Chinese ink painting has a long and illustrious history stretching back some 3000 years. Closely related to calligraphy it is an unforgiving discipline. Painting on paper or silk once a brush stroke has been applied it is there for all time, it cannot be erased or painted over. The beauty and the rhythm of the painting come from the brush strokes as they depict the subject’s qualities, both external and internal and identify the quality of an artist’s individual style. Without a strict adherence to reality a compositional and conceptional freedom is afforded the artist that allows expressions beyond themselves.
Artist, theoretician and educator, Pan Gongkai is considered to be one of China’s modern masters of the ancient medium's beautifully refined simplicity. Following tradition Gongkai completes each of his paintings in one session. For his 50 foot (15.2 meter) long Withered Lotus Cast in Iron, currently on show at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum, it is a virtuoso performance by the artist alone in his studio with its result being presented to an audience only upon completion.
As the Seattle Times arts writer, Michael Upchurch reported “Though we see no person appear directly in his painting,” his (Gongkai’s) translator said, “all the expression is about how a person feels.” The ultimate goal is for the artist to “melt” into what he’s painting: “to have an integration of subject and object.”
The integrity of Chinese ink painting is a subject close to Gongkai’s heart. His large-scale video installation, Melt, which was featured in the Chinese pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, explores the influence western art is having on his beloved art form. Images of withered Lotuses, taking from his paintings, are covered by snow, words from the text of his book “On the Boundary of Western Modern Art.” As the title suggests, whilst the snow may cover the flowers once melted it can nourish them as well.
This dialogue between East and West, the traditional and the contemporary informs Gongkai’s current practice. It’s the production of work that reflects the ideal values of a community rather than just a physical object of value that interests him.
Gongkai’s Exhibition at the Frye Art Museum is on show until 18th of January.