Modernizing ink: Pioneering artist Lui Shou-Kwan on view at Alisan Fine Arts New York

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Modernizing ink: Pioneering artist Lui Shou-Kwan on view at Alisan Fine Arts New York
Shifting Landscapes Installation Image. Courtesy of Alisan Fine Arts.

NEW YORK, NY.- Alisan Fine Arts is announced Shifting Landscapes, a solo exhibition celebrating the art of pioneering ink artist Lui Shou-Kwan (1919-1975). Shifting Landscapes, Lui’s first exhibition in New York, presents transformative works from the artist’s career that bridge tradition and modernity while sparking new dialogue in the international art community. Lui was a vanguard figure of the New Ink Movement in Hong Kong, a movement that reimagined the Chinese Ink tradition and flourished from the 1950s to 1970s. Extremely influential to generations of artists after him, Lui was instrumental in transforming traditional Chinese ink painting into a modern, global art form. Surveying three decades, Shifting Landscapes will run from February 27 to April 27, 2024, at Alisan Fine Arts’ recently opened New York gallery.

Lui inherited his interest in painting from his father, Lui Canming (1892-1963), a scholar-painter and antique shop owner. Prior to a decisive move to Hong Kong in 1948, Lui studied Chinese painting by copying classical works by past masters, such as Bada Shanren (1626-1705, Ming Dynasty), Shitao (1642-1707, Qing Dynasty) and Huang Binhong (1865-1955).

Throughout his time in Hong Kong—then under British Colonial rule—Lui was exposed to Western modern art, including Abstract Expressionism. These influences catalyzed a pivotal shift in Lui's philosophy of art; he came to believe that true artistry lay not in imitation, but in personal expression and the development of a distinctive artistic voice. Lui’s landscape works were inspired by Hong Kong’s mountains and harbors, which he observed during his time working as an inspector in 1948 for the Hong Kong and Yaumatei Ferry Company. As his work matured, two distinct styles developed: one traditional and the other more modern. After the Visit to Tai Po Kau (1966) and Lu Keng (1969) are examples of his traditional landscapes, the latter of which he used as a teaching aid. At the same time, his new philosophy presented itself in landscape works which became increasingly abstract, with boats, houses and seaside cliffs reduced to simple, expressive brushstrokes. Red Mountain Landscape (1962) is a striking example of this, where broad swathes of ink and color reveal themselves to be mountains only after the viewer notices the small painted boats in the foreground.

Lui began to shift toward abstraction as early as the 1950s, influenced by his encounter with Sam Hunter’s book “Modern American Painting and Sculpture,” paying particular attention to artists like Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock. As he continued to embrace modernism as a pursuit of individual expression and freedom, Lui profoundly explored pure abstraction in his new Zen paintings.

Influenced by Buddhist meditation and Daoist philosophy, Liu’s Zen paintings are less about the abstraction of the natural world and more a representation of spiritual concepts and mental states, replete with ink splashes and geometric shapes. While created in parallel to that of his American contemporaries, Lui's art diverges in its introspective journey, symbolized by the lotus in his Zen paintings—a growth from murky waters to spiritual enlightenment. Zen Painting 1965 Winter (1965) and The Reveal of the Inner Pond (1969) both feature Lui’s signature red ‘lotus’, a visual metaphor for a state of mind that is untainted by the external world and reflective from within, embodying the essence of his artistic and spiritual quest.

By the 1970s, Lui’s pioneering visual language had galvanized an international recognition of the Chinese ink painting tradition and brought contemporary interpretations to the forefront of the art world. His influence was pivotal to the New Ink movement, by then an international movement exploring thousand-year-old techniques alongside the developments and inspiration of expressionistic and conceptual art. As a revered educator and prominent figure in the New Ink movement and to other artists working in Hong Kong, Lui shaped a generation of artists who carried forward the torch of innovation he lit.

Lui Shou-Kwan (1919–1975, Guangzhou China), recognized as Hong Kong’s pioneer in the New Ink Movement, has had a far-reaching influence on contemporary Chinese art. Lui graduated from the University of Guangzhou with a degree in Economics in 1946.

In 1954, Lui held his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, followed by numerous exhibitions in the United Kingdom and several in the United States. In 1962, Lui was an Honorary Advisor to the City Museum and Art Gallery (later to be renamed the Hong Kong Museum of Art). In 1966, he became a professor of Chinese ink painting at the Department of Extra Mural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong. In 1971, he received an MBE from the British Government. At the height of his artistic career, he passed away at the young age of 56. His artworks are in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford University; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; de Young Museum, San Francisco; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; LA County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Taipei Museum of History, Taiwan; Art Museum of Chinese University of Hong Kong; the Hong Kong Museum of Art; M+ Museum for Visual Culture, Hong Kong, to name a few.

Alisan Fine Arts first exhibited Lui’s paintings in 1984, and since then has held 5 solo exhibitions of his work. The gallery also organized two important historical exhibitions, in 1995 and 2015 respectively, tracing his career and legacy, and the works of his students. The latter exhibition traveled to Guangzhou in 2016 and was part of “Being and Inking: Documenting Contemporary Ink Art 2001-2016”. In 2023, the Art Institute of Chicago held the artist's first major solo show in North America, titled Ink Play.

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