- Fang Zhaolin
- ink and color on paper, hanging scroll
signed and dated 1984 in Chinese, and marked with two seals of the artist
Umbrella, Hong Kong
The Mary and George Bloch Collection
In this sale, Lots 523 - 532 focus on new and diverse visual patterns established by a selection of women artists trained in Chinese ink painting. Amidst a tradition of master-apprentice relationships and following the legacy of a thousand-year-old culture, their works are united by a sincere concentration on more profound questions about art from a social and historical context, such as the quest for Chinese identity or a universality of painting. Fang Zhaolin is the eldest representative of this selection and is often regarded as a woman ahead of her time. A world-traveler and accomplished student of masters Zhao Shaoang and Zhang Daqian, Fang cultivated a painting style rooted in tradition, yet is undeniably modern. By the 1960s she was internationally recognized for her spirited calligraphy and whimsical landscapes. They pay homage to grand Chinese landscape motifs—such as views of Mount Huang—and include contemporary inscriptions reflecting her personal views on current events. Similarly, Tseng Yuho and her unique dsui painting exude defiant confidence through her bold application of collage and abstraction of landscapes in Hawaii and China. Her friendships with Dada and Surrealist artists Man Ray and Max Ernst inspired her to seek universality in painting that transcended tradition into a globalized contemporary era. Tong Yangtze, the celebrated calligrapher of Taiwan, strove for similar universality by energetically animating phrases of Confucian morals and maxims. From a very early period, each woman gained international recognition from their peers and scholars alike for her unusual style that each emerged from rigorous studies in Chinese painting.
By the 1970s in Hong Kong, the influential artist and teacher Lui Shoukwan established the New Ink Painting movement and inspired a generation of painters including Irene Chou and Koo Mei. Irene Chou introduced a vibrant mix of new media into her works, mixing ink with acrylic, oil, and watercolor on paper, satin, and silk. Her deeply personal and spontaneous gestural works of abstraction break away completely from traditional motifs and guidelines but retain a strong command of the medium and composition. In contrast, the aesthetic landscapes of famed actress-turn painter Koo Mei retain the formal style of her teachers from the Lingnan school and skillfully depict dramatic views from her Canadian home through layers of colourful ink wash.
Some artists' work indeed manifests a feminine sensitivity and presents ordered and calm reflections of personal sentiment. The fine line paintings of Xu Lele offer both a classical and fresh approach to scholarly themes with a light touch of humour. The seeming effortlessness of her paintings is praiseworthy, which reveals a natural beauty reflecting her personal outlook on nature and life. Peng Wei is internationally recognized for her stylized painting of landscapes infused with references to Western literature or textiles and motifs inspired by antiquity. Like all of the artists aforementioned, both Peng Wei and Jia Yundi are classically trained in painting and calligraphy, and in addition, bear the honor of having fathers who are celebrated modern Chinese painters. As relatively young artists, their painting styles are already distinct and personal, and convey the courage, determination, and diligence of their creators.
United by a foundation in ink painting and a focus on tradition, these works represent merely a fraction of women artists whose innovations in painting transcend gender differences. Nevertheless, there remains a disproportion of women artists who are trained in Chinese painting and are prominently recognized for their works that contribute to art history. The dialogue of change and continuity of Chinese painting is a constantly debated topic. However, for Chinese painting or any art for that matter, the focus lies not in the debate but in the ultimate skill and ingenuity of the artist.
1The phrase "Women hold up half the sky," widely associated with Mao's Post-Republic propaganda, is meant to eliminate gender differences and focus on support of the collective whole. It is important to note that the concept of Feminist art beginning in the 1970s that influenced women art in the West, generally does not apply to China until after the 1990s when there is a significant conceptual movement among women artists to focus on the process of rediscovery and reevaluation of tradition addressing issues of gender and identity in contemporary art.