Museum of Art shows the borderless art of Ding Yanyong
About 200 works of art by Ding Yanyong that show a crossover of East-West artistic genres will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from tomorrow (December 19) to April 5, 2009.
The exhibition, "No Frontiers: The Art of Ding Yanyong", is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Alumni Association of the Fine Arts Department, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Works on display are mainly on loan from the Ding Family, Ding's students, the Alumni Association of the Fine Arts Department of CUHK, and private collectors, with generous donations from Mr Wong Yi, Mr Tsui Chi Yu and others.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exhibition today (December 18), Director of Leisure & Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow, said Ding Yanyong was a significant master of Chinese ink painting, oil painting and seal carving. His work covered a wide range of artistic genres and was characterised by a distinctive personality, which demonstrated the influence of Henri Matisse of the Fauvist school in the use of line and colour and the Qing masters Bada Shanren in terms of simplicity and ingenuousness.
Mr Chow said, "The one-stroke paintings created by Ding and his paintings of humorous figures of Chinese opera are vivid and lively. Proficient in motif and seal carving, he turned the seal surface into a painting surface and had a great influence on the art of modern seal carving.
"This year marks the 30th anniversary of Ding's passing, and the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Alumni Association of the Fine Arts Department of CUHK especially organised this exhibition to pay homage to this master. Featuring more than 200 works spanning 30 years of his artistic career, this exhibition provides visitors with an opportunity to review how Ding forged his own artistic path, which blends elements of East and West, and to appreciate the superb artistic accomplishments of this great master," Mr Chow said.
Ding Yanyong (1902-1978) was born in Maorning County in Guangdong Province. In fervent response to the calls for reforms stirred by the May Fourth Movement, many young artists returning from overseas studies aspired to modernise Chinese art. Inspired by them, Ding left his hometown in Guangdong for Japan to study art at the Tokyo Fine Arts School in 1920. He became a loyal follower of Henri Matisse and other artists of the Fauvist School whose exploration of the purity and simplicity of primitive art became the ideals of his artistic pursuit.
Ding passionately rallied behind the Western Painting Movement in Shanghai together with Chen Baoyi and Guan Liang upon his return to China in 1925. Nevertheless, his sensitivity and sensibility towards the spirit of the time and his passion for innovation earned him nothing but alienation from his peers. He later embarked on the long journey of synthesising Chinese and Western art through studying the paintings of Bada Shanren, Shitao and Jin Nong, collecting artifacts for study and producing both oil and ink paintings from the 1930s onwards.
Built on the style of the Bada, Ding developed his own style characterised by a touch of childishness and innocence. The fish, cats, egrets, cranes and mandarin ducks painted by Ding have big eyes that are often rolled up in contempt, staring in anger or looking sideways in disinterest. In his works, he transformed Bada Shanren's arrogance into humour.
In 1949, Ding came to Hong Kong alone. Despite solitude and poverty, he insisted on creating and teaching art. In 1957, at Mr Ch'ien Mu's invitation, he joined the New Asia College where he taught until his death in 1978. He founded the art programme, which later became the Department of Fine Arts of CUHK. Continuing to further explore art in oil painting and ink painting through calligraphy to seal carving during three decades in Hong Kong, Ding achieved a distinctive personal style.
Ding tapped East and West, old and new, for the subjects of his paintings done in the territory. His caricature-like figures are marked by a humour tainted with satire and irony whether the subject matter is about history, myth, legend, literature, Chinese opera or real life.
His playful, childlike charm is best represented by his "one-line drawing" series, which he developed during the latter part of his life. In one quick and fluid stroke, an animal was drawn. A single stroke with plenty of space accentuating the contrast between the void and the solid is the signature of this series of his paintings.
To tie in with the exhibition, a series of lectures will be held between December and February 2009. The topics are "Ding Yanyong and the Development of Chinese Ink Painting in the 20th Century", "Appreciation of Ding Yanyong's Art of Oil Painting" and "Ding Yanyong's Art of Seal Carving". An open forum entitled "A Dialogue on Master Ding" will also be held on January 18, 2009. The former Chair Professor of the Department of Fine Arts, CUHK, Professor Mayching Kao, will be the moderator and members of the alumni will reminisce and share their memories of Ding and his teaching. The activities are free and 150 seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis. In addition, a fully illustrated catalogue will be published and available at the Gift Shop of the Museum of Art.
The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Sunday to Wednesday and Fridays, and from 10am to 8pm on Saturdays. On Christmas Eve and Chinese New Year's Eve, the museum will close at 5pm. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of Chinese New Year. Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For enquiries, call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website http://hk.art.museum/.
Ends/Thursday, December 18, 2008
In this figure painting, Ding Yanyong applies a subjective use of colour and line to express the steady gaze and confident state of mind of the sitter. The woman figure dominates the picture frame, while patches of yellow and purple or orange and green cut it up further into blocks of contrasting colours. The artistic lineage of Matisse in Ding is obvious, whether in terms of colour, composition or form.
This "Painting in Painting" shows a corner of Ding Yanyong's studio, where an easel and a picture are placed. The blue tiles of the floor and the orange walls form a remarkably strong contrast. On the easel, there is an oil painting of a cat in the style of what has come to be known as the "one-line drawing", and some mysterious symbols are found in this picture. These seemingly unrelated elements give a surreal touch to the painting, and represent Ding's assimilation of iconic elements in his art. It can be interpreted in both Chinese and Western artistic terms, and therefore epitomises his success in overcoming the differences between the two and finally coming into his own.
In this "Lotus and Mandarin Ducks", the composition and layout are derived from Bada. The comical rendering of the mandarin ducks and the frogs has the child-like naïvete of Qi Baishi, and the animated scene has the spirit of Wu Changshuo. The famous "frog" is invented by Ding: a few brushstrokes, a splash of ink and a few dots and touch-ups here and there, and viewers have a gaping froggy staring at them. It shows that though there is the evident influence of Bada Shanren in Ding's ink paintings of the flower-and-bird theme, he did not stop at the mere level of formal emulation.
Chinese opera is a rich source of inspiration for Chinese painters, including Ding Yanyong. But rather than illustrating characters and scenes in painterly narratives, Ding was able to give them artistic significance through uncommon portrayals. Take this "Chinese Opera Figures (Xiang Yu)" for example, the defeated King of Chu - depicted in the traditional operatic persona with a painted face as mask and exaggerated facial expressions - is holding his sword in defiance of his fate. Standing next to him are Lady Yu, his favourite, and a naked warrior.
The album of "After a Good Nap" was done one afternoon after Ding Yanyong woke up from a nap and gave an art lesson to his students. As a demonstration, he drew various species and genera of birds, insects, fish and flowers. He was obviously inspired by the moment, which is shown in the simple and uncluttered pictorial compositions, the vivid and lively subjects, and the terse and firm brushstrokes as well as calligraphy. From the fluidity, crispness and kinetic charm of his lines, one can see that behind the seeming ease and relaxed ink play, there is the virtuosity of a lifetime of a true master in art. The resting eagle in this picture shows the influence of the art of Bada Shanren.
A childlike innocence and naïve charm are the distinguishing stylistic qualities in Ding Yanyong's art. This playful, childlike charm is best represented by his "one-line drawing" series, which he developed during the latter part of his life. The seeming ease of this "one-line drawing of a cat" is deceptive. It takes the virtuosity of a master to abstract the form of the subject, the confidence of a calligrapher to control the colour and ink tones, and a philosopher's understanding of preconceived use of space to place the subject, which consists of only one kinetic line, against a blank background.
The Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow (centre), appreciates the works of art featured at the “No Frontiers: The Art of Ding Yanyong” together with the Under Secretary for Home Affairs, Ms Florence Hui Hiu-fai (right), and the Honorary Adviser to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Professor Kao Mayching (left), after officiating at the opening ceremony of the exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art.