After studying landscape painting for more than two decades, Hong Ling is now in his element, capturing the spirit of traditional Chinese landscapes with oil painting techniques expertly. Colours, textures and layers, their proportions, balances and interplays constitute the soul of Hong's landscapes. In his early career, Hong experimented with outlines and splashed ink in search of the right palette; next, he obscured spatial relationships between colours, while probing the interplays between black and white, tangibility and intangibility, texture and brushstroke to develop his signature style. His recent works suggest a drop in visual contrasts but are however supplemented with stronger vocabulary for greater presence.
A departure from that ethereality he's achieved in his prime, Autumn Lake, created in 1991, reflected Hong's early attempt in transitioning to a new level of artistry. The oils were heavily applied, the drops, however, were painted with grace. The earth-toned curves and zigzags look mythical; the canary yellow on treetops and soft-hued rocks brim with life. Sweeps of white afar can be clouds, fog, or mist, mirroring the black pond in the foreground to suggest the quiet and mysterious strength of nature. Hong recalled, 'Landscapes from my early career were fraught with anguish. I preferred heaviness, autumn colours and earth'. This anguish, though paled in gravitas, is awe-inspiring instead.
Western culture is defined by humanism: men have spiritually blockaded nature for greater hegemony, yet the rule of nature does not work that way. Naturphilosophie, an outlook that blossomed in Germany in early 19th century and inspired by Immanuel Kant, saw men as part of nature, and nature as the sum of what is objective. Forests and nature suggest the unknown and the mythic in German traditions. Enshrouded in dense mist, they remind onlookers of life's frailty. Isle of the Dead by Arnold B?cklin is evocative of Landscape: both artists build a sense of mystique with imposing skies and forests. The horizons in the foreground, while distancing themselves from awe-inspired viewers, add to the presence of the mountains.
The West and the East, in making use of objective scenery, have their own interpretations of subjective feelings. The East prefers meditative strength, the West favors the visible; and landscapes offer a middle ground: they draw us in, and they humble us.