Lines of experience

Weekend Glitz | Cara Chen 6 Sep 2019

Looking at Wang Huangsheng's dreamy calligraphic works, it is difficult to believe that the abstract artist is pragmatic and diligent.

Those characters are reflected in Wang's contribution to Chinese contemporary art.

Not just an artist, Wang has 20 years of experience as a museum director.

In his 13 years as director head for the Guangzhou Art Museum, he built it into one of the most influential art museums in China.

He also founded large-scale art events such as the Guangzhou Triennial.

All this while developing his own artistic vision - the latest of which, Daily Practice, the Prose Poetries, is on display in Lifelines. The solo exhibition will be on until September 12 at Pao Galleries in Hong Kong Art Centre.

"Wang's persistent artistic output and creativity can be understood as a lifeline," said curator Katie Hill, founder and program director of the MA in Modern and Contemporary Asian Art at Sotheby's Institute of Art in London.

Lines are the key element of Wang's new series. By rewriting poems he created as a teenager during his daily calligraphy practice, the series expresses his response to history.

Lifelines is a fusion between lines, time, and in an extended way, how the internal culture links to human activities, said Hill.

Wang's understanding of lifelines lies in the continuity of his artistic concept and the sense of flow in his works, which is a more conventional and straightforward way. This is also reflected in the Chinese name of the exhibition, which translates into "endless lines."

Although he did not have the chance to study at school in his youth due to the 1970s Cultural Revolution, Wang, who was born into a scholar family, received a good education and formal Chinese painting training at home.

During the 1986 student demonstrations, he visited Beijing several times from his hometown, a small coastal city far from the political and cultural center. Those trips gave him more exposure to contemporary art.

What he experienced in Beijing as well as his college life in Nanjing, everything he came into contact with influenced his artistic thoughts, which, from traditional calligraphy and painting, gradually transformed into experimental abstract contemporary art. "The desire for exploration is in my bones," he said.

Besides the transformation of artistic connotation, the continuity is also reflected in the impact of Chinese traditional culture on his new series.

The 63-year-old, who wrote classical poetry as a young man, said the new works revisit those poems and are about "re-reading and releasing my feelings of being a youth who had a classical sensibility."

His favorite work in the new series is named after the date when it was created.

Daily-Practice, the Prose Poetries 181130 is huge, measuring nearly five meters wide and 2.5 meters tall, and takes pride of place at the start of the exhibition.

Hill described the piece as "visually exciting" - as the audience can't see any dull rigid regularity but vital and freely flowing lines instead.

"I like the ambivalence between freedom and control," Wang said.

His fondness for paradoxes can also be found in his past works. The video installation Bound shows him wrapping barbed wire with cotton gauze, while the installation Overflowing Light features sharp-edged wires poking through fragile glass tubes.

His extensive use of barbed wire against gauze bandage, and rubbings on paper shows the tension between "violence and softness."

"In the gauze, people feel war, pain, and blood, but also feel care and healing," he said.

Wang described the daily practice as a challenge, but it noted that he was influenced by Huang Binhong, a Chinese modern landscape painter who kept painting every day despite suffering from cataract in his 90.

"I just see the daily practice as casual, free, but continuous work, which is my understanding of the endless line, a continuation of life," he said.

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