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Modern Asian Art

Richard Lin: Blanc de Chine

By Sotheby's
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Richard Lin, an artist who was born and raised in Taiwan but who worked and was educated in Europe, produced canvases that set the Eastern aesthetic theory of his birth-place in dialogue with contemporary European and American abstract movements of the time. He harnesses within his compositions this unique combination of East and West, ancient and modern. Through such cross-cultural works, he has produced deeply contemplative paintings, which have won critical acclaim from the international art world.

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Richard Lin in his studio, 1964 (b/w photo), Lewinski, Jorge (1921-2008) / Private Collection / © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images

Born in Taichung, Taiwan, and brought up to be the heir to Wufeng Lin's fortune - one of the most influential families in the country, Lin was sent to the UK to be educated and to the disbelief of his family, he renounced his inheritance to become an artist. Having studied architecture at Regent St Polytechnic by day and painting by night, once he graduated in 1958 he turned to painting full-time. The quality of his work was noticed by the Gimpel Fils gallery who began to represent him the same year and the ICA gave him a solo exhibition. Soon this recognition was international: he received an award at the 'Chinese Modern Sculpture Exhibition' organised by Taipei Fine Arts Museum and, in 1964, he was invited to participate in Documenta 3 in Kassel, Germany, becoming the first Chinese artist to take part in the prestigious exhibition. In 1967 Lin was chosen to participate in the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, and along with Francis Bacon was awarded the William Frew Memorial Purchase Award.

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Richard Lin, The Autumn 1970 , oil on canvas, Estimate: £100,000-150,000.

The Autumn 1970 was painted in 1971, in the backdrop of this success, when Lin was living in Wales having resigned as a lecturer to focus on his work and living a detached and self-sufficient life in the style of a Taoist recluse.

Lin's precision in executing his work allows him to express spatial effects that exemplify the spirit of Eastern philosophy in which form and emptiness each generate the other, like yin and yang. These Taoist concepts inform his works but from a Western art historical perspective. In 1970, at a solo exhibition in Belgium, Lin confirmed his paintings were deeply rooted in Eastern culture and particularly the ancient tradition of calligraphy in which he had been trained as a child.

This early immersion in Eastern culture laid the foundation for Lin's abstraction yet an architectural awareness, from his training, pervades his work. The Autumn 1970 on first glance is seemingly flat and uniform in colour - almost entirely composed of white pigments, yet if you look closer, you will see that Lin has subtly created a canvas with delicate shifts in colour, multiple dimensions and tactile spaces. This is achieved through very subtle raised stripes of relief composed of pigment layers of varying thicknesses. Each stripe of white would be painted painstakingly by Lin many times, waiting for each layer to dry before the next was applied. The result is a composition of geometric restraint, in which the spatial layering is not just a cleverly constructed illusion, but physically felt, and as such Lin reminds us of the objective existence of the canvas.

Colour also plays an important role in conveying depth in his work. In the present painting, the only other colour than white, are two thin lines of yellow and red (evoking the changing colour of leaves in autumn) carefully positioned to balance the composition and add an extra layer of pictorial space. This splash of colour stands out against the blocks of white, each delicately painted with a different brightness and purity of tone and each of which gradually recedes into the background. For Lin, white was more than just a colour: as the artist himself explained:

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Richard Lin, PAINTING RELIEF 12.12.63 , Lot sold HK$9,120,000

'White is the most mundane of colors, and the greatest of all colors: it is the most colorless and the most colorful: it is the most noble color and the most common color: it is the most tranquil color, and the saddest color too ... white in and of itself is many colors: it can be thicker, thinner, heavier, lighter, transparent, semi-transparent ... which means that with white and white, you can construct many strange and wonderful relationships of shapes and shapes, or spaces and spaces.'

The Autumn 1970 exemplifies Lin's manipulation of the colour white, here he highlights colour by eliminating it and simplifies and restrains his composition to create complexities in light, depth, movement. As Joan Miro is reported as saying: 'in the world of white, no one can exceed you' on a visit to Lin in his UK studio in 1970.

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