XU Longsen: Solo Exhibition at Hanart TZ Gallery
6 March - 28 March 2015
Hanart TZ Gallery
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XU Longsen Solo Exhibition at Hanart TZ Gallery




XU Longsen

Solo Exhibition at Hanart TZ Gallery


Artist’s Reception:

Thursday, 12 March 2015, 6 to 8pm


401 Pedder Building,

12 Pedder Street,

Central, Hong Kong


Hanart TZ Gallery presents important landscape artist XU Longsen in March


This major solo exhibition by XU Longsen opens on 12 March 2015 (Thursday) at Hanart TZ Gallery in Central. It will showcase the artist’s recent shanshui (landscape) paintings, including the new, monumental six-metre horizontal scroll, Contemplating Purity, that will have its first public viewing at the gallery. A selection of Xu Longsen’s works will also be shown at the Hanart TZ GALLERY booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, as part of the ‘Magic Mountain’ group exhibition (Galleries Sector 3E07, 3/F).

Xu Longsen’s monumental 10-metre landscape Beholding the Mountain with Awe No. 1, will be featured in Art Basel’s ‘Encounters’ series of public installations (Encounters E4).

At the invitation of curator William Lim, Xu Longsen’s imposing horizontal scroll Border of Heaven will be featured as part of the ‘Be Inspired’ exhibition in the atrium of the LANDMARK in Central.

What we see reflected in twentieth-century Chinese shanshui (ink landscape) painting is the destruction and chaos wrought upon the natural landscape by the century’s civilizational conflicts, and the resulting pandemonium of symbols and images. Xu Longsen seeks to restore some kind of order to shanshui from within this chaotic and broken state. In his monumental compositions, his gaze looks far into the past, to the dense mists and the boundless primeval darkness at the beginning of time, when Heaven and Earth came into being Within this monumentality of scale, the forms, patterns and connotations of brush painting all undergo a fundamental change.

Xu Longsen has revived the cardinal virtues of Chinese painting—the qualities of being forceful and unrestrained, open-hearted and expansive. Over a period of five centuries, the presence of these qualities in Chinese painting was gradually diminished under the dual impact of the literati ‘studio culture’ of the Ming and Qing periods, and the modern art academy. In Xu Longsen’s creative process, these qualities have been recaptured and revitalized.

For Xu, the total experience of his art is not only a question of what Zong Bing (style name Zong Shaowen, 375-443) described as ‘spiritual’ travel–entering into the realm of a landscape painting through quiet contemplation–but also a question of the way Xu Longsen actively responds to the public space.

What contemporary artists must face is no longer an era in which art was appreciated by ‘two like-minded souls sharing their thoughts in a hut in the wilderness,’ as the literary scholar Qian Zhongshu (1910-1998) put it, but rather an era in which art is seen within the cacophony of a public space. The art of landscape painting must confront the new reality of mammoth exhibition spaces shared with a plethora of other media, with the implication that all kinds of artistic practices are now being integrated into the public culture of contemporary society. Xu Longsen’s monumental landscapes thus constitute a kind of proactive practice through which a contemporary shanshui painter has taken on the challenges presented by the cacophonous public space of today’s exhibition venues.

The monumental scale of Xu Longsen’s shanshui painting is not the only element that sets his works apart from tradition: there is also a fundamental change taking place within the painting process itself. The imposing and powerful structure of his landscapes requires an almost military level of tactical planning, as well as a disciplined physical control balanced by an active and vital spirit, in order to achieve the creative momentum required to execute and display these monumental vistas. The Dao of painting is the Dao of change. We do not live and create in a vacuum, but rather in a social reality defined by public space. This social reality has already profoundly changed the way we experience and think about our world. Xu Longsen has said that, for Chinese landscape painters, this era of public space is both a daunting challenge and a new opportunity given by history. If the culture of the scholar’s studio encouraged the literati to cling to a belief in the implicit beauty power contained within simplicity, as expressed in the poem by Liu Yuxi (772 – 842): ‘Mountains need not be high to be famous, if immortals dwell there/Waters need not be deep to be enchanted, if dragons live within’; then what the art of calligraphy must seek as it enters this age of public space is a state of mind which accepts the grand scale, in which ‘no mountain is too high, and no ocean is too deep’. To achieve this state of mind requires not only a deeply felt experience of the ‘mountains and water’ of nature, but also a willingness to engage in a profound reflection on the culture of shanshui painting, and to develop a more nuanced understanding of the nature of shanshui itself.

Through his landscape practice Xu Longsen constructs his own primeval world: and even though the elements of nature illuminated within this world are part of a communal environment, Xu’s realm of landscape is completely different from those realms created by traditional landscape artists, which can be ‘roamed through and inhabited’. In contrast, Xu’s landscapes loom before the viewer as remote, amorphous scenes anchored in quiet and solitude: these are realms that do not invite entry. Perhaps Xu Longsen’s intention is to subvert the Confucian notion that ‘The wise love the the water; the benevolent enjoy the mountains’. Instead, perhaps what Xu seeks to create is a kind of response that is in keeping with the Daoist concept that ‘Heaven and Earth are not benevolent: they treat all creatures as straw dogs’ (i.e. insignificant) . The creative forces of Heaven and Earth follow the ‘method’ of Nature, and the ‘method’ of ‘Nature’ goes beyond ‘the joys of benevolence and wisdom’: it is no more nor less than the eternal cycle of birth and decay.

In his ‘Letter to Zhu Yuansi’, the Southern Dynasties scholar Wu Jun (469-520) wrote: Those who aspired to honour and fame and wished to fly as high as eagles would have their minds settled in peace when looking at these elevated peaks. Those who were engaged in mundane affairs would loiter there with no thought of return when gazing at these valleys.

Today when we gaze into a realm of landscape, can it be that what we seek as its essential nature is still no more than the pleasure of spiritual roaming and rarefied communal enjoyment?


 The Crisis of Landscape by Gao Shiming (excerpt)

(Translation by Valerie C. Doran)

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