Meticulously rendered with a heightened sense of hyperrealism, Small Ying Stone is a monumental portrait of a scholar’s rock with jagged range of peaks and valleys, riddled with holes and depressions resembling mountain ridges. Creating a multi-layered and interwoven narrative, Liu Dan’s extraordinarily fine calligraphy balances the composition. For the artist scholar’s rocks are objects of mystery and uncertainty, the organic features of which provide sources of imagination for the artist to journey through the world from a microscopic viewpoint. With an ultimate fascination in the structural properties of things, Liu Dan actively removes his subjects from their original context and by decontextualising the subject matter, he abandons the narrative and elevates his paintings to a pure visual experience.
Small Ying Stone demonstrates Liu Dan’s mastery in the ink and brush genre: his delicate and meticulous outline of the strange rock, and the intricate layering of ink reflecting light and darkness, both resonate with drawings by European Renaissance artists and old masters. A close-up view of the stone with its ridges and textures echoes the grand landscape paintings where one can wander from within. Here, Liu Dan uses his mastery of tradition to free his work from the constraints associated with Chinese ink paintings. He does this while remaining true to the legacy, resulting in images that are spectacularly novel and contemporary.
Originally in the collection of C. C. Wang, the small ying stone depicted is currently in the Gong Ji Xuan collection – the personal collection of the artist. It was given to the artist by a collector friend from his New York days. Measuring only 10 cm in length and 4.5 cm in height, it fits into the palm of one’s hand and contrasts theatrically with the colossal dimensions of the painting, a distortion of scale also seen in the artist’s iconic Small Dictionary. By the extreme magnification of the stone, Liu Dan removes it from its original context, making it at once familiar and strange. The artist’s firm belief in a pure visual experience allows viewers to pay attention only to what appears in front of their eyes, offering open-ended interpretations and possibilities and inviting the viewer to journey through history and time.