Winter of Longing: Wang Tiande

16 November 2019 - 10 January 2020

Ink Studio is proud to present Winter of Longing, a solo exhibition of Wang Tiande’s latest and most ambitious works in his signature series of burned landscapes. Co-curated by Britta Erickson, PhD, and Alan Yeung, this exhibition uncovers sedimentary layers of culture across time in an installation designed to foster quiet contemplation.

 

The exhibition’s Chinese title, Qianxing, is translatable as “discharging feelings.” It originates in a poem by the great poet Du Fu (712-770) expressing longing for his son while in distant captivity. In the centuries afterwards, the theme inspired poetic responses by Chinese scholars and intellectuals yearning for home and a sympathetic audience in a broader sense. Among them was the prominent seal carver Huang Shiling (1849-1908), who was forced by circumstance into an itinerant life and carved the phrase into a seal now in Wang Tiande’s collection. 

 

Wang Tiande (b. 1960) graduated from the Zhejiang Fine Arts Academy (now China Academy of Fine Arts) in 1988 with a degree in Chinese ink painting. His years there coincided with the height of the revolutionary artistic movement now known as the New Wave. Wang’s first work to gain widespread acclaim was Ink Banquet (1996), a ground-breaking installation composed of a round dinner table covered with ink painted paper. A second milestone in Wang’s career was his Chinese Clothes series (1996), comprising xuan paper on which an abstracted Chinese robe shape has been inked in a way resembling ink rubbings from ancient steles. Ink Banquet and Chinese Clothes make plain the artist’s belief that if one wishes to create something new, one must ground that in a deep knowledge of tradition.

 

Since 2002, Wang Tiande has continually refined his unique technique of alternately painting, burning, and layering traditional xuan paper into complex classical landscape compositions. Atop a painted landscape, he layers a second sheet into which another composition has been burned with an incense stick. The two layers are then mounted together, resulting in an image that is unmistakably a Chinese landscape and yet is subtly unfamiliar or even illegible in its details. Wang’s burned landscapes hint at the irreversible rifts between historical and contemporary Chinese culture. They also suggest that destructive contemporary forces may bring about creative change.

 

The works Winter of Longing reach far back in time by incorporating rubbings of monumental Han- and Tang-dynasty steles as art-historical ready-mades. Retaining the weathering and imperfections of steles that are themselves reproductions of brushed originals, the rubbings reemphasize the burned landscapes’ themes of duplication and erasure. The exhibition’s exclusive focus on winter scenes is also a return to origins. Stripped of color, texture, and movement, snowscapes are nature at its closest to ink monochrome. One of the first painted snowscapes recorded in Chinese art history is by the poet-painter Wang Wei (699-759), subsequently canonized as the founder of the literati painting tradition.

 

Wang Tiande reveals the layers of cultural sediment that comprise Chinese history, each layer observing and then building upon the last. He makes the case that the historical giants of calligraphy are not only relevant to the present but can be inspirations for creating fresh works of art. His burned landscapes subsume subversive contemporary artistic concepts like the readymade, the simulacrum, and the pastiche into the familiar forms and operations of Chinese connoisseurship and artmaking. More than definitive statements about the past, they are open-ended invitations to engage with it and discover new connections on one’s own.