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(LIU GUO-SONG, Born in 1932)
Which is Earth No. 32
signed and dated 'Liu Kuo Sung; 1969' in Chinese (lower left)
ink and colour on paper
94 x 59 cm. (37 x 23 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1969

Beijing, China, Palace Museum, Universe in the Mind: 60 Years of Painting by Liu Kuo Sung, 26 April - 26 May 2007.

Lot Essay

Liu Kuo Sung's solid foundation in traditional Chinese painting field can be attributed to Pu Xin Yu and Chu Teh-Chun's great teachings during Liu's university days. It sowed the foundations and fostered his unhardened elegance in classical literati style. Chu Teh-Chun's adoption in academic training in Western painting enabled him to experience Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism and Surrealism and break into the abstract painting field. Dissatisfied by the conservatism of traditional Chinese painting, Liu established the "May Painting Club" in Taiwan in 1956. At the same time, Liu and his colleagues pursued new creative objectives and sought inspiration from Western abstraction; a genre that caught on heavily after World War II. Liu bravely applied his findings from the Western trends to his own works. This breakthrough was a seminal point in the transformation of contemporary Chinese artistic creation. Liu continuously applied his artistic energy to break through the limits of the contemporary arts and assiduously built new concepts upon it.

In 1961, Liu came across a statement by Architect Wang Da Hong, "Every type of material should appeal to its own characteristics and showcase it to the full, rather than being replaced by alternative materials." Although Wang saw this as a critique towards architecture, it brought new inspiration to Liu, who abandoned the use of the canvas, a material he had skillfully mastered, and moved toward depicting ink presentations of Chinese painting traditions. Although the form and composition still possessed pace tones of Western abstraction, the craft itself was nonetheless similar to the works of Lin Fengmian, Xu Beihong and Liu Haisu. On a technical level, Liu believed that lines and textures represented by calligraphy limited the effects of a work.
Brush pens should not be the only tool for representation, and thus Liu began his exploration on the use of various materials and techniques in his artistic creation, from rubbings to ripping, water immersion and other special effects. Liu never abandoned calligraphic rendering, but extended its form into a deeper aesthetic field, pursuing the rhythm and vigor of the pen, integrating the intention of the pen into the representation of water and ink paintings.

Liu's travels in 1967 to Europe and America had powerful influence over the transformations in his artistic beliefs and technicality. While Chinese cursive calligraphy inspired Liu to remove all figurative mannerisms and allowed him to precisely express his emotions onto paper, the landing of the first man on the moon in 1969 by American astronauts astounded Liu to the extent that he reviewed his whole notion of perception and visual impact. Liu shifted his themes from nature further afar to themes of the universe and beyond, creating the awe-inspiring "moon series". One example, is the featured Which is Earth No. 32 (Lot 634) whose vertical composition, where the round moon and other contours accurately intersect, echoes Western art's hard edge genre popular during this period. Liu further applies softness and beauty layer by layer, integrating pure geometric shape to represent ideas for the infinite space under the light halos. The works by Liu evoke strong emotions that seek to integrate aesthetics of Chinese calligraphy with Western conventions of structure; connecting the myths between universe, human beings and the earth and exhibiting the splendors of infinity in perfect symmetry.

Moon's Metamorphosis No. 25 (Lot 635) adopts a similar composition but is conceptually founded on the evolution in the nature and the commonly expressed artistic idiom "Hoping for eternity, so one may cherish each other's love from thousands of miles." The paper's texture precisely represents the uneven, rough surface of a full moon, from the position of human beings watching the universe, while the background extends to broader symbolic representation. Liu does not try to control nature within his craft, but believes in a perfect integration of man and nature that results in harmony. Such a philosophy derives from traditional Chinese thought, the classic "World Theory by Zhuangzi," where "The universe is born at the same time as me, world and me are one," a stark contrast to Western subjectivism. Although the audience can vaguely comprehend nature's depictions in his works, the images are not naturalistic but a harmonious horizon beyond our world, one which belongs to and is connected with the Chinese universe philosophy. Both Sides of the Mountain (Lot 636) executed in 1975 is a landscape with relatively light Chinese landscape painting style, that still possesses strong traditional tones in its depiction of mountains, stones, waterfalls and water flows. In terms of composition, Liu breaks away from distinct foreground, mid-ground and far-round perspectives in Chinese landscape painting, but chooses to depict flattened landscapes, which, in its nature, is closer to abstract paintings; the background blends into the wandering water which flows. Scenes as remote mountains and sky which extend infinitely better enhance the wispy and aesthetically pleasant spaces for imagination.

In the 1970s, Liu developed the water rubbing technique in an attempt to break through to new creations. The delicate use of he made of Chinese ink and the absorption of water onto paper as a way to represent floating images in a near-automated method used to create unpredictable works. The semi-automatic techniques and the non-estimated effects he created to draw lines with exquisite movement, suggests an immateriality and a floating perspective of the universe. The artist transformed from representing the specific objects to the more diversified exploration of nature itself, seen in as Untitled (Lot 637) and Untitled (Lot 638). At a glance, the audience thinks these works are the representations of traditional Chinese landscapes, but upon close examination, Liu's works are unfamiliar scenes. In the paintings, you cannot see evidence of the Chinese technique "axe crack", even thin strokes outlining water flow lines are replaced with an atmosphere filled with spectacular scenes of high mountains, valleys and silver waterfalls. In the form of abstract painting, by exploring the universe and Daoism, Liu expresses his sensations towards mountains and waters and represents the astonishing power of the nature through his magnificent works.

Viewing the paintings by Liu displays his dogged determination in capturing the true essence of each being, thus straying from realism and portraying them in an abstract manner. Chinese traditions and Western modernism is captured in a creative manner, complying with the nature of the art, strengthening the idea of "the so-called innovator, whose style must have no existence in Chinese and western history, whose representation belongs solely to himself, fully representing individual personality and philosophy." Liu believes that "the imitation of new things does not replace the imitation of old styles; in the same way, appropriating styles from the West does not obliterate Chinese styles and its traditional spirit." This quote demonstrates the idea that creations of modernity must keep with old experiences and classical Chinese styles; despite the use of new tools, techniques and genres, one should not forget or forgo the true spirit of Chinese classical painting.

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