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HK Magazine Archive

Artist Water Poon Shares His Passion For Chinese Ink Painting

The artist has been practising the art of Chinese ink painting in Hong Kong and beyond for almost half a century. For his current charity exhibition, 10 percent of the proceeds of works sold will be donated to the Faith in Love Foundation, which works to alleviate poverty.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 11:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:19pm

What are you showing in this charity exhibition? There are three different recurring images in this exhibition. The first is of a big gourd, a fruit. The second one is a lotus leaf and a sparrow, and the third collection is a series that depicts houses in Guilin, a popular place for ink artists in China.

How is your style distinct from other Chinese ink artists? A lot of artists are also inspired by the Guilin landscape, but I like to draw in a contemporary style. Being a contemporary ink artist means paying homage to and referencing previous styles, but finding innovations. There are others who are always trying to paint the same flowers, but I try to diversify my style. The blue in this series, “At Home,” is actually inspired by early morning in Guilin, before sunrise—it’s unique to my experience. And people who paint Guilin will not often paint this kind of house: They’re becoming more rare and will soon be demolished.

What should people who don’t know much about ink painting look for in a piece of work? There are several important points to ink painting. One thing is the use of line, which usually falls into two groups: Some people paint with very precise details and fine lines, particularly with paintings inspired by nature; others, like me, are more abstract. The other important thing to notice is the density of paint. Artists in traditional ink painting say that there are seven different shades you can render out of black, from dark to light. With ink painting, you don’t even need color at all. You can express what you want only in shades of black and white. There is, however, only one shade of red.

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One shade of red? Yes, it’s the stamp! Another emphasis of Chinese ink painting is the negative space on the artwork. For example, in a painting of fish, you will feel the fish naturally swimming around the canvas. It’s not necessary to paint the water. In another ink painting of birds sitting on a branch, you can feel the sky behind these birds, through the white space and perspective.

What’s changed since you started painting? I’ve been painting for 40-50 years. When I first started, I had to work a very long time to discover my style. Now, my paintings are more mature. If I don’t sign or put a stamp on my paintings, people can still recognize that these birds, these fish, are mine.

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How do you compose your work? I spend a lot of time thinking about what I will put on the page. And then it takes me about an hour to paint. But I have to think about it, shape it in my mind first. Unlike Western painting, we never sketch what we’re going to paint—every stroke is deliberate, and if I make a single mistake I have to start over. Every movement of the stroke expresses a feeling.