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Stripes 1968-70

Lin, R.
Stripes 1968-70
signed and dated 'RICHARD LIN 1968' (on the reverse), inscribed and dated again 'STRIPES 1970' (on the backboard)
oil on canvas
22 x 18 in. (55.9 x 45.7 cm.)
Painted in 1968-70.
The artist, and by descent.
Their sale; Christie's, London, 19 June 2018, lot 6, where purchased by the present owner.

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Pippa Jacomb
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Lot Essay

“White is the most ordinary of colours, it is also the most extraordinary; it is the absence of colour, it is also the sum of colours; it is the most majestic of colours, it is also the most common; it is the colour of tranquillity, it is also the colour of grief.” – Richard Lin

Stripes 1968-70 perfectly encapsulates Richard Lin’s fine control over the colour white as well as his masterly study of space, exemplifying Lin’s philosophy and artistry. In the mid-1960s, as Richard Lin’s creative career matured, the colour white unequivocally became the primary subject of his paintings. With extremely detailed and delicate techniques, the artist punctiliously separated and layered the colour, exploring the single colour’s infinite possibilities within the limited two-dimensional space, and turning it into a vessel for the spiritual essence of the East and the West. Stripes 1968-70 is comprised of an intricate network of white stripes and lines in varying widths, with precisely applied impasto constructing depth and implying three dimensionality atop the two-dimensional canvas.

In the 1950s, Lin studied architecture during his travels in the United Kingdom, and his works thereafter were deeply influenced by values from Western Modernist architecture: the attention to form, ratio, and balance in space, the extrication of unnecessary brushstrokes and decorative lines, and a compositional style that is so structured it verges on the mathematical. All these elements echo the axiom of ‘less is more’ derived from modernist architecture, proposed in 1928 by the pioneering architect Mies van der Rohe. In Stripes 1968-70, milky-white rectangles neatly pack the canvas and reminds one of the efficient and streamlined structures of Modernist architecture.

The colour white is a classic feature that saw pervasive use throughout the 20th century in art history because it was thought to be filled with cultural significance – as a symbol for virtue and purity; it was also seen to be representative of infinity. In 1918, the Russian supremacist painter Malevich was the first to introduce the idea of ‘White on White’ to the canvas; on a warm-white-coloured square, he rendered a smaller tilted square that is coloured in a cooler tone of white. Using the connection and conflict between the two squares of white, Malevich defined white as a colour which breaks through the limits of the colour spectrum, and a symbol of infinity.

Lin’s colouring process is deeply inspired by Zen philosophy – each layer of whiteness is carefully arranged so that the work’s visage vary dynamically in width, thickness, corporeality, and opacity; and it is thanks to his incredibly patient and precise control that the painting can exist in such a state of organic and natural precision. The seemingly simple composition conceals an extremely complex creative process, exactly agreeing with Lin’s Taoist conception of ‘One is Everything’.

Across Lin’s oil paintings, the idea of ‘Less is More’ in Western modernism and 'One is Everything' in Eastern philosophy intersect, and on his canvas the colour white ascends beyond its singular definition and become a medium for the clash between the East and the West, the old and the new. As the Spanish artist Juan Miró noted after meeting Lin, ‘in the world of white, you are without equal’. Lin has left a distinctive mark on the fabric of modern art history with his language of white.

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