White is the most ordinary of colours, it is also the most extraordinary; it is the absence of colour, it is also the sum of colours; it is the most majestic of colours, it is also the most common; it is the colour of tranquility, it is also the colour of grief.
Into the World of White
Ethereal and deeply contemplative, North hails from Richard Lin’s acclaimed White Series and exemplifies the artist’s groundbreaking mode of hard-edged abstract minimalism that forged its own singular chapter within the global post-war avant-garde. Born as the eldest son in a distinguished Taiwanese family, Lin studied high school in Hong Kong at Diocesan Boys’ School before pursuing studies in architecture and art in England starting from 1954. After completing his studies, Lin remained in London and in 1958, after gaining support from the Gimpel Fils Gallery, began his career as an artist. During his early years Lin started with semi-abstract landscape paintings, which by the 1960s had evolved into a highly distinctive mode of austere minimalistic geometric abstraction – crucially, before even the official coining of the term ‘Minimalism’. Lin’s unique creations fused elements from the East and West and met with instant critical acclaim in Europe – in 1964 the artist was invited to participate in Documenta III in Kassel, Germany, becoming the first Chinese artist to take part in the prestigious exhibition; while 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.
Created in 1973, the present work is a mature archetype of Lin’s signature aesthetic, which is characterized by a rigorous architectural awareness, informed by his studies in architecture; a succinct, precise and restrained minimalist rationalism, superficially reminiscent of Western geometric abstraction; but most profoundly by a deep and rich spirit from the East. In 1970, on the occasion of one of Lin’s solo exhibitions in Belgium, Lin declared explicitly that his paintings were deeply rooted in Eastern culture and the lyrical fluidity of the ancient tradition of calligraphy, an art in which the artist had received rigorous training as a child. The early immersion in Eastern culture laid the foundation for Lin’s abstraction: embodied in his minimalist compositions and restrained use of colour is his fascination with the philosophies of Laozi and Zhaungzi as well as the realms of “emptiness” and “nothingness” in Chinese literati paintings. Within the apparent purity of white, meanwhile, is Lin’s virtuosic manipulation of light, depth, movement and stillness via a myriad of multitudinous gradients and translucencies – an effect that encapsulates the infinite forms of nature in all their variations and complexities. In 1970, the surrealist master Joan Miro visited Lin in his studio during a visit to the United Kingdom; standing before a work from Lin’s White Series, Miro declared: “In the world of white, no one can exceed you”.
While emotionally restrained in form and colour, therefore, North emanates a potent charm and vitality imbued with the elegant spirit of Eastern grace – conveying a dynamically fluid sensibility beneath its rational surface. The precise placement of the single stroke of yellow manifests at once as an unfathomable enigma and as a definitive punctuation to the composition – one that declares the artist’s refusal to adhere to any artistic or literary logic or standard, affirming instead his sole allegiance to transcendent realms of the unknown and the sublime that cannot be seen but only perceived. In the artist’s own words, in a catalogue for his 2010 solo exhibition at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts: “What is before us? There are not enough words to describe and no words to do so aptly. Anything can be something; there is no difference between anything, and anything is everything”.