Artist in harmony with nature

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 May, 2004, 12:00am

In popular wuxia (sword and sorcery) tales, a hero travels around the world to demonstrate humanism and the noble spirit of the Chinese who use their weapon. In reality, there is such a man. But instead of a sword, he uses a paint brush and ink.

Au Ho-nien's mission began more than 50 years ago when he was studying under Zhao Shao-ang, an avid follower of the Lingnan school of painting. Au's works combine the artistic styles of the East and West while depicting the spirit of Chinese philosophy.

To mark Au's 70th birthday, a retrospective exhibition of his paintings will be held at the Hong Kong Central Library this month. Au, one of the leading contemporary Chinese artists, strives to create a medium that can play a crucial role in the global mainstream.

'We live in an era of cultural exchanges between the East and the West. The western world is in a dominant position as it possesses outstanding cultural characteristics. But, in fact, we also have many exceptional elements [in our culture] that westerners have yet to discover or understand ,' Au says.

One of the differences between Chinese and western cultures is their attitude towards nature. While westerners consider nature as something to be overcome, the Chinese nurture it.

'Artists love curved lines, and that's why westerners like to draw the human body, which signifies a love of self. Chinese artists also like curved lines, but they like to draw rocks, mountains and waves,' Au says. 'These subjects come from the land that nurtures us, and we have an intimate and affectionate relationship with our land.'

According to Au, art is a harmonious interaction between humans and nature, where beauty originates. His love for nature is expressed through his paintings of majestic mountains and rivers. Wild animals are also one of Au's favourite subjects. According to Professor Phylis Lan Lin, the director of Asian programmes at the University of Indianapolis, Au considers each animal as a spirit in itself. Au's portraits of living creatures express the animals' noble temperaments.

'He calls a tiger a mountain gentleman, not a beast. For him an eagle is not just a big bird but also represents strength and perseverance,' Dr Lin explains.

Au expresses the humanistic spirit of Chinese culture through his paintings. According to Dr Lin, this spirit is evident in the poem which describes Au's landscape painting, By the Waterfall:

'I use clear water to wash my hair and murky water to wash my feet

I embrace the world wholeheartedly

All glory and humiliation become meaningless to me.'

Au says: 'We must sow the seeds [of culture] although now is not the time for reaping rewards.'

A Retrospective Exhibition of Au Ho-nien at 70, 10am to 6pm daily from now till May 23. Central Library, Gallery 1-3, 66 Causeway Road, Causeway Bay. For enquiries call 9193 6565.

We have two copies of A Retrospective Exhibition of Au Ho-nien at 70 autographed by the painter to give away.

E-mail and tell us about your favourite painting and why it touches you (include your name, age and contact number).