Light Water Dark Mountain: Yan Shanchun and Cao Xiaoyang
19 October 2018 - 4 January 2019
Hanart TZ Gallery
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Opening Reception

Friday, 19 October 2018, 6 to 8 pm

Exhibition Period

19 October – 1 December 2018 (Extended til 4 January 2019)

Hanart TZ Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of the duo exhibition Light Water Dark Mountain: Yan Shanchun and Cao Xiaoyang, taking place on 19 October 2018, from 6 to 8pm.

Of different generations, Yan Shanchun and Cao Xiaoyang both are graduates of the China Academy of Art, and both presently live in Hangzhou. The paintings of these two artists comprise the dynamic of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ in this exhibition: Yan Shanchun uses a mix of ink and brush, acrylic and other materials to create paintings which evoke the techniques of mural paintings, and express his emotional and spiritual connection to the landscape of West Lake, while Cao Xiaoyang uses charcoal as his brush, and his vividly sketched scenes of trees, mists, and mountains express his deep immersion in the landscape of Hangzhou.

Mr. Yan Shanchun cherishes the poetry of Tao Yuanming and holds dear its compelling peacefulness. In his paintings, the views of West Lake are indistinct, remote and abstract; they embody the quietude of the scene. For the spectator, Yan’s restrained use of ink-wash recalls impressions of an autumn lake, an evening mist, sky blue snow, or the first light of an autumn sun over the lake’s surface. The grand simplicity of Yan’s art corresponds to the artistic ideal of Gong Zizhen who declared that “the real beauty of a maid or a mountain can never be fully appreciated because of its mysterious serenity.” It is not easy to classify Yan’s art as either figurative or not figurative, but I cannot help thinking that his art has reached with ease a state of supreme serenity.

Excerpted from Forward, Fan Jingzhong

Yan Shanchun was deeply immersed in the study of the lives, connoisseurship and art of early 20th century literati masters such as Huang Binhong and Pan Tianshou, and extended this also to very systematic research into (and publication of an important study regarding) the entire literati tradition which was so highly revered by them. At the same time, in his artistic training Yan specialized in Western painting and became well versed in a whole range of techniques from realism to impressionism and abstraction. In his analysis of the Western-influenced painting of artists such as Lin Fengmian, Wu Dayu, Ni Yide and Guan Liang, Yan Shanchun came to the realization that the concept of quwei not only was a common ground shared by both Chinese and Western painting but also was an intrinsic quality of the art of painting itself. His solid foundation in formalist techniques combined with his deep artistic cultivation have allowed him to travel a path completely different from that of other contemporary Chinese artists: one marked by an ability to nurture and develop his painting by cultivating his knowledge.

Excerpted from Literati Painting? Abstract Painting? Some Thoughts on the Art of Yan Shanchun, Lu Peng

Xiaoyang was born into the world of the print artist, the world of Western painting, but in the end he has returned to a deep awareness of the Chinese shanshui tradition. Pastoral paintings and landscapes flourished in Europe in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as seen in the eternal cycle of seasons depicted in the rural countryside of Jean-François Millet’s work, and the sacred solemnity found in the scenery of German romantic painter Johann Friedrich Overbeck. Pre-modern Chinese lived with a different system, a more authentic system of shanshui, people of the time did not only sojourn through cityscapes and physical landscapes, but also undertook spiritual sojourns through the shanshui constructed by poetry and calligraphy, gardens and paintings.

⋯⋯For Xiaoyang, the intentionality of his paintings is not so much to provide the viewer with the experience of sojourn, but rather to engage in a process of self-cultivation. Through the intensity with which he creates his marks on the paper’s surface, Xiaoyang seeks to discover a spiritual detachment from an increasingly fast-paced world, a kind of personal, contemporary vision of Shangri-la.

Excerpted from Shanshui + Landscape: A Third Path?, Jiang Jun

Xiaoyang has devoted himself exclusively to shanshui (Literally, ‘mountains and water’; the Chinese concept of brush-and-ink landscape painting) art for over ten years. And through all these years, each time Xiaoyang paints, it seems that he is seeking to evoke the archetypal shanshui scroll: the scroll that has endured through thousands of years, through the ravages of time, the invasions of insects, the turmoil of war, and that retains faint, misty traces still discernible on its surface. The scroll, in itself, is shanshui. When sketching in nature, the artist stands amidst the mountains. When painting in the studio, the scenery reappears in the artist’s mind, and materializes through the movements of his body: the painter and his subject matter become as one, bonded together in a process of mutual cultivation, like polishing a piece of jade.

Excerpted from Sharing Silent Secrets: Cao Xiaoyang’s Way of Shanshui , Gao Shiming

About Yan Shanchun

Yan Shanchun was born in Hangzhou in 1957 and graduated from the Print Department of the China Art Academy in 1982. In 2002, he became the Deputy Director of the Shenzhen Painting Academy, and the Academic Director of the Shenzhen International Ink Painting Biennial. As a painter he is honoured as a First Level Artist, noted for the unique beauty of his paintings, which are restrained and lofty, sparse but profound. Since 1985 his works have been published in major journals including Meishu, New Art, Jiangshu Art Journal and Chinese Contemporary Art History 1985-1986. Yan’s  special academic interests are the theory and history of western abstract art and Chinese traditional ink painting. Yan’s publications include The Literati and Painting: Painters in Official History and Fiction, an acclaimed study of the social identity of literati artists.

Artist’s Statement

Artists often use subjects that are deeply familiar to them to express their thinking. I grew up living next to West Lake in Hangzhou, and have spent many long hours painting and sketching there; West Lake has become a kind of physical memory for me, a landscape that I paint instinctively. I left Hangzhou when I was 24 years old, and lived in Hubei for ten years, and later joined the Shenzhen Art Institute. When I began painting again in 2003, I began to sense the strong influence that the special atmosphere of the West Lake of my childhood had on me; and this became the main subject of my creative work. At the same time, with the changing times and the major urban development of Hangzhou, I have found that there is a profound difference between the feelings evoked by the West Lake of the past and the West Lake of the present; and so my memories are also tinged by a deep feeling of nostalgia.

About Cao Xiaoyang

Cao Xiaoyang was born in 1968 in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province. He received both his BFA (1994) and MFA (2002) from the Printmaking Department and is currently the Head of The Foundation Studies Branch of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. In 2014 Cao Xiaoyang had his debut solo exhibition The Twenty-Four Solar Terms at Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong. In 2016 Cao was invited to participate in Beyond the Globe: Eighth Triennial of Contemporary Art—U3 in Slovenia, and in Shanshui: A Manifesta, the opening exhibition of the Gongwang Museum of Art in Hangzhou. In 2017 Cao had his major solo exhibition The Moments In-Between: Cao Xiaoyang’s Works on Paper at the China Academy of Art.

Artist’s Statement

For me, shanshui involves two different layers of investigation and two different types of work.

My art can be divided into two categories: the first comprises realist paintings from nature; and the second, paintings from memory, a ‘mnemonic’ of shanshui. When creating a realist landscape painting, I often spend three to four days sketching outside in nature, facing the mountain at different times of the day, and watching as nature’s mysteries unfold one after the other, and then are hidden again, until gradually everything melds into one. As the clouds gather and the mists spread, the composition of the mountain undergoes myriad transformations; it is full of an endless vitality. But this sense of endless vitality does not refer to the form of the mountain within the overall landscape, but rather to the way the plants and grasses are able to flourish and grow, and all myriad things to follow a divine pattern of life. And so the exploration of ‘shanshui’ is not so much about landscape itself, or the historical experience of shanshui painting. For us—for whom there is no path of return to the primeval—shanshui is more than just a cultural signifier or an iconic form; rather, it is a method of investigation and experimentation for maintaining awareness of and concern for this world, and for understanding life and the endless experiment of existence.

The ‘Twenty-four Solar Terms’ are the coordinates between man, heaven and nature. The myriad changes of the four seasons guide us towards a way of understanding life and the endless cycle of being. Most of my artwork unfolds from within the thematic context of the Twenty-four Solar Terms, expressing my thoughts and observations about the inter-relatedness of life in the human and natural worlds. The attitude and creative methodologies of my art are also my way of responding to the theatre of shanshui, where life’s myriad performances unfold in our world.

(Translation by Valerie C. Doran)

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