Only the lonely

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 November, 2008, 12:00am

Pleasure and pain, love and loneliness, and progress and retreat are some of the dichotomies explored in a new exhibition by young artists from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute who tackle contemporary issues using traditional Chinese ink, techniques and aesthetics.

On show at Galerie Ora-Ora, Snapshot New Ink comprises individualistic and experimental paintings and installations, many dealing with alienation, emotional isolation and the disparity behind the facade of prosperity.

Painter Zeng Guoqing explores alienation in a modern, densely populated society. Heavily influenced by the hustle and bustle of Chongqing, where the art institute is located, he wanted to replicate his feeling of being one among many.

In Let's Shake Slowly, Zeng depicts an orgy of merriment in a crowded, chaotic city. His sea of figures - males, females and beasts - cavort in wild abandon. Men drink with rats. People indulge in lascivious behaviour. Fear, hate, horror, love, lust and sorrow are among many emotions expressed on their faces. The narrative is complex and the visuals richly painted in varying tones and layers of ink.

'A Chinese writer once said the stars in the sky are more numerous than the people on earth, but that the people are much colder than the stars,' Zeng says. 'Sometimes the more people there are, the lonelier you feel.'

Emotional isolation is dramatically presented in another series of works by Yu Hongbo. His closely cropped and macabre images of faces have undertones of being bound and restrained. In Unsightly No7, a self portrait, the mouth and temple are sewn to appear like a cadaver. In Unsightly No9, the face is marked by cuts and slashes.

As repulsive as they are enigmatic, these images are blunt expressions of pain and suffering. The artist reflects his own emotional experiences with this series. The sewn mouth represents the repression he felt as a youngster. The many cuts express the frequency of his pain. Yu says he suffered from a misconception held by the older generation that providing physical and material comforts was enough to bring up a child. His emotional needs were ignored.

'I grew up with my grandparents. They took care of me well, but they could not communicate or interact with me on a deeper emotional level. Therefore we had no emotional connection and I held all feelings to myself,' he says. Hao Liang gives the tradition of ink painting a modern twist with his marvellous ink and colour works on silk. His paintings are a study in textures and colours. Hao bridges old and new, juxtaposing common details with unusual and uncommon items.

At first glance, Textural Studies - Decay No3 is a classically painted, brilliantly coloured pictorial. A beautiful boy with almond-shaped eyes and plump lips stands behind luscious red flowers. But the painting reveals incongruous details. The boy wears a black shirt with a dead head applique. A pile of bones is set at the top and near jagged and seemingly ripped edges of the painting. Beyond the surface, something dark and sinister looms.

'I want to show that behind our prosperous and rich world, there are things that are negative - such as the state of the poor,' says Hao.

'Our society has a lot of problems and our history is becoming fragmented. Our ancient culture, like the set of bones [in the painting] has been put aside for the sake of progress.'

Snapshot New Ink, until Dec 9, Mon-Fri, 11am-8pm; Sat, 11am-5pm, Galerie Ora-Ora, 12/F, 41-43 Graham St, Central. Inquiries: 2851 1171