9 September 2018
My Creative Concept and The Renaissance of Ink Painting by Liu Kuo-Sung
“A studio and a classroom are a laboratory, not a factory for duplicating traditional paintings.” – Liu Kuo-Sung
“My Creative Concept and the Renaissance of Ink Painting”
Prof Liu Kuo-Sung, heralded as the “Father of Modern Ink Painting,” made a special visit to Malaysia on September 9, 2018 to deliver an art lecture entitled “My Creative Concept and the Renaissance of Ink Painting” at Soka Gakkai Malaysia (SGM). He shared with everyone his journey of creation spanning more than 70 years and his thoughts on promoting the “modernisation of Chinese painting”. This art lecture was organised by SGM with Sin Chew Daily as the media partner. The organiser also invited contemporary artist C.N. Liew to be the host.
Liu Kuo-Sung was born in Bengbu, Anhui Province in 1932. His ancestral home is in Qingzhou, Shandong Province and he settled in Taiwan in 1949. After graduating from the Fine Arts Department of National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) in 1956, together with fellow alumni of the Fine Arts Department of NTNU, he founded the Fifth Moon Group which launched the contemporary art movement in Taiwan. Five years later, he raised a new idea, advocating “the modernisation of Chinese painting,” and put forward the proposition that “imitating the new cannot replace imitating the old; copying from Western art cannot replace copying from Chinese art.” He used to serve as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), visiting professor at the University of Iowa and University of Wisconsin, Dean of the Graduate Institute of Plastic Arts at Tainan National University of the Arts, Honorary Professor at many major universities and colleges of Fine Arts in China, and is currently a chair professor at NTNU. Prof Liu has won many honours, including the most prestigious arts awards on both sides of the Straits – the Award for Arts in Taiwan (2008), The Award for Lifetime Achievement in China (2011) and the 36th Cultural Award in Taiwan (2017). He also received the honorary membership of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and was the first Chinese painter to be awarded a foreign honorary membership from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2016). Prof Liu has been recognised as “the father of modern Chinese ink painting” and “a pioneer in Chinese modern painting.”
From Total Westernisation to the Fusion of Chinese and Western, then Back to the Origin
At the beginning of the lecture, Prof Liu shared on the impetus that led to his shift from traditional Chinese painting to learning western painting. In the Fine Arts Department of NTNU, during his freshman year, his teacher in a lecture of Introduction to art said, “All art comes from life.” These words stimulated Prof Liu tremendously. He began to reflect and recall the Chinese painting he began to learn since the age of fourteen, many of which were copy-painting. He had been learning the paintings of the ancients, which had nothing to do with real life. In his sophomore year, Prof Liu began to explore watercolour and oil painting. In the process, from still life painting to character painting and then to landscape painting, he realised that Western painting comes from real life. At that time, Professor Liu made up his mind to go completely western and put aside traditional Chinese painting. However later, through exposures to different painting styles and mixed media, he combined oil painting with traditional Chinese painting to form a new fusion of Western oil painting and Chinese painting, thus creating his unique distinctive style.
At that time, Professor Liu was rejected by all art departments in Taiwan and was eventually relegated to a teaching position in the department of architecture, which left a big impact on him. Once, he attended a symposium on material science in the architecture department. The discussants pointed out that the original characteristics of whatever materials utilised should be brought into full play; and the authentic characteristics of one type of material should not be compromised by replacing it with another type. Besides this realisation, he also found that the works of many American abstract expressionists were influenced by Chinese calligraphy. During this period, printed matter also became popular. From the printed matter, Professor Liu found that the calligraphy of Zhang Xu and Huai Su from the Tang Dynasty and the paintings of Shi Ke and Yu Jian from the Song Dynasty had already manifested far advanced level of abstraction. This ingenious discovery initiated the Renaissance of Chinese ink painting.
In 1971, he became the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at CUHK. Professor Liu felt that he finally found a place to truly unleash his potential. He founded the world’s first modern ink painting course at CUHK. He advocated “experimental creation” and “experimental ink painting”, allowing learners to carry out experiments in class, and required them not to imitate others’ works. Professor Liu proposed that, “A studio is a laboratory, and not a factory for traditional painting.” He stressed that if the traditional techniques and materials were not able to convey the intended ideas, then the only way is to carry out experiments, to explore new techniques and materials to realise the ideas. At the same time, he advocated “First seek to be different, then strive for excellence.” Meaning, to paint in a style different from others, and then polish the skill well.
Prof Liu pointed out that the traditional art education was influenced by the pyramid pedagogy, assuming that the wider and broader the foundation, the higher the pyramid would be. During the lecture, he invited the audience to observe: which skyscraper has a foundation as big and wide as a pyramid? But every skyscraper is higher than the pyramid. He thinks that the pyramid pedagogy is generalist education, but art education is specialist education. It should seek to specialise, refine, create depth and not width. Finally, he emphasised that “art is like a skyscraper.” One should polish his skill of expression repeatedly, just like consolidating the foundation. The deeper and more solid the foundation, the higher the building that will be constructed on it.
The two-hour lecture was very enriching and resourceful, besides inspiring new ways of thought. The audience benefitted immensely from this lecture.