While studying architecture in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s, Lin adopted a rational style of thinking which saw him break away from his earlier mode of abstract brushwork. The artist began to fuse elegant geometry with minimal and simple compositions, creating works that resonate clearly with op art and minimalism, popular visual art styles of the time. Lin’s subtle yet incisive style of artistic expression was aligned with the post-war society’s desire for rationality and intellect. The minimalistic charm of the artist’s most critically-acclaimed White Series took the Western art scene by storm, garnering recognition from the renowned Marlborough Gallery. This season, following the success of last year’s Sotheby’s Autumn Evening Sale in which a new world record was achieved for the artist, Sotheby’s is pleased to present Richard Lin’s Painting February 1967 (Lot 1035) alongside works by Kandinsky featuring geometric elements, as well as those by Hsiao Chin and Ho Kan to offer a more balanced and comprehensive representation to such line of Chinese abstract artists.
World of white: Less is more
The work of Richard Lin can read as a philosophical artform which portrays diminished emotions as a result of rationality; as a manifestation against the act of fabrication. Absolute minimalism within geometric voids, as depicted in Painting February 1967, portrays a strong and condensed philosophical existence. The amalgamation of rectangular shapes and clean lines echo those of the Bagua, or the eight symbols of the Taoist cosmology featured in the ancient Chinese classic I Ching or Book of Changes to exemplify Lin’s ethereal and contemplative narrative. Early in his career, Lin was inspired by Mark Rothko’s use of colour in creating seemingly boundless abysses. Such expanses of colour utilised by the master of abstract expressionism was, for Lin, characteristic of oriental spirituality and Taoist cosmology, catalysing a reflection of Lin’s own cultural existence. As such, Lin gradually adopted an aesthetic more minimalistic in both colour and composition profound with Eastern spirituality and sensibility. In 1970, surrealist master Joan Miró visited Lin at his studio during a visit to the United Kingdom; standing before a work from Lin’s White Series, Miró declared: “In the world of white, no-one can exceed you”. Lin’s concept of “less is more” is not merely reflective of the essence of modernist architecture, but remains closely tied to the principles of traditional eastern aesthetic. This may well be what Miró identified to be unique in Lin’s works; distinctive and never before seen in the West nor apparent in the works of predecessors.
The white in Lin’s work is derived from Laozi’s philosophies which state: “the five colours dull one’s eyesight”. To Lin, white is a colour of multitudinous gradients and translucencies, and one that is capable of encapsulating wide-ranging connotations. Traditional Chinese literati ink painting is similarly monotone; with the colourless background and “colour” of ink being complementary of one another, and the “white” space that is left “empty” a vital and indispensable component of every piece. White is at once colourless and encompassing of limitless qualities. Painting February 1967 meticulously portrays an abstraction that is visually clean and aligned with the Western minimalist art movement. Yet, upon inspection, a varied use of paint and juxtaposition of the colour is revealed to simultaneously comprise density and lightness, profound and shallow, thick and thin, with each layer distinct and definitive, creating an absolute sense of Eastern rationality. To observe the painting may induce boundless realms of thought and for one to experience “a mesmerising, even eternal calm” (Lomen, Poet, Taiwan).
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