Art Basel

The respect for artists is higher in China, says Liu Kuo-sung, pioneer of Chinese modern art

Icon of Chinese art takes lead from abstract artists who were 700 years ahead of the West

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 9:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 9:41am

At age 82, Liu Kuo-sung, known as the father of Chinese modern ink paintings and pioneer of Chinese modern art, has no intention of hanging up his brushes anytime soon.

"I paint every day at night," says the artist as we sit with his wife in the reception area at host gallery Galerie du Monde in Central.

Having just arrived from the airport during a downpour, I was impressed by how relaxed they look. "I don't travel as often as I used to," says the artist, whose works are respected worldwide. "In the past, I was invited to lecture at universities, such as Stanford, and have exhibitions in museums, but I don't travel there too much now."

Happy to be back in Hong Kong, where he was an art professor and dean at the faculty of art at Chinese University for 21 years until his retirement in the 1990s, the Taiwan-based artist still has a passion for teaching - he is chair professor at the National Taiwan Normal University in the department of fine arts, and Liu enjoys sharing his ideas with young artists.

Liu believes the city has become an international centre for the arts, especially after the arrival of prestigious international fairs such as Art Basel, but he says parents and society are still not so supportive of young people going into the arts field here.

"There are few Hong Kong artists as the city is still so commercial," he says. "Society [in Hong Kong] does not support artists so much. Parents still want their children to be professional." He adds that he was honoured in China for his contribution to the art world and says there is more respect for artists there, and more expression. "The respect for artists is higher in China," he says. "The government put a lot of effort in developing culture and the arts."

Although Liu admires some present artists, he is inspired by his favourite artists of the Song dynasty. "Song dynasty artists were modern for that period," he says. "They were the first abstract artists, 700 years earlier than the West."

Like his Song dynasty heroes, Liu sought a new approach to art, inspired by traditional Chinese paintings and the monumental landscape paintings of the 10th and 11th centuries, and modern abstract styles and techniques. He created a new genre fusing ink painting with collage using ink and colour on special paper. His style has earned him respect internationally and has his works in prestigious exhibitions and collections worldwide.

When asked which of his many styles and periods of art he prefers, he says it's the period right now. Liu has been inspired by the snowy mountains of Tibet and the Himalayas. "Places like the Himalayas and Tibet touch me," he says. "I first went there in 2000 to see Everest and have been there twice. I was touched by the structures, the villages at the base of the mountain and the snowscapes."

Liu's significant works from the 1960s to the present are on display at Galerie du Monde until June 30 as part of the gallery's 40th anniversary celebrations, and Liu's masterpiece, Clouds and Mountains in Play, is exhibiting for the first time at Art Basel - Galerie du Monde's booth is at Hall 3 3D15.

The exhibition in Hong Kong is curated by Zhu Hongzi, who also curated Liu's retrospective exhibition at NAMOC in 2011. The exhibition is entitled "Rearward Glance - from the 1960s to the present", featuring works such as Cliffs Contending for Beauty, ink and colour on paper, 2010; Dusks Amid Green Mountains, ink and colour, 1967; Buddha, ink on paper, 2010; Yellow River in Hot Summer, ink and colour on paper, 2010; and The Universe in My Heart, ink and colour on paper, 2000.

Today, Liu features at the premiere Artist Talk as part of Conversations at Art Basel Hong Kong, discussing his visual responses to living as a Chinese artist in the United States, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the development of modern ink painting. He will be in conversation with Lesley Ma, curator, Ink Art, M+, Hong Kong, and Zhu Hongzi, curator, Beijing. It is free to the public and provides an opportunity to hear about the latest developments in contemporary art from Asia and the rest of the world.

This week the artist was honoured for his significant contribution to contemporary art at the Asia Society Art Gala - a signature event during Art Basel Hong Kong. Major regional art collectors, artists, gallerists, dignitaries from the art world and Asia Society Trustees and patrons gathered to honour Liu along with three other artists Bharti Kher, Takashi Murakami and Zhang Xiaogang.

The event is organised by the Asia Society Museum New York and Asia Society Hong Kong Centre with proceeds raised supporting Asia Society initiatives worldwide.