LIU KANG (1911-2005)
LIU KANG (1911-2005)
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LIU KANG (1911-2005)

To The Temple

LIU KANG (1911-2005)
To The Temple
signed and dated 'LIU KANG 1975' (lower right)
oil on canvas
132 x 99.5 cm. (52 x 39 1⁄8 in.)
Painted in 1975
Private Collection, Asia
Art Today, exh. cat., Singapore, Victoria Memorial Hall, 1977 (illustrated, p. 10)
Soka Cultural Centre, Liu Kang at 88, exh. cat., Singapore, 1998-1999 (illustrated, p. 42)
Singapore, Victoria Memorial Hall, Art Today, 1 - 4 December 1977.
Singapore, Ministry of Culture and National Museum Art Gallery, Liu Kang Retrospective, 6 - 15 December 1981.
Singapore, Soka Cultural Centre, Liu Kang at 88, 12 December 1998 - 31 January 1999.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

“Later when I came to live in Southeast Asia, having felt the equatorial sunshine, appreciated the tropical flora, listened to the strains of Rasa Sayang and watched the gracefulness of the Legong dance, my wrist moved with spirit when I painted scenes of Malay kampungs and Balinese temple ceremonies.” - Liu Kang, in Liu Kang at 87

This season, Christie’s is proud to present to the market for the first time, a rare painting by renowned Southeast Asian artist Liu Kang. Executed in 1975, works of this period are highly sought after as they are generally considered to be the height of his artistic development and the culmination of various decades of stylistic experimentation, with many similar examples being held in institutions or private collections. Powerfully executed in the artist’s iconic bold black calligraphic outlines, and interspersed with flat planes of colours, To the Temple is one of the largest and most important works by Liu to be offered at auction to date.

Having trained at both Xin Hua Art Academy in Shanghai and Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris before coming to Southeast Asia in 1937 to escape the Japanese invasion of China during World War II, Liu was already as much influenced by his teacher Liu Haisu, as the great modernist French painters. As professor Kwok Kian Chow describes,“[w]orks from Liu’s Paris period show the influence of Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin in aspects of the Post-impressionist pictorial interests – expressiveness of brush strokes, imposing presence of forms, and flattening and merging of planes to construct colour blocks… [Other works] manifest [a] Fauvist sensitivity toward colour, form and design although the basic approach appears to be narrative… [His works] also show a thickening of outlines in defining object and spaces – suggesting an affiliation with the linear brush quality of Chinese ink painting.” (Channels & Confluences: A History of Singaporean Art, p. 52) However, Liu maintains a strong sense of introspection that has allowed him to avoid the pitfalls of mere imitation, assimilating the strengths of both artistic styles in his own unique visual vernacular to produce works imbued with a sense of vitality and freshness.

This is most emphatically demonstrated in the intimate and atmospheric way whereby Liu’s captures the ephemeral spirit of the tropical ambience in To the Temple. The heroic composition of soaring mountains, lush flora and brilliant blue skies that characterise the Balinese landscape, are articulated in robust and uninhibited line work that come from his classical training in Chinese painting and calligraphy, while angular planes juxtapose and intersect with each other in a patchwork of colours, much like the two-dimensional aspect of the picture plane observed in the style of works produced by Paul Gauguin during his time in Tahiti. In the way Gauguin plays with contrasting and complementary colours in Nafea Faa Ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?) to draw the eye to the central female figures, we see similar stylistic devices employed in To the Temple: Liu reserves exuberant tones such as vermillion and ochre exclusively for the fabrics and the offerings adorned by the figures. Yet, unlike Gauguin, Liu approaches his female protagonists with a deep respect and understanding of their central role in domestic life, and not merely to create a romanticised fantasy of a culture observed.

To the Temple depicts two Balinese women, dressed in richly-coloured swathes of fabric, balancing spectacular towers of colourful offerings known as gebogan or banteng tegeh, stopping to exchange a brief greeting in their way to to the temple to have their offerings blessed and presented to deities. One of the women has a child in tow, adorned with a gelungan which is an eleborate ceremonial headdress. Here, the figures play a central role, which shows a departure from his earlier style wherein figures are kept small and indistinct so as not to distract visual attention from the overall panorama, such as in works like View of Arab Street. From the detail Liu extends to the traditional elements that surround the figures, there is a deep attention paid to the material culture, demonstrating his openness to the cultural sources he encountered in his travels. An avid traveller throughout his lifetime, Liu captured on his canvases, numerous enchanting scenes of local lifestyle and sceneries. These experiences not only shaped his artistic style, but provide his works with a sense of depth and richness. Indeed, the landmark trip to Bali that undertaken by Liu and three other pioneer Nanyang artists to Bali in 1952 took his artistic vision to new heights; the combination of luxurious vegetation, resplendent colours and gentle nature of the Balinese people opened a new outlook of the tropics.

A singular masterpiece, To the Temple affirms Liu as a major proponent of the Nanyang Style, cementing his place as one of the foremost artists of his generation, not only through his ability to masterfully combine the formalist elements of colour, form and expression, but through his sensitivity and respect towards the traditions and people of the Southeast Asian region.

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