Lot 1191
  • 1191

Liu Guosong (Liu Kuo-sung)

550,000 - 650,000 HKD
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  • Liu Guosong (Liu Kuo-sung)
  • Lunar Eclipse
  • ink and colour with collage on paper

in nine parts, the left piece signed and dated 1970 in Chinese with two seals of the artist, framed under glass


Generally in good condition.
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Catalogue Note

Liu Kuo-sung's (Liu Guosong) Lunar Eclipse (1970) (Lot 1191) is an impressive major work on one of the artist's best-known themes. Furthermore, it represents a high point for one of the most important mid-twentieth century ink painting trends, the advancement of the field through the embracing of certain aspects of international modernism including Abstract Expressionism.


Born in Shandong province in 1932, Liu Kuo-sung experienced much of the turbulence of twentieth-century Chinese history. His family suffered great privation through the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45): when he was six his father died fighting the Japanese, leaving the remaining family members to struggle with poverty. Only through the kindness of a mounting shop owner who gave the fourteen-year-old Liu leftover paper and brushes was Liu able to pursue his avocation. With the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, he moved by himself to Taiwan and eventually enrolled in the Fine Arts Department of the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, where he received training in both traditional and Western painting techniques. After two years he came to a realization that shaped the rest of his career: "I felt that there was a lack of vigor in Chinese painting. In order to restore this vitality, it had to be given some new nourishment and blood. Therefore I began to read some books on the history and theories of art and concentrated all my attention on the study of Western painting."[i]


The Nationalist (KMT) government in Taiwan promoted orthodox ink painting as part of a program of legitimizing its position as the rightful government of all China through upholding tradition. Against such a background, the 1956 founding of the Fifth Moon Group by a coterie of young painters led by Liu was a radical move. Their first exhibitions featured works highly imitative of Western styles, but in the 1960s Liu and others changed course and reconsidered ink painting. The result was a successful synthesis of East and West.


The question of how revitalize Chinese painting was not a new one: it had concerned Chinese artists and intellectuals for decades, and had achieved prominence at the turn of the last century when it was seen as parallel to the question of how to revitalize China itself. Some believed that if the adoption of Western science and technology was a necessary step in the modernization of China, then it was also important to advance Chinese culture in a similar fashion. Others felt that while the great ink painting tradition was not to be abandoned, it must be adapted to capture the spirit of contemporary life. The crisis of faith in ink painting is ongoing, and has spurred an unprecedented variety of experimentation through the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.


Because of the American presence in Taiwan after World War II, Liu was exposed to Abstract Expressionism, and he found a great resonance between it and Chinese literati painting, with their shared emphasis on the gesture. Liu's interest in Abstract Expressionism is apparent in his early abstract oils as well as his later ink paintings—both abstracts and landscapes. To expand the possibilities of ink painting Liu devised new techniques such as applying ink and color in unorthodox ways, for example using crumpled paper. In 1962 he made a discovery important to his subsequent work, of a new kind of paper not usually used for painting, a cotton paper that he ordered prepared to his specifications so that long fibers remained on the surface. Not only did the rough texture contribute to the general overall look of his works, but also after painting on this paper he could pull out some of the long fibers, removing sharp-edged slivers of pigment for an interesting effect. (This paper became known as "Liu Kuo-sung paper.") A few years later, in 1965 he began to employ the technique of collage, laying down paper of a contrasting texture so that when he painted across two kinds of paper, he would achieve two different results with a single brushstroke. In 1969 he expanded his repertoire of collage techniques: inspired by large round lanterns he saw at a Taipei temple, he cut a circle from an unsuccessful painting and pasted it down centered in the upper half of a new work, hovering above a landscape form painted in the lower half. Soon afterwards the first manned lunar landing captured his imagination, and he embarked on his "Space" series paintings, many of which entail a painted circle collaged above the curving horizon of the earth or moon.


Liu Kuo-sung's "Space" paintings are revolutionary. The character of the lunar surface, the view of the earth from the moon, even the curvature of the earth's horizon are subjects unprecedented in Chinese art: most were unknown before the era of space exploration. Not only did Liu embrace the new subject, he also grasped that it required a reconsideration of scale. While all previous Chinese ink painting had depicted landscape on a human scale, Liu's new series was conceived with astronomical scale in mind, both of space and of time. Many works in the series are monumental, necessitating their presentation as sets of paintings. This format incidentally facilitates the expression of a progression in time, notably in his eclipse paintings.


Lunar Eclipse spreads the eclipse over nine panels totaling more than five meters in width. It fuses an elegant composition of pure geometrical forms and limited color palette with the added visual interest of slight color gradations in the blue and white, as well dynamic brushwork and the surface texture of paper fibers, including white streaks where fibers have been removed. The result is a grand and compelling image of earth and moon in time and space.


In the years since creating Lunar Eclipse, Liu Kuo-sung has continued to flourish as an artist with an international audience. Since 1971 he has been a lecturer in the Department of Fine Arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and he maintains a home in Guangxi Province.


[i] Liu Kuo-sung, "Painting Is a Difficult Journey," Art World (Taipei, Taiwan), issue 13 (April 1969), cited in Chu-tsing Li, Liu, Kuo-sung: The Growth of a Modern Chinese Artist (Taipei: National Gallery of Art, 1969), p. 13.