Presenting key paintings from the past decade and a half, Tu Hongtao is the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition will survey the development of Tu's practice from his sardonic early cityscapes to his recent synthesis of Chinese and Western painting traditions.
Spanning the entirety of Lévy Gorvy’s Hong Kong gallery on the ground floor of St. George’s Building in Central, the exhibition includes select paintings loaned by museums as well as by important private collections from mainland China and Hong Kong. From his earlier urban landscapes that vent contemporary feelings of desire, tension, and confrontation, to the expressive abstractions he is painting today, Tu’s intricate works offer reinterpretations of the abstract landscape of time and space. He has described the relationship between the act of painting and himself as "finding philosophical insights from traditional poetry."
As an exemplary painting from his early days, Chengdu, Tokyo or Shenzhen (2006), composed with light yet generous strokes, depicts the peculiar “society of spectacle” resulting from rapid urbanization. Staged in a theatrical composition, the three cities that have deeply influenced the artist are assimilated and merged with an uncanny sense of resemblance, while the foreground features important motifs in Tu’s early works—a dolllike girl and paper piles. Tu would soon transition from his earlier figurative urban style, while establishing the natural landscape as his primary subjects.
The Stroll Fairyland—E Mei (2007), also painted in this period, belongs to his Snow Forest series. These tranquil landscapes served as the artist’s “detox” from the real world, with objects and doll-like figures scattered within. As artist Chen Xianhui has said: "The fatigued souls gain a sense of nourishment and safety in the shelter of nature." If the aesthetic direction of his early Plant series still falls within the category of realistic landscape derived from figurative painting and Western visual language, In Dream and Somnus (2012) presents the Eastern tradition furthered by Tu—inspired by the abstract spirit of literati paintings. Tu’s adoption of calligraphic techniques allows him to ponder the inner relationships between representation and expression. Inspired by the landscape poems of Xie Lingyun (Northern and Southern dynasties), these paintings constitute a unique view of the Chinese landscape. By revisiting the same scenery, Tu rearranges our temporal expectations, capturing poetic qualities and allowing time to be traced back within his works.
A Horse of All Things (2014–18) was created over four years, and its title comes from Daoist philosopher Zhuang Tzu's aphorism that "everything passes like a galloping horse." The artist presents the concept of time in Chinese literature onto his canvas in a purely abstract expression. Spanning 5 meters, Goddess of Luo River (2016–18) is one of the most important largescale paintings by the artist in recent years. Kindly loaned by the Long Museum, it was the key piece in Tu's solo exhibition A Timely Journey, which traveled from the institution’s location in Shanghai to its Chongqing pavilion.
His latest painting, Wind through the Valley (2018–19) takes its place within the avant-garde tradition pioneered by China Academy of Art alumni Lin Fengmian, Wu Dayu, and by the second generation of Chinese abstractionists who worked in France, Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh-Chun. Tu’s inheritance of their East Asian spirit and abstract interests are reflected in this painting, together with these artists’ reconciliation of Eastern and Western aesthetics. As the curator Nina Nyima Lhamo has declared: "Tu Hongtao has chosen refined detachment and observation as an answer to the complexity of the world, hoping to preserve a traditional sense of beauty even alongside his primitive carnality and burgeoning energy." In addition to the oil paintings, several works on paper that outline Tu’s conceptual process will guide viewers into an understanding of his aesthetic. The exhibition will also feature a short film directed by Wang Yu. Incorporating a deconstructed visual language, the film is intended to initiate a dialogue between Tu’s creative process, personal background, and striking works of art.