RICHARD LIN (UK, 1933-2011)
This Lot has been sourced from overseas. When au… Read more
RICHARD LIN (UK, 1933-2011)


RICHARD LIN (UK, 1933-2011)
oil on canvas
63.5 x 63.5 cm. (25 x 25 in.)
Executed in 1971
Marlborough Gallery, London, UK
Acquired from the above by the previous owner
Private Collection, Europe
Special notice

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Lot Essay

"What is in front of us, painting cannot illustrate words, and words cannot illustrate meaning; what’s there is all that there is, all of it without difference, and one is all." - Richard Lin

As an early master of postwar 20th-century Chinese abstract art, Richard Lin's work draws inspiration from the schools of geometric abstraction and minimalism while also attending to tactile expression and spatial feeling in painting. By painting in relief, he combines sculptural concepts with the language of painting, opening up multiple dimensions and tactile spaces in his canvases. As an artist working in Europe, his work was in dialogue with contemporary movements while also incorporating Eastern aesthetic theory.

Lin's artistic career began in London. In 1954, the 21-year-old Lin was studying architecture at London's Regent Street Polytechnic by day and learning to paint at night. After graduation, he focused entirely on building a career as a painter and artist, and his work draws upon elements of architectural design and modern art while also incorporating aspects of Eastern philosophy. In Five and Five, the composition consists of five white stripes, with a thin yellow line adjacent to the lowest stroke. At first glance, the work seems entirely Minimalist in style, comparable to pieces by Frank Stella and Donald Judd. But while Lin was a contemporary of this important American school, Lin’s work more deeply interrogates Eastern philosophy, drawing upon Taoist and Buddhist concepts. The title Five and Five suggests that the number five refers not only to the five lighter stripes, but also to the negative spaces that are formed by their arrangement. Lin's work thus expresses a concept from Eastern philosophy in which form and emptiness each generate the other, like yin and yang. The touch of yellow brings the otherwise entirely white composition to life, injecting extra vitality to the piece and adding a further layer of pictorial space.

In 1969, Lin resigned as a lecturer and moved to Wales to focus on making art, living a detached and self-sufficient life in the style of a Taoist recluse. Ynyslas, which dates from this period, is one of the few Richard Lin paintings to be named after a place. The village of Ynyslas is located on the west coast of Wales (Fig. 1), and is famous for its sand dunes that join the land to the sea, shifting with the winds to produce ever-changing landscapes. In Lin's Ynyslas, the composition is dominated by warm hues, a background tinged with sandy apricot overlaid with white stripes of varying density and thickness. The work evokes sensations of balance and restfulness, like the aura conjured by the sound of ocean waves breaking on white sand and stones.

Lin’s precision when executing his work allows him to express spatial effects that evoke the perspectival tools of landscape painting. But unlike landscapes painted from life, Lin transforms his observations into abstract forms while imbuing them with tactile qualities. Each white stripe has been painted over many times; after applying each layer, Lin patiently waited for the pigments to dry before applying another. After countless repetitions, the result is a work with pigment layers of different thicknesses, like a sculpture in shallow relief.

In addition to linear perspective, colors play an important role in conveying depth. In Ynyslas and Five and Five, the color yellow has the highest color saturation and appears closest to the viewer, while the blocks of white with the highest brightness and purity seem only slightly more distant, causing other tones of white to recede into the background. Thus Lin opens up distances and layers, and due to the different thicknesses of the white pigments on the canvas, his spatial layering is no longer entirely an artificially constructed illusion, but something real and physically felt, reminding viewers of the objective fact of the existence of the canvas.

Richard Lin once said: 'White is the most mundane of colors, and the greatest of all colors; it is the most colorless and the most colorful; it is the most noble color and the most common color; it is the most tranquil color, and the saddest color too.' He believes that 'white in and of itself is many colors; it can be thicker, thinner, heavier, lighter, transparent, semi-transparent....which means that with white and white, you can construct many strange and wonderful relationships of shapes and shapes, or spaces and spaces.' The human eye can distinguish hundreds of times more hues than the colors for which we have names; Richard Lin captures these subtle shifts in color incisively and accurately presents them on his canvases.

American artist Robert Ryman, similarly known for his white paintings, spent decades in a persistent exploration of diverse kinds of white (Fig. 3). While Ryman's work distils colour to an absolute minimum, removing all narrative elements, then Richard Lin's work exemplifies the concepts of the Book of Change: 'All things under heaven sprang from the existence of the Tao; the Tao sprang from nothingness.' Lin highlights colour by eliminating it, and adds complexity by simplifying forms. The white geometric abstractions condensed on Lin's canvases seem to compress all inner emotions to their limit; the pure, calm, and unstained whites of his canvases already embrace all the hues there are and all the things of the universe.

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