Weaving Tradition into Innovation
Landscape Art of Hung Hoi (excerpt)
Born in Gulangyu in Xiamen, Fujian Province, in 1957, Hung Hoi moved to Hong Kong in 1978. As a child he learnt painting from his father Hung Chun-shan. In 1980, he studied under the Lingnan master Yang Shanshen. On the one hand, Hung was influenced by Yang's subtle insight into the Nature; on the other, he delved into techniques dating back to the Five Dynasties and the Song Dynasty. Following Shi Tao's practice of "travelling extensively to draw from actual landscapes", Hung also adopted Fu Baoshi's concept of a misty ambience. The artist gained further inspiration by wandering through past and present. His observational sketches during these journeys, together with the free expression of his own ideas, allowed Hung to create a myriad of landscapes in the layout and composition of his works. The painter seems to have fully understood and put into practice the remarks from Zhang Zao of the Tang Dynasty _ "base art on the Nature, then remake it with one's own sentiment".
Looking at Hung's two decades of creativity, one can see a wide range of artistic techniques including freestyle, meticulous style, sketching, imaginative, imitations of ancient styles and groundbreaking innovation. Artists tend to change their style at different chapters in their lives, but not Hung Hoi. His paintings are all created with a free hand, yet manifest a refined execution. His comprehensive training has enabled him to wield whichever style he needs at any given moment. This prowess bears testament to Hung's diligent pursuit of excellence and yet also his ease at both meticulous and freestyle techniques. Indeed, his work is powerful proof that his artistic profile is much more mature than his actual age.
Hung's drawings display his insights into the Nature and are the best demonstration of his mastery of basic sketching skills. In his 1997 work En plein air sketches of the Tai Xing Mountains (2 sets, a set of 4)(fig.33,34), he meticulously captures the essence of mountain rocks and shrubbery in graceful lines. As for his 2002 work En plein air sketches of Wuyi Mountain (3 sets, a set of 4)(fig.30,31),he depicts whimsical views of steep peaks with minute precision. Such kind of artistic confidence can only be achieved through years of hard work and intensive study. In fact, Hung's sketches are not merely "drafts"; instead they can be regarded as pieces of finished artworks. During the artist's European trip in 2003, he created the Paris Impression series (fig.24,26). The composition is a perfect match of sketching and atmospheric Western landscape, creating a unique showcase of Paris' romantic character in acrylic.
Though freestyle ink-wash painting, for the time being, does not constitute the main feature of Hung's artistic profile, it remains a brilliant example of his brushwork art. The scholar Li Yu once praised Zhang Daqian by saying, "He who can't do both meticulous and freestyle is no true man". Indeed, for an ink-wash painter to be considered truly accomplished, he must work on freestyle to build up his boldness, and execute meticulous style to temper his willpower. Hung has mastered this balance, using freehand to groom his meticulous technique and subsequently forging his own style. In his 1987 work Rhythm of Waves (fig.14), he applied cyanine to the entire picture to depict storm waves crashing on to the shore. The drawing is supplemented by ink rocks, the black, blue and empty spaces powerfully reminiscent of thunderous, soul-stirring waves. Instantly, the two-dimensional painting takes on a lively rhythm. In the 1990 work Album of Landscape Paintings, the artist employed interacting voids and solid strokes to unconventionally and neatly outline hills, rocks, trees and cottages. In the background and shaded areas, ink wash is used daringly. It reminds us of Shi Tao's charm and the Plum Taoist Monk's grace. A set of 8 pictures completed in 1997 depicting Hong Kong scenes (fig.17) are drawn from actual landscape with colour washes. The soggy wet strokes perfectly capture the seaside ambience of the Pearl of the Orient. Emperor's Mount, Zhangjiajie (fig.18) in 1998, Landscape Series in 1999 and The West Peak of Mount Hua (fig.12) in 2001 are all images of landscapes washed out in bold strokes, somewhere between sketch and imaginative landscape. Water, ink, colour, each has its own perfect position and balance. In 2003, the Landscape Series (a set of 4) embodied an unrestrained, natural and elegant spirit, seemingly a self-review of Hung's earlier works.
"Landscapes in detailed strokes" forms the greatest characteristic of Hung's art. After imitating the ancient style, he captured the essence of the old masters' brushwork, enabling him to carefully and scrupulously compose pictures with due respect for form. Since Hung's creative process synchronises with his daily practice of the old masters' techniques, one may say every piece of his work possesses a meticulous and rigorous quality. Viewers are constantly amazed at how Hung manages to portray images of intricacy and grandness even in his largest paintings. Hung regards each piece of his work as an assignment to be submitted to the old masters.
One may discover from Hung's 1995 sketch series of Mount Hua, he strives for finesse in his use of pure ink and wash based on his foundation of sketching. His work expresses classic flair but still remains a drawing from an actual landscape. His 2 large paintings Precipitous Beauty of Mount Hua (fig.9) and Mount Hua Clad in Snow (fig.10) completed in 1996 could be seen as milestones in his journey of innovating on tradition. These 2 sizable pieces embody the serenity and magnificence of Dong Yuan of the Five Dynasties, displaying the momentum of Fan Kuan's mighty stele of the Northern Song. Yet by blending the ambience of peaks and hilly lands shrouded in mist, these paintings are also characteristic of Guo Xi of the Northern Song. They are works of powerful strokes, classic colours, refreshing ink tones and tight composition. As the creator of these forceful masterpieces, Hung Hoi stands apart from other young and middle-aged contemporary Chinese painters and calligraphers.
After finishing the above 2 paintings, Hung began to seek a breakthrough in his colouring and drawing style. Out of esteem for Fu Baoshi, he assimilated Fu's hazy touch into his brushwork and settings. In addition to simple and elegant colouring, Hung also liberally employed the mineral pigments of blue and green to portray verdant and modern landscapes. This approach was highly experimental, yet it serves to illustrate Hung's aspiration for innovation in his creativity, as well as his ability to imitate ancient styles without clinging to them.
Entering the 21st Century, Hung has developed a pure form of expression in delicate ink and wash. Based on the spirit of the statement that "black ink has five colours", Hung combines his extensive experience of travelling with the artistic concepts rooted in his heart. Through masterful brushwork, textural strokes and light ink strokes, he translates the tranquillity and majesty of mountain ranges into powerful images, opening up a dramatic new horizon in Chinese landscape painting. The emergence of this new creative face marks Hung's realisation of innovating on tradition. It also opens up a new perspective on the creative domain of contemporary calligraphy and painting.
Hung's Pictorial Handscroll of Myriad Cliffs and Ravines completed in 2000 depicts beautiful scenery stretching endlessly to the horizon, precipitous cliffs and oddly shaped rocks, mountain paths meandering through deep and remote valleys, as well as powerful waterfalls and turbulent streams. It is proof that Hung embraced Shi Tao's concept of "travelling extensively to draw from actual landscapes". Yellow Mountain, The Hush Sound of Landscape, Raging Fall Amidst Springs and Mountains in 2001; Tranquility in the Mountain Deep, Lofty Mountains and Running Waters, Myriads of Ravines and Peaks in 2003; and his new creation in 2004 Myriad Ravines and Cliffs; each one is a sublime and colossal work of art. From afar, they all look imposing, yet from close one can see the artist's delicate, silky strokes. Through traditional brushwork skills, Hung displays a modern aesthetic. Elegant and graceful artistic concepts brim with poetic sentiment. Through a deeply personal evocation of atmosphere, Hung's meticulous ink-wash landscape return the coloured world to a realm of pure black and white. This brings a new vision to Chinese landscape painting and provides an inspiration for contemporary ink-wash creation.
In addition to discernible tension and brushwork skills, Hung's paintings also feature several other distinctive qualities. Whether it is a large or a small painting, the artist never makes a draft. This can be attributed to the accuracy of his observations during his frequent sketch practices in travelling. Moreover, his diligence in studying the old masters' skills enables him to create highly precise landscapes. Because the landscape already lies in Hung's heart, when the idea finally emerges, he is able to powerfully and accurately manifest his vision with brush and ink. The next point to note about Hung's work is that his inscription and seal are usually concealed among trees and rocks, as done in the Song Dynasty to distinguish between the primary and the secondary, namely painting and calligraphy. This is in stark contrast to the practice of some young and middle-aged contemporary painters, who like to write superfluous words on their paintings despite their substandard calligraphy.
Hung Hoi's outstanding ability in ink and wash sets him apart from his peers. Though traces of Fan Kuan, Dong Yuan, Li Tang, Wang Meng, Gong Xian, Shi Tao and Fu Baoshi can all be found in his paintings, the artist has also established a distinctive style of his own. Zong Bing of the Northern and Southern Dynasties said in Preface of Painting Landscape, "Wise men learn principles from the study of the physical world. The form of the landscape embodies its soul ......" Hung's landscape paintings perfectly reflect those words. Jing Hao of the Five Dynasties likewise stated in Extracts of Landscape, "Learn its composition from afar; study its texture from close", while Guo Xi of the Northern Song asserted in The Lofty Message of Forest and Streams ‧ Landscape Chapter, "View rivers and valleys of the real landscape (one that reflects the profundity of the Nature) from afar to learn their compositions; then go closer to study their textures." These remarks seem to match Hung's approach to creating landscapes, namely transposing his own sentiment onto the subject he paints.
Planning Director of Art and Collection and Chief Editor of Ancient Art