What does a ballpoint pen sketch of the Hong Kong SAR flag or a black and white video of two revolvers got to do with Chinese ink? The connection is not immediately obvious, says independent curator Jeff Leung Chin-fung, but both illustrate how far the art has evolved in the hands of a new generation of local artists.
Roy Wai Pong-yu's HKSAR Emblem and Law Yuk-mui's Ink Flooding are among 14 contemporary paintings and installations on show in Think After Ink, a group show curated by Leung at the Blue Lotus Gallery in Fo Tan. Other participating artists are Hanison Lau Hok-shing, Joey Leung Ka-yin, Lo Kwan-chi, Pau Mo-ching and Frank Vigneron.
Leung says the exhibition plays on the tension between elegant but restrictive classical techniques and experimental, freewheeling modern art.
'Young Hong Kong artists have grown up in an international environment with a western education,' he says.
'By starting their journey with traditional Chinese arts painting and influenced by modern western art ideas, these artists have created a style I call pan-Chinese ink. Because most have studied and absorbed the classical techniques, they are now free to experiment.'
The curator likens their take on Chinese ink to the New Chinese Ink Painting Movement of the 1960s and 70s, when Hong Kong artists no longer felt the need to copy works by masters - the traditional way for Chinese artists to train - but to express themselves freely once they had grasped the basic techniques of brush (bi) and ink (mo).
But although artists of that generation were still heavily influenced by traditional artistic aesthetics and form, artists today abandon all the baggage of tradition.
Leung says: 'They've digested their understanding of Chinese culture before infusing it with their own contemporary experiences and ideas, so their works carry the concept rather than techniques of Chinese ink.'
Think After Ink, which includes both old and new works, sets out to show how artists have applied their understanding of Chinese ink and painting using media they are familiar with.
Law's video, Ink Flooding, is an animated montage of silhouette images of her gun sculptures and video footage of ink drops dissolving in a bowl of water. She plays on the concept of having a toy gun that spurts out ink rather than water: 'It's just an idea to connect a weapon with Chinese ink. Some people thought this piece is about violence but it really isn't.'
The medium also adds a textural richness to her work. The ink drops, for instance, demonstrate how the thick and heavy liquid gradually thins out and dissolves into the water, and her drawings of the movie character Edward Scissorhands show how ink can effectively illustrate the shades and surfaces of black leatherwear.
Wai's HKSAR Emblem, by contrast, is an application of red ink from a ballpoint pen. The bauhinia is made up of thousands of fine, short, slightly curvy lines that run from left to right. He uses the pen to create the lines as if it were a brush.
'The lines convey a sense of movement and activity. They are like heart-rate lines,' he says.
'These works are inspired by traditional Chinese painting in that many feature flowers and birds, so I decided to have a bauhinia as my subject. I finally settled on the SAR flag because it's contemporary, a single colour and this year is its 10th anniversary.'
The artist says he enjoys the repetitive process of drawing the lines. 'I soon lose myself in the work and it's like being in a trance. It's a nice state to be in as I just forget about things that are bothering me.'
Equally conceptual - and Chinese - is Pau's seal-carving series. Although the seals and calligraphy are both traditional in their bent, the text is contemporary. It talks about family values, what it means to be single in modern Hong Kong and about urban living in general. Each seal is 'housed' in a frame to accentuate the theme of city living.
Pau also created a couple of long scrolls featuring two popular Chinese motifs: a fish, which symbolises abundance, and a tiger, which represents power. The fish print goes back to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), she says. It was used as a chop by merchants making deals with trading partners. Each contract would carry half of the fish, which would only be completed or joined again when the contract was honoured.
'In my work, the fish motif stands for commitment and, as you can see, I have a very long scroll here so that symbolises the many commitments we have to honour in our lifetimes ... Not all will be honoured,' says the artist.
Also printed on scrolls are Joey Leung's playful illustrations in pen and colour pencil, although her technique is so fine that many mistake her media as traditional mo bi. In Perfect Legs the artist tells the story of a rabbit who craves a pair of long legs, in both images and text. The tale ends in tears and the moral is be careful what you wish for.
'It's one of my earlier works and the lines were very much exaggerated - they're almost like brushstrokes but they are not.
I could have used traditional Chinese ink but many of us prefer to use media we're more familiar with. The result is almost the same.'
Lo's Three Ways and A Day in June - both bird's-eye views of an empty road painted in colour and ink on rice paper - offer another reinterpretation of Chinese ink. They are, says curator Leung, the modern equivalent of traditional Chinese mountain and river landscape paintings.
'The modern feeling is enhanced by laying out the streets in a very orderly and straight way, without any sign of any people, buildings or urban elements, creating an alien, quiet feeling,' he says.
'The turns in the roads and indicators of different directions refer to choices and turning points in life.
'Just like a traditional Chinese landscape, Lo's pieces draw viewers into the painting and take them on an unknown journey.'
Think After Ink, Sat-Sun, 1pm-6pm, Blue Lotus Gallery, 5/F Unit 24, Blk A, Wah Luen Industrial Bldg, 15-21 Wong Chuk Yeung St, Fo Tan. Ends Dec 2