating a work of art. Through time-lapsed photography, the film also shows that same painting’s evolution from start to finish.
Film provides a time-based experience of a time-based process
Because of the real-time performance aspect of setting ink into an absorbent ground, film is a particularly fitting means not only to demystify the artist’s ideational process, but also to enthrall the viewer in the physical act of painting with ink. With film it is possible to see how the paintings are created, and hear the artists talk about their inspirations and processes: through film, ink painting becomes much more accessible, and one’s appreciation of ink painting is enriched. Plus, for those who already know something about ink painting, the films provide an enhanced appreciation of the activity of ink painting, and may raise or answer questions previously off the radar. Ultimately, listening to the artists, watching them paint, and contemplating their finished works of art, It becomes apparent that ink painting, with its long history and profound philosophies, has much to offer to the present day.
Ink Art Today
Over the past twenty-five hundred years beginning with the aestheticization of writing in the Zhou Dynasty, China has developed a distinctive mode of artistic expression—brush and ink calligraphy and painting on paper and silk—that is no less rich that the visual arts tradition in the West. And yet this highly evolved art language has been largely absent from the Chinese contemporary art most prevalent today.
This situation, however, is rapidly changing. Contemporary Chinese ink painting is now enjoying an unprecedented resurgence with both the viewing public and the specialized community of scholars, curators, critics, and collectors. As this time-honored medium gains an increasingly high profile, however, it is not necessarily becoming better understood. There are two principle barriers to appreciation. First, even in China the traditional techniques of brush and ink are truly familiar to few. In the past, those literate in Chinese were taught to write with brush and ink, but these traditional writing implements have since been replaced by pencils, pens, keyboard and touch screen. Second, even those who were introduced to brush and ink at a young age may find innovative contemporary painting techniques and mixed media difficult to fathom. For those outside of China, ink painting may seem particularly mysterious, such that no significant effort is made to understand it beyond its aesthetic enjoyment. For ink painting’s much-deserved rise in visibility to be sustained, it is important that viewers become educated; only with enhanced understanding can the viewer fully appreciate the creative impetus of the artist and the deeper significance of his or her ink-based creations.
In order to capture the field in its state of flux, the artists selected are among the small number who are producing art that is at the vanguard of contemporary art production internationally yet still grounded in the rich tradition of ink in China. These are the artists capable of taking China's traditional visual art language not only into contemporary times but also to international audiences. Each artist is working in his or her unique way to challenge the very specific cultural assumptions and references embedded within the ink art tradition. In doing so, the solutions they develop open the visual language of brush and ink to universal, humanistic interpretation. By entering the brush and ink art tradition through the work of contemporary artists, audiences may develop a far more immediate and direct familiarity with traditional Chinese aesthetic, philosophical, and artistic concepts than is possible through exhibitions or books on traditional Chinese painting.
When invited to participate in the project, many of the artists stated enthusiastically their belief that this project will be extremely significant for the future appreciation of ink painting.
Cui Zhenkuan 崔振宽 (b. 1935) and Li Jin 李津 (b. 1958) are among two of today’s leading practitioners of traditional landscape and figure painting, respectively. Yang Jiechang 杨诘苍 (b. 1956) explores the expressive potential of traditional xieyi and gongbi modes of painting by depicting distinctly contemporary socio-political subjects. Liu Dan 刘丹 (b. 1953) re-examines a natural philosophy based on objective reality through Song style painting. Chen Haiyan 陳海燕 (b. 1955), on the other hand, explores an internal reality of personal dreams through twentieth century woodblock carving, printing and painting. Wang Dongling 王冬龄 (b. 1945) has spent a lifetime exploring calligraphy as the basis for abstraction in contemporary art. Li Huasheng 李华生 (b. 1944), meanwhile, has transformed the landscape into abstract field paintings. As a conceptual artist, Xu Bing 徐冰 (b. 1955) investigates the foundation of ink painting in language and calligraphy. As an ink artist, Zheng Chongbin 郑重宾 (b. 1961) explores the conceptual foundation of ink painting by reconstructing and extending its visual language. Finally, Bingyi 冰逸 (b. 1975), the youngest artist selected, combines ink with site-specific installation to bring ink into interaction with architectural space.
Future Aspects of The Enduring Passion for Ink
Each of the artists agreed to hold the work created during the filming process, to be shown in an exhibition that would display that painting together with the film. The exhibition of works by the ten artists--both the filmed paintings plus additional paintings--will provide a unique opportunity to understand ink painting and the creative process. A still photographer accompanied the film crew: the intention is to produce a lavishly illustrated book as a readily accessible resource, with a deeper discussion of ink painting--its history and philosophy--than is possible within the films. Together book, exhibition, and film series will explore the breadth and depth of ink painting. The entire project is titled The Enduring Passion for Ink: A Project on Contemporary Ink Painters: Films, Exhibition, Book.
Britta Erickson, Ph.D. is an independent scholar and curator living in Palo Alto, California. She has taught at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley, and has curated major exhibitions at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C. (Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing) and the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford (On the Edge: Contemporary Chinese Artists Encounter the West). In 2007 she co-curated the Chengdu Biennial, which focused on ink art. She was a contributing curator for the Shanghai: Art of the City at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in 2010.
Britta Erickson is on the advisory boards of the Ink Society (Hong Kong) and Three Shadows Photography Art Centre (Beijing), as well as the editorial boards of Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art and ART Asia Pacific. Publications include three books—The Art of Xu Bing: Words without Meaning, Meaning without Words (Seattle, 2001), On the Edge: Contemporary Chinese Artists Encounter the West (Stanford/Hong Kong, 2004), and China Onward: The Estella Collection: Chinese Contemporary Art, 1966–2006 (Humlebæk, 2007)—as well as biographical entries for Grove Art Online (Oxford, 2005) and numerous articles and essays. In addition, she is on the advisory board of Stanford on the Moon.
US-born Richard Widmer works with China's top-level artists, forging projects which bridge Chinese thought with Western documentary filmmaking practice. Bi-lingual and bi-cultural, through thoughtful interviews and intimate photography, Richard Widmer makes films that explore the common heritage, intelligence and core human values, which extend beyond national borders and unite all peoples. He served as the Beijing Today Art Museum’s Film Arts Department Director (2007–2010). His films include Dance Language, co-produced by the Chinese Disabled Peoples Foundation & UNICEF (2010) and American Fair which was awarded First Prize at the Qinghai Documentary Film Festival (2008). In 2014 he established an artists space in rural Massachusetts, Millers Falls Arts Bridge.