(Chinese, B. 1952)
Untitled; & Untitled
signed 'Ma Desheng' in Pinyin; titled in Chinese; dated '1981'; numbered (bottom of both work respectively)
two woodblock prints
25 x 17.5 cm. (9 7/8 x 6 7/8 in.); & 25 x 17.5 cm. (9 7/8 x 6 7/8 in.) (2)
edition I/J; & B/J
Executed in 1981 (2)
Hong Kong, China, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery, ARTHK12, 17-20 May 2012.

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Lot Essay

The name Ma Desheng is inseparably linked to "Stars Exhibition," which is a revolutionary art movement indispensible to Chinese art's road of modernization. In 1979, although China has already shaken off the disturbance of Cultural Revolution, no immediate reform was seen in the system of the art circle, and the freedom of art creation was still very much governed by state authority according to its taste and stance. It was a time when everything was waiting to be taken up, as well as a golden opportunity for reform and advancement. Therefore, together with 23 other young artists such as Wang Keping and Huang Rui, Ma Desheng initiated the "Stars Exhibition," advocating freedom of art creation and innovation in expression. The Exhibition was held at the park railings outside China Art Gallery in September 1979, and has triggered the massive modern art movement in China. The five works presented here in the Day Sale demonstrate Ma's diverse forms of creation as well as his unique spirit of Eastern aesthetic.

In 1931 renowned writer Lu Xun began the New Woodcuts Movement. It was not until the period of Mao Cult that woodcuts art was reduced to a worthless tool for political propaganda (Fig. 1). Ma Desheng's engravings subvert the narrative and dramatic traits of social revolution, and turn to pure artistic language which emphasizes the expression of personal emotions. Untitled; and Cityscape (Lot 649), for example, are carefully structured, the pattern-like repetitive houses and mountains have an exaggerated shape, as they are sharply outlined to create a striking contrast; as the painting's tension and rhythm stimulate the audience's emotion, its form takes over the promotional mindset and goes utterly against the usual political content of praise and disguise. Untitled; and Untitled (Lot 650) focus on constructing an atmosphere of pronounced loneliness with black colour plates; Ma made use of the window which let in the light as a metaphor to suggest the artist's crave for freedom of thought.

The oil painting Untitled (Lot 527) shows Ma Desheng's early stage of formal innovation, during which he turned to the language of Western modern art for inspiration. It features a two dimensional city landscape painted with ambiguous perspective, creating a desolate and mysterious atmosphere, which reminds it audience of the style of Giorgio de Chirico (Fig. 2), pioneer of Pittura Metafisica. It is worth noting that the artist employed a low profile grayish blue tone, rather than taking advantage of the Western painting's strength in chromatic usage; by constructing a reasonable degree of contrast within the cool colour tone, it is conceptually closer to the Chinese literati's pursuit for simplicity and elegance, and at the same time hints the artist's lonely and self-pity feelings on his road of creation. Ma Desheng began working on water and ink painting in 1982, and created a series of painting with female body as subject. Standing Nude (Lot 529) portrays a bold and highly abstract human figure-a pair of chubby arms, prominent sexual characteristics and unrealistically thick thighs, which bring an immense shock to the eyes like Yves Klein's Anthropometries (Fig. 3) did. The artist used a small ink spot to represent the figure's head, so as to highlight the importance of the body part as the primitive sense organ of human beings; as the buxom and fair female body is associated with the natural power of fertility, it echoes with the artist's aspiration for liberation and resurrection. Patches of ink take the place of lines to delineate the shape of the figure, within the black-and-white contrast, there is a delicate variation of ink from dry to wet, thick to thin, which manifests the aesthetic concept of "multicoloured ink" in Chinese literati painting, thus allows the artist to demonstrate his sophisticated application of traditional ink painting skills on modern art. Stone is regarded as a miniature of natural landscape in Chinese literati tradition, the Chinese believes that collecting and keeping stones is beneficial to one's temperament, therefore exploring the beauty of stones is also a process of character cultivation. From Ma's painting of stone, we can see that he inherited the unique Chinese aesthetic genes, and expressed Eastern stone aesthetics with modern artistic language. Repose (Lot 528) features four pieces of seemingly lost-balance pebbles, which lean against each other to maintain balance, as if they were four living individuals who stand firm on the ground regardless of the difficulties and challenge they are facing. The pebbles are similar in shape to the work of Western sculptor Jean Arp (Fig. 4), which is perfectly smooth on the outside, but on the inside, its brushstroke is storming with the Expressionist's force of explosion. The contradiction between the outside and inside, when set against the calm and peaceful background, represents the turmoil people has overcome during the age of Revolution, as well as the indomitable attitude towards life. Ma's painting contains the soul of stone, as he compares a man to stone, and illustrates his aspiration for it.

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