HIGHLY CREATIVE AND EXPERIMENTAL CHINESE MODERN ART
In 1968, progress in science allowed Earth’s veil of mystery to be finally rent open as many craft sent back their photos from space. Liu Kuo-Sung promptly completed the first Which is Earth? work at the start of the following year, and this piece was sent to the US to participate in the American international exhibition “Mainstream ‘69”, where it won first prize for painting and thus distinguished him as a “space artist”. The Which is Earth? series evolved from a simple composition featuring a circle and an arc (Fig. 1), to one with a maximum of eleven round celestial bodies strung out in juxtaposition. In terms of colour use, early works favoured pastels, whereas later ones appear brighter, thicker and heavier through the use of liberal amounts of acrylic paint.
Which is Earth? (Lot 54) on auction here was created in 1969, and belongs among the very early works. The bright moss green background quickens to life a sense of all creation within the painting and imparts an atmosphere of organic vibrancy. The lower part presents a semi-circular close-up, and this is indeed the Earth upon which humanity has for so long lived and procreated, and where indigo applied in cursive brushwork composes breathtaking blue valleys. The three moons floating above appear as both attracting and repelling forces, and thereby generate a dramatic tension. The work’s compositional characteristics resemble the logic of works by Kazimir Malevich - the founder of Suprematism - a Russian artist whose geometric elements are free and unconstrained, and who creates distance, overlap and fusion effects between his geometric figures that impart dynamism to a flat composition (Fig. 2). The composition of Which is Earth? likewise embodies this minimalist aesthetic, and attests to the thinking of both Chinese and Western artists as to how to break through this two-dimensional form of expression.
Since ancient times, bounteous human imaginings of the moon have left a great legacy of piquant legends and poems. Viewed from the vantage of Earth’s position, the stationary Moon sometimes appears large, sometimes small, or it follows us walking with its visual illusion. Although science can explain all of the above phenomena, and further informs us that the rising in the east of sun, moon and stars and their setting in the west is closely linked to the Earth’s rotation, yet this nevertheless affords artists an unlimited space for their imaginations.
The moon’s changing position is a common theme in Liu Kuo-Sung’s Space Series, and includes the moon rising, moons stationed side-by-side, or in overlapping images (Fig. 3). The differing size of the three moons in Which is Earth? constructs a sense of distance, and their arrangement within the layout conveys a sense of doubt as to the reality or illusion of their movement. It is evident that Liu Kuo-Sung seeks to start from a special perspective to encompass in his imagination and express these scenes that so engross him.
He offers a full interpretation of their respective subtle levels of ink colouring, with “convulsed, peeling cracks” leaving seemly blanks, and shiny circuitous lines clearly conveying the irregularities in the lunar surface. Liu Kuo-Sung thereafter continued to focus on research into the possibilities of ink, more successfully creating his swirl-paintings to develop the series, as well as works in his ink stain series (Figs. 4, 5), which he describes as being a “controlled chance” effect.
VIEWING PROFOUND WONDERS OF THE UNIVERSE AS THE ANCIENTS GAZED AT ENDLESS RANGES OF PEAKS
In 1960, Liu Kuo-Sung came away deeply moved after going to the preview of an exhibition of traditional Chinese paintings at the Imperial Palace Museum, an event which became a turning point in his personal development. He declared: “As I stood before the original painting of Fan Kuan’s Travelers among Mountains and Streams, I felt that mountain as a force pressing down, a great force rushing to bear down on you. Perhaps this feeling was a kind of resonance, a spiritual concordance between creator and viewer, the way in which it moved me, it seemed to me that I had really understood that painting.” Liu Kuo-Sung accordingly resolved to eschew the Western canvas and oils with which he was already so familiar, and he once again took up Chinese paper and ink, constantly trying out new tools and techniques in a novel approach to distilling the essence of tradition. In his Space Series of works, Liu Kuo-Sung created a new artistic conception and interpretation of his forebears’ traditional landscapes. The ruggedness of massive mountains and towering crests depicted by his forerunners’ brushes, and the smallness of people compared to the grandeur of nature truly engenders a sense of shock and awe. Liu Kuo-Sung’s celestial scenes see the world from the perspective of space. This idyll enraptures viewers while endowing endless enjoyment.
1 Wei Tientsung,In dialogue with Liu Kuo-sung, Selected Writings on the Art of Liu Kuosung, National History Museum, 1996.