In his moon series, Liu Kuo-Sung illustrates a novel connection between Chinese painting and space exploration. Liu employs a universal perspective in depicting a new crescent moon rising above the clouds and atmosphere of a verdant Earth covered with mountains and water. This panorama from above can be likened to the perspectives traced back to landscapes portrayed in the Song and Yuan dynasties. The philosophical dogma of transcendence and achieving unity with a greater universal spirit—the focal point of Chinese landscapes for centuries—are maintained in Liu’s spacescapes that illustrate man’s modern day ascendance from earthly existence.
With a keen intent to maintain a connection to Chinese history and philosophy, Liu features the earth and moon as the protagonists of his paintings. A beloved subject of Chinese mythology, literature and painting, the moon, a symbol of the female or Yin principle in nature, is the fated partner of the earth, a symbol of the male or Yang principle. One recalls the romantic story of Chang’e and her ascension to a palace on the moon, thus she is set apart from her husband Houyi left on Earth. Legend aside, Apollo 8’s images of Earth from the moon provided a source of inspiration and captivated the imagination of Liu Kuo-Sung. Building upon his experimental painting techniques established in previous decades, Liu captures the light and shadows of the distinctive spacescape with his use of collage, saturated colour and textured strokes. As in Blue Moon Landscape, Liu allows viewers to recall the sentiments associated with the moon and their own past, for history and the future; Herein Liu illustrates his own hope for his art and the world: for a new journey filled with exploration and hope for constant discovery.
Liu Kuo-Sung is arguably one of the most recognized artists in contemporary ink today. His large-scale paintings are often displayed as multiple panels that are reminiscent of traditional folding screens of ancient China. However, Blue Moon Landscape is an unusually large single panel painting composed of natural mineral pigment, acrylic and collage on typically textured Liu Kuo-Sung cotton fiber paper. This rare and early example of his Moon Metamorphosis series, begun in 1969, was subsequently revised by the artist two decades later as dated in 1990 when it was sold privately to the present owner.
Hybridity: Ink as a medium of Chinese identity
Born in 1932 in Anhui province, Liu Kuo-Sung and his family relocated to Taiwan from Mainland China in 1949. His conviction for ink as a medium of Chinese identity began during his studies of both traditional Chinese painting and Western style painting in the Fine Arts department of the National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU). In 1954, Liu and his classmates submitted works to be shown at the Taiwan Fine Art Exhibition (TFAE), but were rejected since the exhibition committee was biased towards Japanese styled paintings.2 Disqualified on seemingly unjust grounds, Liu Kuo-Sung immediately authored several essays analyzing the difference between Japanese nihonga and traditional Chinese paintings, which initiated the debate on the definition of Chinese painting and a lifetime of his own publications on the modernization of ink art. Following the establishment of a diplomatic relationship between the Kuomintang government and the United States, the interest in Japanese art gradually gave way to Western art, whereupon Liu shifted his focus from Chinese painting to Western painting concepts.
Upon graduation from NTNU in 1956, Liu Kuo-Sung and several classmates held an exhibition at the university that focused on Western painting concepts. Inspired by the French Salon de Mai, noted for its regular exhibitions in May, they launched the Fifth Moon Group to also express their desire for a free and experimental spirit to bring freshness to the art world in Taiwan.
Beginning with the influence of Western styles in Chinese art, the Fifth Moon Group artists became the pioneers of modern art in Taiwan with bold styles, complex concepts and diverse use of media. Liu Kuo-Sung, at that time, suggested that the inspiration and impulse for artistic creation should be turned from “imitative” to “abstract”. The founders of the group and later members each blossomed into influential artists experimenting in new directions without the restraint of technique and medium. For example, Hu Chi-Chung created sand-paintings with oil and sand on canvas; Fong Chung Ray combined calligraphy with abstract imagery through the use of collage; and Chen Ting-Shih pioneered an abstract form of late Chinese lithography that uses bagasse plates to form natural cracking patterns in his works.
The establishment of the Fifth Moon Group stimulated Liu Kuo-Sung, who during the group’s most active exhibition period (1956 – 1972) cultivated his fibre-plucking technique from “Liu Kuo-Sung paper”, his distinctive “ink rubbing” technique that involved painting with ink on water (See Spring Mountain (1974) Lot 521) and rubbing a ball of paper in ink to reveal spontaneous lines and creases (See Spring Beneath Snow (1966) Lot 519). Liu was one of the first Taiwanese artists invited to the US exhibitions at major institutions, including the Spencer Art Museum, Nelson Atkins Museum and Seattle Art Museum in the 1960s, which lead him and contemporary ink art to prominence in the international art world. In addition to his moonscapes, Liu’s nature-inspired images always adopted a sense of Western minimalist composition to express his poetic sentiments deeply rooted in his Eastern origin. This hybrid approach to artistic creation, rooted in the traditional ink painting medium, can best describe the contemporary identity that Liu Kuo-Sung sought to provide for his art. With his use of vibrant colour, textured paper and unusual painting techniques, Liu’s paintings catalyze a new chapter for 20th century ink painting.
1 Rowell, Galen "100 Photographs that Changed the World", Life Magazine, 2003
2 The exhibition was originally launched by the Japanese government during the colonization period as part of the Kominka movement (1937-1945) – a political strategy that attempted to reconstruct Taiwanese society by implanting Japanese culture into education and everyday life.
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