Explorations in Ink: Artists in Conversation

By Sotheby's

R ooted in history while pushing the boundaries of the medium, the genre of contemporary ink art encompasses a wide variety of artists who express through ink in radically different ways. Ranging from early masters to contemporary stars, this spring, in conjunction with the opening of Different Paths: Explorations in Ink, Sotheby’s sits down with Wucius Wong, Li Jin and Cai Xiaosong to discuss their personal philosophies behind ink painting.


How would you describe your personal style?

Cai Xiaosong: I’d describe it as classically contemporary.

LI Jin: I use the language of traditional ink painting to express my life experiences.

Wucius Wong: My personal style reflects the distinct backgrounds shaping my pursuit.


Are there any rules you live by?

Cai Xiaosong: For me, it’s got to be the best or nothing.

Li Jin: I have a solid grasp of some of the linguistic codes related to ink painting techniques.

Wucius Wong: My principal rule is to maintain the millennia-long Chinese civilization in art.


Which aspect of your work excites you most?

Cai Xiaosong: The Eastern aesthetic sensibility, which allow people to feel the relationship between humans and things.

Li Jin: To see the work produces something spiritual with a sense of vitality when the passionate expression overtakes all other distractions

Wucius Wong: The blending of elements in different ways has helped me to explore different avenues at different times.


Whenever you look back upon your own work, do they remind you of a specific moment in your own life? How does your art relate to your life today?

Cai Xiaosong: The work “Thundering Waters (Quadriptych)” on view in this exhibition is inspired by my trip through the no-man’s land of Dege Country. While I was passing plentiful waterfalls and ravines, trekking six days on foot for 300km, and crossing snowcapped mountains, I thought I’d reached base camp, but the snow melted and spread, flooding the meadow so there wasn’t a route across. The magnificence and power of nature and my inner fears were persistently entangled. They came together to form this piece.

Li Jin: At every stage, my works have always been a portrayal of my own life. To look at them now is just like seeing my autobiography and my diary.

Wucius Wong: My work clearly mirrors my life as a Chinese living almost the entire life away from the homeland, finding no roots, drifting across the wide ocean, wandering in foreign lands, and feeling like flowing water in a continual moment.


How does your personal /cultural backgrounds reflect in your art?

Cai Xiaosong: I experienced the anxiety of an era in which the standards for everything were completely toppled and reestablished anew. With this deepening of experience, I am able to stand back and take in the broader perspectives on Western and Eastern civilization.

Wucius Wong: I had a bilingual education, and this has made me feel that I lack full acquaintance with the essence of the Chinese culture or the Western culture.



Can you tell me a little bit about your transition between mediums and painting styles?

Cai Xiaosong: There was a transformation, one from physical forms to metaphysical forms.

Li Jin: I always had new impressions that informed the flavor and style of my work. This was related to my experiences in different place at different times.


How do you see your paintings pushing the boundaries of the tradition? On the other hand, how does your work rooted in the classical?

Cai Xiaosong: My works are enriched by the traditional, and this traditional wind drifts across the surface of contemporary art.

Li Jin: The pen and the ink flow with the times. Linguistic methods follow the course of your life and follow your feelings. That is undoubtedly something contemporary.

Wucius Wong: I have chosen the use of geometric elements to dissect shapes, to introduce hidden structural grids, and to effect rhythmical movements. The presence of such geometrical elements helps to emphasize contemporaneity in ink painting, with brushwork and themes, which clearly reflect the tradition.


Your work has been exhibited all over the world, is there a discernible difference in the critical response and interest in your work from those regions?

Cai Xiaosong: People perceive things differently, have different feelings, and their interpretations will naturally be different.

Li Jin: Wherever I go, I seem to encounter people who understand me.


What are your insights into the sometimes very separate and sometimes symbiotic art world?

Cai Xiaosong: Just like the theme of this exhibition, “Different Paths: Explorations in Ink.”

Li Jin: If you look at trends in cultural diversity, a respect for the individual has become something of greater importance.


Are there any western artists in particular that you identify with today?

Cai Xiaosong: Dürer, Courbet, Renoir, Cezanne, Giacometti, Mondrian, and Freud.

Li Jin: Modigliani, Ludovic, and Schiele.

Wucius Wong: Artists of the Baroque period such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio in the use of dramatic light, and Turner in the expression of movement.


Can you tell us about your future project?

Cai Xiaosong: On May 5th I’ll have a solo exhibition opening at Sotheby’s (Hong Kong), which will unveil the products of what I’ve made over the last three years while living behind closed doors.

Li Jin: I’ll have a solo show in June at Sotheby’s in Los Angeles, which is tentatively called “A Devout Foodist’s Journey to the West”

Wucius Wong: I am working with Sotheby’s Hong Kong on a solo show themed around water.


Dead or alive: who would you like to have a dinner with?

Li Jin: Dong Qichang.

Wucius Wong: I would go back to the Northern Song period, to have dinner with Fan Kuan or Guo Xi.


Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's