The New Realm of Cai Xiaosong's Ink Painting

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Cai Xiaosong's ink painting work in contemporary circles has attracted much attention. From his focus on the subject of stones to large painting installations, he consistently produces a subtle contemporary language that emerges from the ink painting tradition. As his painting style evolves from the depiction of concrete rocks to abstract landscapes—from focusing on small patterns to big visions of the change—it also signals a transition of the microcosm to macrocosm that metaphorically parallels the longstanding tradition of scholar stone appreciation. From the Stone to his recent Song–Perception series, these new works highlight a change in the artist's individual artistic logic and foster a deeper understanding of the sublime. Click ahead to explore the philosophies behind the works as in Cai Xiaosong's own words. ––Huang Du

Event: Artist in Conversation with Independent Critic Huang Du

5PM | 5 May | Sotheby's Hong Kong

Perception: Cai Xiaosong

5-19 May | Hong Kong

The New Realm of Cai Xiaosong's Ink Painting

  • Cloud Gate (diptych), 2016
    What you see in my painting is the essence or meaning of natural phenomena, and not the actual physical form of mountains, stones, and clouds. These forms are concrete, and what I paint is metaphysical. Master Qi Baishi famously said that “the finesse and subtlety of art lies somewhere in between likeness and unlikeness.” This phrase has inspired many painters creating in works in ink.



    ––Cai Xiaosong

  • Vast Ravines in the Distance, 2016
    In my art, I am drawn to exploring the facets of Qi’s unlikeness; However, unlikeness is not Abstraction.Paying homage to the masters is important, as well as developing one’s own voice. Artists are constantly challenged by the search of a personal language and artistic style. My constant questioning is a means to develop and further my search.




     ––Cai Xiaosong



     



     

  • The Magnificent Mount Lu, 2016
    My new works are the result of a double challenge. They question both tradition and abstraction, where they are neither abstract, nor realistic, but more importantly viewed somewhere in between likeness and unlikeness.





     ––Cai Xiaosong



     

  • Triumphant Lake Stone, 2010
    My Stone series is too concrete/realistic, which limits viewers’ interpretation and imagination to perceiving a taihu stone or lingbi rock as aesthetically attractive. I think that this perception of perfection is too narrow. 





     ––Cai Xiaosong



     

  • Cloud Genesis, 2016
    My new Song series is filled with greater meaning and room for various interpretations. I strive to imbue my works with this quality to give them a sense of vitality and coherence and to communicate my own ideas. In this new series there is a great sense of mystery that lies in the clouds, mist and open air, much in the way that nature herself behaves in mysterious ways. This quality of resonance is what I think distinguishes Chinese art from that of other cultures.




     ––Cai Xiaosong



     

  • Royal Garden Rock, 2007
    A second concept is that my new works maintain the characteristics of Chinese culture, yet there is a sense of innovation against the backdrop of the 800 year old painting tradition. My painting brushwork derives from the traditional fine-line gongbi technique though I use it in an unconventional way to paint abstract subjects. Each stroke is meticulously applied layer by layer in a painstaking process to gradually reveal the final image.





     ––Cai Xiaosong



     

  • Moments Before Torrential Downpour, 2015
    The darkest areas of my paintings is not the result of applying a thick ink, rather by painting many layers of a light ink, waiting for each to dry before adding the next layer.  This process is like trying to achieve Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, where her smile was painted forty times before it was just right. The individual brushstrokes in my work are not apparent on the surface, not for the purpose of revealing the image but to expose an organic process of ink transforming itself on paper. 





     ––Cai Xiaosong



     

  • Courtyard Stone, 2010
    With time, patience, perfection, I believe there is greater meaning in attempting to remove the brushwork from the ink painted surface so one can see the painting for what it is, which is more powerful and full of vitality.



    ––Cai Xiaosong



     

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