Play Ink & Ink Play
When ink play is mentioned, we would usually think of the literate ink play of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, a reference to the practice of playing with ink brushwork. The title of this exhibition borrows the word play from this phrase to encourage the allusion to Chinese opera, i.e. a unique Chinese ink painting about Chinese opera. Over the past century, a great many painters have continually found inspiration in the theme of the Chinese opera figure, using their brushwork spectacularly to produce various artistic patterns.
To begin with, the link between Chinese opera and painting probably first appeared in the folk arts, a cultural category whose existence is intimately connected with our national memories. In many folk arts like the paper-cut, the Spring Festival opera picture, the folk toy and the art of porcelain patterning, we may discern the traces of the opera theme, which has always been seemingly absent in the ink painting of the official class. I have no idea whether it was due to the official class' disdain towards the opera performers, or that they felt that ink was not suitable in this aspect.
Here, the literate ink-play presents some helplessness, yet also fully displays its playful attitude. Actually, these painters are all experts in brushwork; otherwise they couldn't play at all, just like Michael Jordan's ball-playing which couldn't be easily achieved by just anybody. Chinese opera art constructs an extensive platform with its unique eastern charm, and their skills are like the rules of a game accepted through common practice, hence these Jordans could completely strut their stuff, and the game becomes interesting, attracting the audience to participate, including me.
The current painting circle becomes increasingly active, and also more flippant as many pursue the fashionable for fear of not being contemporary. Now, China is experiencing an impatient anxiety about modernity, an anxiety to be admitted by others, especially the westerners. I assume, even the westerners don't expect to see themselves reflected in the mirror, a distorting mirror. Chinese culture is an extremely rich treasure, as Chinese folk art could be traced back to the Neolithic age, and what's more precious is that it has continued through to the present without interruption, maintaining a vigorous vitality with Chinese opera as one of its branches. Ink painting of Chinese opera always stretches its antennae to the folk, facing the contemporary. It is a seed germinating in its own land and when it grows into a very tall tree it still has a Chinese face, certainly a new Chinese face, yet one that would not deny any wholesome foreign nourishment. This exhibition is to cultivate and fertilize it, enabling it to meet and exchange with the people of the world, which is probably the social responsibility of a member of our Chinese art museums because real art should belong to all humankind.
(Zhang Peicheng, Director of the Liu Haisu Art Museum)