NEW YORK – Asked to interpret the themes of flowers, spring and rejunvenation, the thirteen artists in Sotheby’s S|2 third exhibition of contempory ink paintings produced vastly different works rooted in the same classical tradition. Here, seven artists discuss their contributions to the show.

Shuimo: Ten Thousand Blossoms Spring will be on view at Sotheby's New York from 12–21 March. Enquiries: +1 212 606 7332.

TOP: Arnold Chang, Majestic Landscape, 2014 (detail). 71 by 142.2 cm.; 28 by 56 in.


Rivulet Amidst Towering Cliffs (detail), 2014. 78 by 140 cm.; 30¾ by 55⅛ in.

I’ve always been asked about the word “inspiration” since I learned how to paint. But then it seemed to become a burden to me when I began my career as a professional artist. Can’t we paint without inspiration? Bearing this in mind, I’ve changed my way of thinking and doing things. I keep challenging myself – searching, imagining wildly, recording and sketching – so that I have plenty to paint. Recently I've adopted a new psychology for painting: once “plugged in,” my working mode is on, no matter how long it takes to finish; once “unplugged,” everything goes back to normal – I enjoy good meals, sleep well, relax and enjoy entertainment – all necessary!


Later Spring, 2014 (detail). 68.5 by 138 cm.; 27 by 54⅜ in.

Today is not like ancient times in China; we are not sitting in a quiet studio looking at a small handscroll. The literati tradition of creating small works for a few peers holds little interest for me. I feel a need to create something that is stately, that has impact – visual impact equal to that of works done by other contemporary artists. Viewers should be in awe of a painting. Therefore I paint in large formats, either the vertical hanging scroll traditional to Chinese landscape painting or the horizontal scroll. Such work requires energy and a seriously creative attitude. It is not just a gala; it is an entire opera. It has to be complete from the first note to the last. This sense of majesty, of monumentality, is what attracts me to Northern Song dynasty landscape painting.


Spring Peony I, 2014. 70 by 78 cm.; 27½ by 30¾ in. 

For me, painting is pure intuition. Just as peonies blossom naturally and freely during their own season – nothing to stipulate, nothing to hide – painting is a pure and simple art. Only by emptying one’s thoughts, forgetting and removing, can one truly achieve a work that has the utmost purity and simplicity. If viewers feel something in my work, it might be a resonance with the freedom they feel in their hearts. People with similar sensibilities tend to come together. Sounds of the same pitch resonate in harmony. This is the law of nature.


Sensuous Fragrance, 2014. 51 by 51 cm.; 20 by 20 in.

This group of flower paintings is my first time concentrating on this theme. I’ve been obsessed with Song dynasty flower and bird paintings since I was a child, so I learned to pick up their method and to comprehend their essence. Later I also acquired some Western painting techniques. The combination of these two distinctive methods allowed me to discover a new understanding of Chinese painting. This series not only reflects the traditional Chinese style, but also follows the legacy of the literati culture of seeing things metaphorically; in my case, the flower is a perfect metaphor for both female elegance and literati cultivation. 


Kaleidoscopic Landscape, 2014. 71 by 142.2 cm.; 28 by 56 in. 

People who are familiar with my work may be surprised by the abundance of colour displayed in these two new pieces. I stumbled upon a technique that seems to have helped me to find a new way of building up a composition. For each painting, I began by transcribing, in pencil, the text of a chapter from Shitao’s Enlightening Remarks on Painting, then I meticulously erased the text, leaving behind a faded, ghostly pattern on the paper’s surface. Painting on this patterned paper opened up new compositional possibilities and enhanced the effect achieved through the juxtaposition of line and colour.


St. Patrick’s Day I, 2014. 32.5 by 29 cm.; 12¾ by 11 in.

In March 2012, I came to the US seeking new inspiration. It was St. Patrick’s Day, the day of the Irish, when I was in New York. The streets were crowded with excited people wearing various green costumes and hats, joining parades, playing music and enjoying live bands. The entire city was almost turned into an ocean of green.
I enjoyed this ecstasy on a street corner, looking at people passing by, some wearing masks, others wearing weird clothes, lots of young faces, pretty girls and handsome boys.When I was back in my apartment, I painted several works depicting the festival scene and figures with green hats.


Breeze, 2012 (detail). 44.5 by 91 cm.; 17½ by 35¾ in. 

I always wonder if inspiration truly exists. I’d rather keep working and finding interesting things in my daily life instead of waiting to be inspired. Poetry, literature, music, art, movies, flowers and plants, animals, anecdotes and people around me can all become part of my work. The tiger painting in this show, for example, was inspired by a poem that I heard on the radio. It’s called “In Me, Past, Present, Future Meet,” by the British poet Siegfried Sassoon [1886–1967]. A particular line – “In me the tiger sniffs the rose” – became the inspiration of this work. My triptych, Blooming, was inspired by a famous old Chinese song “Ye Lai Xiang” (Tuberose) that I picked up as a child. When I was painting Breeze, however, I had the idea of making the painting resemble Chinese silk embroidery, a traditional Chinese art form, which I think is a new and special idea.