Quick on the draw

Finance | Cara Chen 26 Jun 2020

Cara Chen

Quick sketches rarely play a significant role in an exhibition, but they do provide audiences with insights into an artist's life as well as the creative process.

In Western art, sketches are usually done in charcoal. But sketching is not an established concept in Chinese ink painting as the painters need to grind ink before painting - meaning they cannot finish a painting outdoors quickly.

Does this mean that sketching does not exist in traditional Chinese painting? Yeung Chun-tong, director of Sun Museum at Kwun Tong, wondered about this.

After years of studying the history of Chinese art and curating around 300 exhibitions, Yeung gives his answer in the latest exhibition at Sun Museum, which has thrust rarely-seen quick sketches into the spotlight.

Running until August 22, Instant Reflection: Hong Kong Artists and Sketches displays about 120 sketches by 40 local artists.

Yeung believes that Chinese ink painters, in addition to sketching on the spot, capture the subject through remembrances and reproduce it by changing the form or entire composition, turning it into a creative work.

Unlike Western painters, who often sketch a direct replica of what is seen by observing the subject from a fixed angle, Chinese painters emphasize the essence of the subject.

Quick sketches by Chinese ink painters go beyond realistic style but combine meticulous and expressive styles, Yeung said.

"Quick sketching is not just a preliminary practice, it's considered a complete painting," Yeung said. All works on show were completed in 30 minutes, displaying a painter's virtuosity and creative vision.

Chinese ink paintings make up a large part of the exhibits, with watercolors, oil paintings, fountain pens and charcoal sketches also appearing.

Some of the pieces feature Hong Kong landscapes, such as the series Scenery of Hong Kong by Tien Chi, which is paired with poems by Huang Binhong. It depicts Hong Kong's natural landscape as seen by the painter, employing dry strokes and heavy ink.

Fishing Village in Tai O and Drifting by Wai King-man capture the essence of Tai O, with its stilt houses and fishing boats rendered with a fountain pen.

Nor are artists limited to monochrome. For example, East Dam of High Island Reservoir, the Hong Kong Unesco Global Geopark by Chan Wai, depicts twisted yellowish stone pillars that occupy almost the entire frame except for a little space at the top and a few touches of plants.

Another series of sketches titled Glamorous Hong Kong by Wong Chau-tung depicts bustling streets and skyscrapers in Hong Kong with ink wash, recreating the urban buzz of the city.

Sceneries captured by artists during their travels also gives us insights into their creative eye.

One eye-catching piece is Danxia Landscape in Qinghai by Hung Hoi. The artist uses cinnabar and varied brushstrokes to represent the peculiar and treacherous terrain.

Displayed next to Hung's work is a series titled Yuanyang Rice Terraces, Yunnan, by Lam Tian-xing. In the third sketch, which took the longest time, Lam said he got more and more excited when facing the endless terraced fields so he extended the terraced fields continuously at the top of the frame.

As the chairman of Xiang Gang Mei Xie, the exhibition's coorganizer, Lam said that in addition to being the most direct and robust expression of the artist's personality, sketching is the most vital art form that is close to our lives. "It often requires the artist to capture the moments and even the emotions of life," he said.

Some of the works presented also reflect the city's bustling community life. People wearing masks are the subject of Lam Shiu-chi's Temperature Check, Hau Siu-ching's Figure in Motion, and Yick Hang's Waiting for the Green Traffic Light Signal. They all record the life of Hongkongers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yeung encouraged visitors to appreciate quick sketching. "Such sketches may appear simple, or as a form of doodling, yet they reflect a creator's artistic attainment," he said.

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