A Walk in the Clouds
As a rich old art form with over a thousand years of history, Chinese ink painting has always been concerned with carrying its own “tradition” and preserving its complete traditional ecology. However, from another point of view, this is also a negative restraint. Under the heavy influence of modern Western art, many Chinese painters have begun to be dissatisfied with the stagnation of strictly following tradition and instead are experimenting in various ways. Especially in the last two decades, Chinese ink painting has seen a promising wave of change and innovation, hinting at a successful future with more to come.
With this new prosperity comes new questions about maintaining balance between traditional brush and ink and contemporary types of artistic exploration, especially considering how many so-called new Chinese paintings now only have tenuous connections to their original heritage. This recent ambiguity begs the question: How much tradition does an ink painting require to still be called "Chinese"?
Liu Chunbing’s “A Walk in the Clouds” exhibition from Hubei, China, brings his perspective on these issues to New York. The modernization of pen and ink language is a consistent theme explored in Liu’s work. He employs traditional ink skills and stroke applications, maintaining the elegance of Chinese painting while simultaneously breaking from traditional Chinese patterns through the composition and subjects of his pieces. Blending traditional methods and the multi-dimensional narrative approach of Western modern art, traces of surrealist influence can be felt within Liu’s art. There are also unique features in Liu’s use of color: in between the conventionally harmonious blacks and whites of ink and paper emerge sudden glimpses of bold color. In particular, his paintings of figures transport current-day social snapshots into historical settings with a time travel-esque flair, culminating in a surreal visual feast.
Liu Chunbing's works have achieved an excellent balance between “tradition” and “breakthrough,” telling a story spanning time, space, and culture in a painting language familiar to audiences both Western and Eastern. His works undoubtedly provide an excellent model for other artists who are exploring Chinese ink today; through these works, he establishes his own powerful interpretation of how Chinese painting should continue to move forward.