Four Accomplishments in Ink: Liu Dan | Master of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat | Xu Lei | Zeng Xiaojun

13 - 29 March 2019

Four Accomplishments in Ink:

Liu Dan | Master of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat | Xu Lei | Zeng Xiaojun



INKstudio at J.J. Lally & Co.

41 East 57th Street

Suite 1400

New York 10022


March 13 - 29, 2019

Public Hours: Mon–Fri | 10am–5pm

Open House Weekend: March 16–17 | 11am–5pm




Beijing-based gallery INKstudio marks its debut in the official program of Asia Week New York with a selection “Four Accomplishments in Ink”—a gathering of four great ink artists who are themselves noted connoisseurs and collectors of art.


For the classic literati artists of the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing, art making—whether it be poetry, calligraphy or painting—was always a deep philosophical, historical and aesthetic engagement with the past. Liu Dan (b. 1953) was one of the first Chinese artists to emigrate to the United States in 1981 and is perhaps best known for his monumental landscape paintings in which land and water take the unexpected form of dynamic and chaotic flows or the shape of human figures. Liu Dan’s oeuvre also includes monumental scholar’s rocks painted in a neo-Song, hyper-realistic style. Liu Dan calls these rocks the “stem cells of the universe.” To him, they are a microcosm of the larger macrocosm that, when transformed into sculpture for aesthetic contemplation, provides a mirror of infinite possibility to the mind of the both artist and observer. From a distance, Liu Dan’s portrait Taihu Rock of the Liuyuan Garden, seems hyper-real—every convolution and hollow, every ridge and surface highlight—is convincingly rendered in graded shades of light and dark. Closer inspection, however, reveals a language of brush and ink that is almost completely abstract. Although connoisseurs of classical Chinese painting will be familiar with the aesthetics of bimo—a mode of depicting form using individually legible and expressive brush gestures—Liu Dan’s brushwork will be disturbingly unrecognizable, resembling nothing that has come before it. The artist himself describes the process as “painting something known with something that is unknown.”


Over the past forty years, the “Master of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat,” has acquired one of the most esteemed collections of Chinese antiquities. As one of the earliest dealers of contemporary Chinese ink art in London and Hong Kong, the artist developed deep personal relationships with some of the foremost literati painters of our time including Liu Guosong, Lui Shou-kwan, He Huaishuo, Fang Zhaoling, Chen Chi-kwan, Tseng Yu-ho, C.C. Wang and Liu Dan. From these masters, he learned the art of literati landscape painting but adds to this a Western education grounded in philosophy and history, the literary sensibilities of a gifted writer and poet, and a lifetime of experience handling, researching and authenticating Chinese works of art. Very early on, he fell in love with the handscroll commissioning major works in this distinctive format by his fellow artists and teachers. For “Four Accomplishments in Ink,” INKstudio has selected four handscrolls by “Master of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat,” two of scholar’s rocks and two landscapes all of which feature the Master’s own poetry and English-language calligraphy.


Xu Lei (b. 1963) is widely recognized in China as the foremost artist in the revival of gongbi, a form of high imperial painting dating back to the Tang and Song Dynasties that employed a fine brush-line to depict figurative subjects in a realistic manner. His exquisitely detailed portrayal of solitary, usually non-human subjects in interior settings evokes a sense of mystery and surrealism, paving a new path to a literary if somewhat melancholic modernity that integrates poetic imagery and realist technique—what art critic Jeffrey Hantover described as “the quiet resignation of the realist”. In his solo exhibitions at Marlborough Gallery in 2018, Xu Lei debuted a new series of works set not within the confines of our human interior spaces but out in the world in the natural landscape. These landscapes, however, are not natural landscapes, but cultural ones—specifically, a-historic collages of selected art historic masterworks. Working in the early twenty-first century, Xu Lei’s art historic sources extend beyond the Chinese cultural sphere. According to the artist, the origins of gongbi painting lie in the religious mural painting of the Tang Dynasty and is technically similar to European fresco paintings of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and Persian miniature painting which draws upon its own tradition of wall painting. Using such technical means, Xu Lei, in works such as Interacting Trees, brings the garden landscape of the Persian 15th century, the French 18th century and the Chinese Song-dynasty along with their associated metaphoric significations into an aesthetically unified artistic space. For sinologists, the particularly Chinese focus on history will be familiar. For Chinese art historians, the range of global cultural and historic references will be completely new.


As evidenced by his impeccable collection of late-Ming furniture, scholar’s objects and scholar’s rocks, Zeng Xiaojun (b. 1954) epitomizes the collector-artist ideal in China today. As an artist, Zeng Xiaojun has one simple rule: he only paints objects in his own collection or objects that he has seen in person. For him, painting an object is way of studying it, absorbing its aesthetic qualities and elevating his own artistic sensibilities and sensitivities in the process. Poetic Pattern of Song Ware II, for example, is a depiction of jiaotai, a type of porcelain ware made by mixing clays of various colors into spontaneously swirled patterns. Blown up almost two-meters square, Zeng renders the abstract patterns of the Song ware in a way that mimics the detailed, up-close examination of the connoisseur. His use of natural, traditional pigments is masterful and subtle; indeed, his extreme sensitivity to color is perhaps the hallmark of his art. By reproducing this centuries-old masterpiece with his transformative execution, Zeng engages in a dialogue with Song-era Chinese intellectuals whose pursuit of spiritual and moral cultivation led to this unique aesthetic union of manmade form with natural beauty. This dialogue is also reflected in Zeng’s role as an one of today’s most accomplished collectors and connoisseurs of Chinese antiquities—an abiding passion that has provided Zeng with an endless array of objects for contemplation and transformation through painting.


INKstudio is an art gallery based in Beijing. Its mission is to present Chinese experimental ink as a distinctive contribution to contemporary transnational art-making in a closely-curated exhibition program supported by in-depth critical analysis, scholarly exchange, bilingual publishing, and multimedia production. Representing more than 13 artists, including Bingyi, Dai Guangyu, He Yunchang, Li Jin, Li Huasheng, Wang Dongling, Wei Ligang, Yang Jiechang, and Zheng Chongbin, the gallery exhibits works of diverse media, including painting, calligraphy, sculpture, installation, performance, photography, and video. Since its inception in 2012, INKstudio has regularly appeared at art fairs such as the Armory Show (New York), Art Basel Hong Kong, and West Bund Art & Design (Shanghai) and placed works into major public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, and M+, Hong Kong.


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